Boruca, Bribri, and Cabécar - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. The Boruca lack traditional governing structures; they organize locally as non-Indian rural communities. The elderly, however, continue to be highly respected. It is also common for individual community leaders to exercise a great deal of influence through local communities and projects. Nationally and internationally, the Boruca have held prominent positions in Indian movements. Constant change, deliberate adoption of—and adaptation of—outside influences is a norm; however, the identity of an indigenous group is retained, and people feel they share a common Indian ancestry. The Bribri and Cabécar respect shamans and, generally, the elders of both sexes. Informally, or more formally at meetings, the shamans and elders make known what younger leaders they support for community projects or representation. Churches, schools, and local committees usually take the initiative for community activities.

Political Organization. Governing structures are those of Costa Rican national administration. Each village has a Rural Police office with one or two officers. Policemen may be from the specific area or assigned to it. There are district committees and elected individuals linked to the township municipality, whose concerns are road maintenance, welfare, and coordination with the national government. Until the 1930s, the villages of Boruca had the structure of a colonial corporate community, featuring an elders' council and mayordomos. The Bribri and Cabécar partially kept the hierarchical clan structure into the twentieth century. All reservations have a development association which, in accordance with the national Indian Law, must resolve land issues and undertake socioeconomic improvements. They appoint representatives to the National Commission of Indian Affairs. Every village has several voluntary committees that work to improve health and education and organize sporting and cultural events. About three national Indian associations exert some influence, depending on the issues. A national group, organized between 1993 and 1994, is made up of women. The national political parties have committees in the Indian villages.

Social Control. The Rural Police is one means of maintaining order and conformity. Other control mechanisms are religious teachings and family norms. Prohibited are such things as bodily harm to another person, not helping seniors, theft, murder, embezzlement, and impoliteness. The most elderly insist on the prohibition of incest. All three groups tell traditional myths in which punishments for incest are elaborated. Gossip and avoidance of interaction with people who violate prohibitions are informal sanctions. There is some fear of witchcraft. People may be accused by neighbors or the local police before outside agencies of the Costa Rican judicial system.

Conflict. Factionalism is ever present. It manifests itself in clan or family rivalries; among adherents of opposing national political parties; and over any issue in which a traditional custom or attitude is confronted by another labeled "modern" or "progressive," the acceptance or nonacceptance of non-Indians, and religious affiliation—given that there are Catholics, different Protestant groups, Baha'i, and those who prefer the traditional Indian beliefs (the latter among the Bribri-Cabécar). Internally, families may be greatly divided by problems relating to land distribution, alcoholism, or marital disputes.


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