BriBri indigenous culture

How to coexist with nature?
What knowledge incorporates such an old culture?

Sustainablitiy the fit between One World and BriBri

Planet One World and BriBri Culture

The close bounds exist even longer than Planet One World. The founder, Ken Tiemann, traveled to Costa Rica, Talamanca were he met his current wife, which is descended from a bribri clan. In addition to the family ties the BriBri culture incoporates an absolute sustainable path of living as well as invaluable knowledge on natural rainforest medicinal plants. As Volunteer of One World you will support the communities with current projects as well as you learn parts of their culture and doing tours through the reserve like rafting or visiting hidden waterfalls. Sleep in tipis, learn everything about natural healing plants, BriBri's cosmovision and attend a BriBri ceremony with Don Alisandro.

A culutre rich of old knowledge and deep nature understanding

Activites within the BriBri reserve

Community Support

Planet One World is supporting the BriBri communtiy with different actions.


A sustainabe treatment of nature is since ever incorporated in their believe and their culture.

Indigenous Culture

The BriBri believe in spirit of things and the power of their shaman which can mediate between spirits.

Healing and Medicine

This knowledge of healing plants coupled with spiritual ceremonies was psat many generations.

Why BriBri Culture is sutainable living by law

Fossil fuels are considered taboo because they are known to be relatives like other alive animals and plants and therefore kept to IRIRIA (mother earth). Oil, coal and gases are ancient animals and plants and should, therefore, form part of Iriria's body.
1. Oil is the blood of mother earth.
Would you be a vampire to your mother?
2. Coal is the skeleton of mother earth.
Would you butcher your own mother?
3. Fossil fuel gases are part of the respiration of mother earth.
Would you sufficate your own mother?

There are hunting rules for the approximated 70 matriarch structured clans that impede non-sustainable hunting and fishing behaviours. For instance, each clan has one or several animals which is prohibited for them to hunt. Therefore that clan's hunting grounds are natural sanctuaries for those species. There is even one BriBri tribe which is farming iguanas. Once these are fully grown you are exposed to nature and can be hunted by the tribesmen. This approach shows strong parallels with today's handling of fish in rivers and lakes, where this approach was introduced by overfishing.

Sustainability incorporated into a tribes culture

The BriBri are an indigenous tribe and autochthonous people of the Talamanca region of the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. Indigenous means that the Bribri were the original inhabitants of Talamanca. They speak their own language BriBri as well as Spanish. The preservation of their language allowed them to maintain their indigenous culture. BriBri means Valiente in Spanish which can be translated as valiant, brave or courageous in English. The BriBri tribe has the lowest income per capita in the country, they can raise much of their produce, medicine, and housing materials, and earn cash to purchase what they can't grow themselves through tourism and by selling cacao, bananas, and plantain. Before we give you a deeper insight into the BriBris culture, let's first explain why this culture is so fascinating and how Planet One World, with its guests and volunteers, supports and learns from the community and the thousands of years old civilisation.

In comparison to our industrialised civilisations, the BriBri culture so far was capable of keeping their relationship with their creator and nature. Ecological, cultural and social rules have been kept alive because this ethnic until very recent days had been relying entirely on the responsible use of their natural resources. Not obeying these logical rules would have meant self-destruction! Therefore their shaman and medicine men (Awâpa) have orally preserved (all knowledge is passed orally = "Suwoh") many teachings in the form of songs.

BriBri - Religion, Traditions and Spirituality

Social Structure - Women and Men

The Bribri social structure is organised in Clans. Each clan is composed of an extended family. The matrilineal clan system leads to the result that a child's clan is determined by the clan his or her mother belongs to. This fact already points out the critical role of women in the BriBri society as it is only allowed to them to inherit land and prepare the sacred cacao (Theobroma cacao) drink that is essential for their rituals. Men's roles are defined by their clan. Examples of these roles are the "awa" or shaman, and the "oko", the mortician. Marriage is an informal event as well as the conquest of man towards women. Unions are by common agreement. Further, the BriBri Culture is complete without political organisation. Cacique is the power and authority.

