Costa Rica’s indigenous peoples

The Bribri are the largest indigenous tribe in Costa Rica, comprising 35 per cent of the total indigenous population. The 2000 census stated that there were almost 10,000 indigenous Bribris, situated mainly in the Southern Pacific and Southern Atlantic zones on either side of the Cordillera de Talamanca in Costa Rica.[1] The Bribri have managed to conserve their native language in both written and spoken forms.

The Cabécare are the second largest indigenous group, making up 25 per cent of the indigenous population. The Cabécare have close ties with the Bribri group, as both sets of native lands lie in the Cordillera de Talamanca region in the province of Limón.

The Brunca group live in the south of Costa Rica in the province of Puntarenas and represent 15 per cent of the total indigenous population. They closely follow their ancestral traditions, and are well-known for their Fiesta de los Diablitos in December, for which they craft intricate masks.

In the 1960s many of the Guaymí – or Ngöbe Buglé as they are known in Panamá – emigrated from Panamá to Costa Rica to settle. They now comprise 13 per cent of Costa Rica’s indigenous population.

The Chorotegas make up only 4 per cent of Costa Rica’s indigenous population. Although they no longer speak their native language, their ethnic identity and culture remains. Unlike many of the other groups, the Chorotega live in the northwest of Costa Rica, in the Nicoya province.

Only a small community of the Huétare group remain in the San José province, representing only 3 per cent of Costa Rica’s indigenous people. Their native language and much of their cultural identity has been lost, although certain traditions such as the Fiesta del Maíz still remain.

Although the Maléku only represent 3 per cent of the native population in Costa Rica, they still have their own language which is taught in local schools alongside Spanish. The Maléku are one of the groups with the least land property, and much of their reserve in the northern Alajuela province is inhabited by non-indigenous people.

The Teribe are a small native tribe originally from Panamá, where they are also known as the Naso. They only comprise 3 per cent of the total indigenous population in Costa Rica; however they are much more prominent in Panamá. As with the Maléku, much of the Teribe’s territory is occupied by non-natives, which has resulted in a mixing of the indigenous and non-indigenous population.

[1] Carla Jara Murillo and Alí García Segura (2008) ‘Materiales y Ejercicios para el Curso de Bribri’, Universidad de Costa Rica, (Accessed 24/09/2010)