THOUGH centuries have passed since Costa Rica’s indigenous people ruled the land, the Bribrí still reign over the stage in each Pa Blu Serke theater company production. Based out of Uatsi, an indigenous Bribrí community in the southern Caribbean region of Talamanca, this theater group is out to make sure that Bribrí history and culture are not forgotten.
Eight actors from Pa Blu Serke, founded in 1997, traveled to the western San José suburb of Escazú Dec. 7 to perform at the Blanche Brown Theatre, playhouse of the English-language Little Theatre Group. Unlike a typical Little Theatre Group production, however, the two 30-minute plays were performed entirely in Bribrí.
Though the actors’ words were incomprehensible to almost all audience members, the drama’s message was clear: the Bribrí are a passionate, tight-knit people with rich, long-held traditions.
THE first play, “¿Dónde Está Pablo Presbere?” (“Where is Pablo Presbere?”), took the audience back to 1710, when the Spanish discovered and invaded the Talamanca region along the Atlantic coast.
Through emotion-packed action, speech and song, actors portrayed the devastation felt when the Spaniards began abusing native inhabitants and taking over their land.
“We chose this play so that people who don’t know about the suffering our community went through can understand,” said Pa Blu Serke actress Rosa Jackson, 20. “The idea is to rescue our culture and not lose it.”
Indeed, Bribrí culture came alive in the second play performed, “Recordando Nuestro Pasado” (“Remembering Our Past”). The stage was abuzz with typical, day-to-day activities of the community nestled deep in the jungle: hunting, cooking and holding a feast to celebrate the killing of a large pig. A funeral ceremony upon the death of a hunter who had lost his way in the jungle enacted the traditional burial ritual in which grieving community members gather to cover the body with leaves.
The performance was a collaborative effort between Pa Blu Serke and the nonprofit Art Works Project, which helps refugees and indigenous people translate life experiences into art. Avina Costa Rica also supported the project.
WITH help from Art Works Project, Christina Sammoutis, a third-year drama, applied-theater and education student at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London, traveled to Costa Rica to spend a
few weeks working with Pa Blu Serke.
She lived in the southern Caribbean beach town of Puerto Viejo and rehearsed most evenings with the actors, though work and family obligations prevented them from all practicing together until the actual day of the production. Sparse electricity presented another challenge – many rehearsals were held by candlelight.
Currently, Pa Blu Serke does not charge admission for their performances; they ask only that their transportation costs be covered when they’re invited to perform outside Uatsi. Group members say they hope to acquire a performance space closer to home.
“I learned that drama is difficult for this community to be involved in because it doesn’t produce any income,” said Sammoutis, 22. “Many of the company’s members are younger than me, but they already have families and work obligations.”
Nevertheless, the group came together and wrote a rough outline of a play emphasizing elements of their culture they felt were important. Sammoutis then helped them develop it into the two plays performed in Escazú.
“It’s been difficult, but they have a good energy,” said Sammoutis of her work with Pa Blu Serke. “We’ve all gotten a lot out of it.”
THE Art Works Project was founded by San José resident Caroline Kennedy in 1997. At the time, Kennedy was in Bosnia working with refugees to help them tell their life stories through art. Later, while doing similar work with disabled refugees in Azerbaijan, she began to also incorporate theater, Kennedy explained.
Originally from the United Kingdom, Kennedy moved to Costa Rica almost two years ago and had the idea to continue the Art Works Project with the indigenous community of Yorkín in Talamanca.
“I was speaking with a teacher who said her worst fear was that the next generation, because of tourism, would forget about their culture,” Kennedy said. “I suggested putting stories into dramatic form, which makes it fun for children to learn and pass them on to subsequent generations.”
For more information on the Art Works Project, e-mail Caroline Kennedy at email@example.com.