Religion and Belief

Their belief is based on the cult to the god SIBÚ, creator and cultural hero and the power of the Awapa or shaman. Sibú is the main divinity, creator of the universe, mankind, of wisdom, of customs and is seen as a cultural hero. Typical traditions are rituals of birth, of puberty and funerary. The "oko", the mortician is, for instance, the only person allowed to touch the remains of the dead, sing funeral songs, and prepare the food eaten at funerals. During the funeral ceremony, the dead body will be carried away in a hammock far away from the house and on a platform exposed to the vultures and the four elements. The vulture king (Sarcoramphus papa) holds an essential place in the Bribri cosmovision. He is the only one that can fly high enough to reach the top of the Universe and thus serves as a link between Sibu and the other worlds. It is believed that while regular vultures, who are his helpers, roost in trees like other birds, the vulture king rises up to sleep with Sibú after eating.

The Shaman (awa)

The Shaman, or "awa" holds a significant place in Bribri society. He is the spiritual leader, healer and the wisdom of the tribe in the form of thousands of years old knowledge. An Awapa (plural for awa) education starts with about 8 years and is said to last between 10 and 15 years. Only certain clans are allowed to become awapa. Since the clan comes from the mother's side of the family, an awa cannot teach his own sons, but rather the sons of his female relatives. In general shaman contender have to learn many spiritual songs. They help them to connect with the spirits. During the healing process for instance the shaman is singing to the spirit trinity represented by the spirit of the plant being used, the disease, and the person. He is establishing the connection, starts the conversation and finally convinces the illness to leave the person with the help of the plant spirit.

Cosmovision BriBri

They conceive of the universe as a tremendous conical (cosmic dome) house, the ceiling of that house constituting the sky. It is supported by eight pillars symbolising the animals that helped Sibú construct the Universe. The conical shape is given by Sibú when covering and roofing the great universal house. Imaginarily, this house is prolonged underground in inverted form, where other worlds exist inhabited by other beings. Its conception is then a biconical model, where the universe is conceived as the formation of two opposite cone-shaped houses, and with a common base, one upper and one lower, and each divided into four layers, levels or planets that integrate space and time. The first level represents the ground level the plane we inhabit. On the second level dwell the spirits of plants and animals, and the owners of the rivers, this is where Sibú's helpers live. On the third level of the universe live the spirits who cause disease and suffering and descend periodically to cause grief on earth. The final and highest level of the conical house is where Sibú, accompanied by his helper the king of vultures lives. In this same level live the most malign spirits as well. The Bribri explanation for this is that Sibu keeps them enclosed there like a warden holds the inmates in prison.

Cacoa in the BriBri Culture

Cacao has a special significance in BriBri culture. In their believe the cacao tree is female. Originally the tree was a woman and Sibú turned into a tree. That's why Cacao branches are never used as firewood as well as only women have the right to prepare and serve the sacred drink. The BriBri are using Cacao on special ceremonies and in certain rites of passage such as the celebration when a girl has their first menstruation. Currently, there exist several Bribri women's associations that produce organic, handmade chocolate that helps them in their livelihoods and provides their families with the most essential stuff. As already mentioned the BriBri have the lowest income.

"Cura no calmar dolor sino eliminar enfermedad,
curar el espíritu dañado para tener salud a futuro."
"Healing does not calm pain but eliminate disease,
cure the damaged spirit to have health in the future"

García Segura, Alí, 1994
Plants of Bribri Medicine

BriBri - Health and Medicine

Spirituality and hearbal medicine

Bribri healing practices combine herbal medicine and spiritual healing. In their tradition illnesses can come from evil spirits that come in from the ocean in the west, they can also be caused by the person's immoral behaviour, or by witchcraft from envious neighbours. To heal, the Awa must learn unique songs.

During the healing process the shaman is singing to the spirit trinity represented by the spirit of the plant being used, the disease, and the person. He is establishing the connection, starts the conversation and finally convinces the illness to leave the person with the help of the plant spirit. So the shaman functions as a negotiator so that spirits do not cause harm to men of Talamanca. Healing practices are called "Seképeyok" in BriBri language. Some of the still known herbal plants are explained in this video (1:00 - 12:55) from a local shaman.

Practices impregnated with the subjectivity of each shaman, so they vary from one community to another. The first step for healing is the use of the "siä" which mean fasts and medicines. Regulations and diets according to what illness the human has, are following the first step. BriBri's believe that during the process of curation the spirits eat the body and drink the blood of the sick. This natural healing methods of shamanism already encounter our western world, and more and more people visit them and ask for healing or advice. We believe that this knowledge is worth to share with you. Come, learn and see it!