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Dispatches From the Field #3

It was a Friday afternoon and we were putting the finishing touches on the new office building we were constructing for the community. We were listening to the local Talamancan radio station, which was broadcasting on site in Amubri where there was a festival going on. I discovered that the next day there would be an activity called “Jala de Piedra” which involves a bunch of men carrying a big rock somewhere, some kind of Bribrí ritual. I also discovered there is a cantina in Amubri which serves cold beer. Technically, there is no alcohol sold on the reserve but there are two cantinas which existed before the law and they were grandfathered in. I decided, hell yeah, I gotta see this.

The journey to Amubri first involves the 2 to 2 ½ hour walk from Yorkín to Bambu, crossing the Telire River in a canoe to get to Bambu. From there you catch a bus further up the Telire River and again cross in a canoe to get to the other side were another bus picks you up and takes you to Amubri. The festival appeared much like any other, booths set up where people sold crafts and others sold food and chicha (a fermented corn drink, kinda like a batch of homebrew that has been contaminated). After getting some food and milling around for a bit, I noticed people beginning to walk down the road outside of town. I followed. I found out they were going to be starting the Jala de Piedra. The ritual begins with the men tying a big round boulder onto hand cut beams with vines. The contraption is set up in a somewhat rectangular fashion with the beams extending outward so people can grab onto them. The men then tied a long vine leading out from the front of the boulder and its frame. A group of women grabbed onto the vine and the men hoisted the contraption up on their shoulders, accompanied by a bunch of hooting and hollering. The women led the men out of the forest and onto the road leading into town. There were about 15 men supporting the boulder and perhaps as many women leading the way with the vine. When the women decided that the men were tired they would stop, the men would set the boulder down, and the men would take a drink of chicha. After everyone had their drink there would again be a bunch of hooting and hollering and the men would again lift the boulder with the women leading the way down the road. There was a group of people surrounding the men and women as they made their way down the road, taking pictures and videos and trying not to get trampled. After about four stops, in which the men drank chicha, they made it to the Plaza and set the boulder down on the grass. Then an elderly man and two young adults sang a Bribrí ritual song while drumming on tambores. Bribrí ritual songs are interesting in that they contain words that are not part of the Bribrí language. I talked to a few people and none of them knew exactly what the translation was. I was however able to ascertain basically what the ritual meant. The round boulder symbolizes the earth that Sibö made so that he could plant corn kernels in the soil and grow the indigenous people of the world. Sibö instructed the Bribrí to take care of the world. This is why the men carry the boulder symbolizing the world on their shoulders with the women leading the way. This ritual exemplifies the Bribrí kinship pattern in which traditionally the family name is passed down through the women and new husbands go to the homes of their new wives to live. A Bribrí woman can marry an outsider man and he and their children will be considered Bribrí and retain all the clan rights. However, if a Bribrí man marries an outsider woman the same is not true. It also illustrates how the Bribrí have traditionally conceptualized their relationship with the planet; being chosen by Sibö to carry the burden of protecting and caring for all of the natural resources that Sibö created here on earth. Later, I was able to contemplate and discuss this Bribrí ritual with some locals over cold Pilsens in the cantina.

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