Dias Nacional del Boyero

Dias Nacional del Boyero, the second Sunday in March where boyeros, or ox herders, from all over Costa Rica come to the Municipal of Escazú and parade their hand-painted oxcarts up the mountain to the church of San Antonio de Escazú. This is a very colorful, very authentic celebration of a time-honored way of life, bond between boyero and ox, and overall culture preservation.

The ox is a beautiful, stoic, and hearty animal. The most impressive participants were the boyeros who reflected their proud oxen. Both standing tall, boyeros in their best boots and sombrero, oxen decorated with brass and leather, with the bright, ornate cart behind. The most skilled boyero communicates and controls his animals by sound, using his sharp staff only if absolutely necessary.

This seems to be a tradition that starts young; children given a pair of oxen at a very early age and they grow up together, participating in the parade as socialization for the oxen and practice for the poco boyero. The bond and interaction between the young boyeros and their oxen was fascinating. It was also great to see boyeras in such a male dominated role in such a male dominated society.

These beautiful creatures are not just parade animals; they are members of the family business. When the teams return home, they are back out sowing the fields. Before more modern means of transportation, it was the oxcart that transported the first coffee beans and bananas during their export boom. Hand-painted in bright colors to represent the village it hails from, many have been maintained for years to retain the village or family identity. The carts are now mainly used for decoration at the family farm or town center.

This year’s festival had over 120 participants. The streets were lined with locals, a handful of tourists, but mainly consisted of the families who came with the boyeros. When the family cart came by, sections of the crowd would erupt in cheers and laughter. It really is a family tradition. Some families have been traveling from far away year after year to participate. One participant, and elderly boyero, walked his oxen with his grandson, who had to be less than 5 years of age, letting him carry the staff and most of the control.

By far, this has been the most authentic Costa Rican culture I have seen yet. It’s not created for for the tourists like a lot of Costa Rica, and best of all, there are no commemorative t-shirts. A big deterrent I’m sure it the steep 1.5-mile climb on local roads, up the mountain, on non-existent sidewalks. Lucky for me the parade began three blocks away from my house and my gluteus maximus is accustomed to the climb. The parade pace is slow, the ox are anxious to move, and there is poo everywhere. Everywhere. Don’t wear sandals.

It was invigorating to see Ticas and Ticos celebrating something that is so deeply rooted within their culture and it was an honor to celebrate beside them. It’s hard to explain, but I really needed it. I needed to participate in something untouched, for the most part, by expats.  – Jes

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