Masquerades in Costa Rica

by | May 28, 2014

The Masquerades are a tradition that has permeated the culture of tico, as popular entertainment that usually make their appearance in fairs or festivities. But the practice of masquerades in the Central Valley appears to be the result of the influence of not only colonial but also indigenous festive practices.


“The mask combines two attributes: art and ritual attached to the human being as a symbolic object beyond being a commodity or object merely aesthetic.

Its use as a ceremonial object, funerary, ritual magic-religious, agricultural or hunting, theater performances, folk festivals and carnivals is determined as a multifunctional object with a social function and universal manifestation of culture. ”

Roberto Alonso


Pre-columbian Festivities

In pre-Columbian era, indigenous people celebrated their festivals with masks, where they both represented with zoomorphic and anthropomorphic. A living example that still keep this tradition, is the indigenous village of Boruca and Rey Curre, in the southeast, with the celebration of “Game of the Little Devils” or “Cabrú˘ Rojc”.

In this festival two main characters appear on stage with their masks, the bull, which represents the strong but naive Spanish struggle against “little devil”, cunning and mischievous indigenous. For three days there´s theater, dance, crafts, food and drink, story, song and masks.


Mantudos and Parlampanes

Before the emergence of the masquerades we know today, there were already Parlampanes and Mantudos as popular traditions of the Central Valley. The origin of these characters took place in La Puebla de Cartago, a smalle village of indigenous, blacks and mulattos, during the celebrations in honor of Our Lady of the Angels. These characters emerge as part of the syncretism of colonial and indigenous festivals of the time.

The Parlampanes were lowly neighbors wearing ridiculous costumes, especially representative animal masks. They danced and ran around among the audience before beginning the bullfighting from colonial times, in Cartago.

The Mantudos meanwhile, were people who were sheltered from head to toe with a blanket of colors on which they made holes in the eyes and nose. They were part of Holy Week in the city of Cartago and were responsible for inviting people and announce festivals, in a parade.

At that time, the “clowns or mantudos” most popular were the giants, the mother of the devil, the diplomat, the photographer, the police, death, tiger, women, guaco bull, dwarf and the witch.

Colonial and modern masquerades

According to historians Rodrigo Muñoz and Franco Fernandez in the first decades of 1800 Rafael “Lito” Valerín, watchmaker, tinsmith and artisan of puppets from jícaras, occurred to create the masquerades to celebrate the holidays of “La Negrita” (The Virgin of Los Angeles) in the city of Cartago.

It is not known exactly when Don Lito switched from craftsman to mask maker, but as he relates his grandson, was due to a miracle: Entering the Church of the Angels in a corner he found a head of an original mask of Spain, for which he made a wooden frame and so did one of his early characters: “La Giganta”.

Don Lito decided to resume the tradition of mantudos, the began showing his masks for pilgrims during the celebrations.

In 1910, Valerín Jesus, son of Rafael, who continued the tradition of his father, decided to organize the first carnival masks to cheer up the people after the historic earthquake occurred in the city.

Thereafter masquerades spread like entertainment activity in many of the festivities, mainly in some towns of San José, Cartago, Barva, Aserri and Escazu, in order to collect financial resources to cover expenses of the villages.

Religious activities alternated with the sound of bomblets, cimarronas and cheerful parade of masquerades in which the clowns chasing assistants handing “chilillazos”.


Party October 31

Today the traditional characters of the masquerades celebrate his feast on October 31st, thanks to a decreed in 1996 that declared this date as the day of the Costa Rican Traditional Masquerade, with the primary objective of promoting knowledge of the existing cultural manifestations in the country, an effort to revive and strengthen the cultural identity of the Costa Rican.