San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Guanacaste Day: A Folk Holiday

JULY 25 is a national holiday recognizing the day the northwesternregion of Guanacaste, formerly part of Nicaragua duringthe days of Spanish colonialism, became part of Costa Rica in1824. The area’s residents voted to join Costa Rica because of generaldiscontent over the civil wars in Nicaragua (TT, July 25, 2003).The annexation brought not only additional land to the countrybut also a colorful and ample array of culture and traditions.According to Vera Vargas,director of the Guanacaste CultureOffice, a new Spanish wordhas been created to defineGuanacaste culture: guanacastequidad,loosely translated as“Guanacaste-ness.”“All guanacastecos (Guanacasteresidents) should knowand maintain the values thatidentify them as such, includingtraditions, customs and elementssuch as the marimba andour traditional dances andfood,” she said.FOOD is a big part of thearea’s traditions. Guanacastecosare distinguished for their arrozde maíz (corn rice), rosquillas(small, ring-shaped salty bread),tamal asado (a type of cornbread), cajetas (a type of sweet),pozole (a drink made of purplecorn), huge tortillas and other dishes, some of which are cooked inclay ovens.Bombas and retahílas are part of the region’s oral traditions.Bombas are four-line poems similar to limericks, often earthy andalways amusing. Every Tico knows at least one. At festivals,someone will stop the music by shouting, “Bomba!” and then proceedto recite one. Originally a Spanish tradition, bombas havebecome uniquely Tico. At civic events, bombas may be inventedto honor a person.According to Aurelia Trejos, a singer with the Cantares folkgroup, retahílas, also known as ensaladas (salads), are a successionof fast-spoken couplets. Some make sense; others don’t. The latterare described as “sin ton ni son” (without reason or sound).Guanacaste’s dances are joyful expressions of folk tradition.Couples dance to marimba tunes and songs that tell a story. Thesteps are like little jumps. Women resemble butterflies with themovement of their long skirts. Traditional Costa Rican dress forwomen consists of long multicoloredskirts and white blouseswith oval collars. Men usuallywear white hats, long-sleevewhite shirts and white pants, setoff by colorful sashes.“OUR indigenous peopletransformed the Spanish dancesaccording to their perception,”explains Nago Torres, coordinatorof the National Gallery ofPopular Culture. “Folk dancesare a way of seeing and feelingdance and music in the heart; itis spontaneous, not for stages.”Torres, a folk-tradition expert,also explains that theweepeepia shout commonlyuttered by cowboys at bullfights,rodeos and similar events hasbecome a spontaneous expressionof joy that is uniquely guanacasteco.“It’s a genuine expression from the heart that says ‘Here I am!I have arrived!’” he explains, adding that the shout’s origins stemfrom a folk dance group that during performances used to cry“Agua de pipa!” (green coconut water), which eventually evolvedto “Weepeepia!”For a listing of scheduled activities celebrating this holiday, seethe Calendar pages.

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