The Block

The motifs on the Costa Rica block are examples of the unique and predominant native craft of this country. The central medallion, hand-painted by Brenda Levert, is typical of the brightly-painted wooden carretas (ox-carts) that have become a symbol of the country for tourists. The vibrant design, which includes a floral motif symbolizing ‘a peaceful way of life and the sensitive nature of its people,’ reflects Costa Rica’s agricultural bounty and the spirit with which the farmers work the land. Although modern machinery has largely replaced carretas, they are still used occasionally, and every year owners come together with their elaborately decorated ox-carts to compete in the Annual Ox-Cart Festival. Needlepoint, worked in colourful wools by Ana Miranda, encircles the inner wood ‘wheel,’ picking up its vibrant colours, while the geometric chevron pattern adds to the optical illusion of movement.


Nicoya pottery. Museo del Jade. Costa Rica
Chorotega pottery from Guaitil

CRart. Ox-draw cart wheel

CRFolklore. Traditional costumes
Traditional costume

Máscara boruca. Costa Rica (2)
Mask from the Dance of the Devils

Cultural Profile

A country known for its history of peacefulness, Costa Rica is a tropical land located in southern Central America. It is generally believed that Christopher Columbus gave the country the name ‘Costa Rica’ (meaning ‘the rich coast)’ because he was so impressed by the gold decorations worn by the locals. Costa Rica is very small and its topography consists mainly of rugged highlands. Several mountain ranges, many of which are volcanic, cover nearly the entire length of the country, a characteristic that has earned it the nickname of ‘Switzerland of the Americas’. One of its volcanoes, Poas, features one of the largest craters in the world. Protection of the environment is a priority for Costa Ricans. About 25% of the country’s land is designated as either protected land or national parks.

A large proportion of Costa Ricans are of Spanish descent. Caucasians and mestizos (people of mixed Spanish and Native American ancestry) make up the majority of the population and there is a small black community that is mainly of Jamaican origin. Spanish is the official language, but English is also widely spoken. Costa Rica’s culture has been greatly influenced by Spain. Emphasis on the church and family has developed into a national way of life. Festivals honouring patron saints are a colourful part of village and town days, and numerous customs revolve around the family from the time of birth until death. Many of these traditions are shaped by the ‘machismo’ system, which expects men and women to act differently from each other and to respect their separate roles.

Costa Ricans (or ‘Ticos’ as they call themselves) are conservative people, but hospitality is perhaps their most widespread tradition in the country. They are very sociable individuals who enjoy gatherings and celebrations of all sorts. A typical Costa Rican saying is ‘Pura Vida’ meaning pure life, and it is used many times day as a greeting, farewell or as a way to say that things are going great.

Traditional dances include the Punto Guanacasteco and the ‘Torito’, a traditional dance where a woman with a red scarf in her hand pretends to be a toreador while the man pretends to chase her. The dancers often wear the traditional Costa Rican dress consisting of long, multicolored layered skirts with white, embroidered sleeveless ruffled blouses for the women and white shirts and pants, red cummerbunds, red or blue neckerchief and straw hats for the men. Music plays an important part in Costa Rican life. Traditionally the most popular instruments have been the guitar, accordion, and mandolin. Ticos love dancing to the hypnotic Latin and rhythmic Caribbean beat of the cumbia, lambada, marcado, merengue, and the Costa Rican swing.

Woodworking is an important craft in the country, due to the availability of tropical woods such as ironwood, nanareno (purple heart), rosewood, satinwood and tigerwood. Oxcart making is mainly done in the town of Sarchi. Though full-size oxcarts are still made from time to time, today reproductions of a reduced size (still sometimes as big as a hot-dog stand!) are the norm. The geometric design used to decorate the carts are also used to decorate various household items found in Costa Rican homes. Indigenous Chorotega potters from the town of Guaitil produce pre-Colombian style pieces in reds, creams and blacks. The Brunca people are known for their woodworking, producing detailed and impressive masks used in the traditional celebration, Juego de los Diabolitos, the Dance of the Devils. The Brunca women, the only traditional indigenous weavers in Costa Rica, also weave small items such as bags, scarves, wallets or blankets. The country is also known for its colourful embroidery.

Costa Ricans have been coming to Canada for many years, both as professionals and tradesmen, and settled mostly in Ontario, Québec and British Columbia. As of 2011, there were over 5,000 Costa Ricans living in Canada.


Sponsor: Jennifer and J. Wayne Mitchell | Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons