Pura Vida!- Bullfights, Folk Dances and Fiestas, Oh my!!

Guanacaste Day: Celebrating the Annexation of Guanacaste in Costa Rica

Figure 1: Political Map of Costa Rica: The Guanacaste Day celebration is held in Liberia, the capital of Guanacaste, located in Northwest Costa Rica. Source- 2004 Last Frontiers - the specialists in tailor-made travel to Latin America. electronic document, http://www.lastfrontiers.com/costarica/, accessed September 20



Costa Ricans value family, education, democracy, peace and machismo. Their history facilitates these core values. Therefore, the discussion of Costa Rican history proves to be significant. The history of this nation has shaped Costa Rican identity and cultural ideals as well. Through celebration one can begin to grasp a culture's beliefs and values. The celebration of Guanacaste Day and its importance to Costa Rica reflects Costa Rican culture. Therefore, the discussion of Guanacaste Day plays an eminent role in the comprehension of Costa Rica 's core values. Celebrated on July 25, this event commemorates the “annexation of the province of Guanacaste from Nicaragua in 1824” ( Costa Rica Tourism…:2002). Physical elements of the celebration include: folk dances, bull fights, topes, and fiestas. This website proves that the physical aspects of Guanacaste Day possess a deeper meaning and reinforce the following Costa Rican cultural ideals: the love of music and dance, courtship rites, gender roles, and their peace-loving attitude.


  Punto Guanacasteco

Figure 2: Local Costa Ricans work in the coffee bean fields. Coffee production is very important to Costa Rican history. Source~ Innovaplant: Costa Rica. electronic document, http://www.innovaplant.com/cr/photogallery/CostaRica/photo_costa_rica.htm , accessed September 20 Figure 3: Costa Ricans participate in the Punto Guanacasteco (Guanacaste step dance). This dance is the national typical dance which involves three different stages of Courtship (Helmuth 105, 2000). Source:2003 ACM: Costa Rica photo album. electronic document,

http://www.acm.edu/slacs/album2.html ,accessed September 20


According to one of the founders of anthropology, Franz Boas, culture refers to “the beliefs, customs, and social institutions that seem to characterize each separate society” (Ember & Levinson). Celebration is one mode of culture. Through celebration a people's identity and beliefs can be seen. Celebrations are physical activities that occur within a group, but abstractly they reinforce and represent cultural ideals. While some celebrations may seem more important than others, each one reflects some aspect of culture. The celebration of Guanacaste Day encompasses the following cultural ideals of Costa Rica : the love of dance and music, courtship rites, gender roles, and the peace-loving Costa Rican attitude. However, the physical elements of celebration are used to convey these ideals. The week long festival of Guanacaste Day “celebrates the annexation of the province of Guanacaste from Nicaragua in 1824 with fiestas, folk dances, topes, cattle shows, bullfights and concerts” (Costa Rica Tourism &Travel Bureau 2002). These physical elements or artifacts are not merely objects but “contribute to the complex phenomena of [the] celebration” (Dorson 1982: 33). In other words, the concrete activities of this celebration represent the cultural ideals and values of Costa Rica .


Context of Costa Rica


         In order to fully grasp the relevance of the Guanacaste Day celebration to Costa Rican culture, one must learn of the history and identity of the Costa Ricans. Costa Rica , located in Central America, lies to the north of Panama , south of Nicaragua , and borders the Caribbean Sea and North Pacific Ocean . The territory of the country consists of 51,100km2 (CIA-The World Factbook—Costa Rica 2004). The terrain includes “costal plains separated by rugged mountains” (CIA-The World Factbook—Costa Rica 2004). The “mountains spread from the northeast to the southeast forming a fertile central valley measuring approximately 3,000 km” (Costa Rica's History & Facts). The geography of Costa Rica consists of four volcanoes, two of which are active. The climate remains tropical and subtropical, with a dry season (December to April); and a wet season (May to November). The population of Costa Rica contains 3,956,507 persons and is a Democratic republic (CIA-The World Factbook—Costa Rica 2004).

           The history of Costa Rica can be traced back to 11,000 B.C.E when “nomadic peoples [were] inhabiting the region” (Helmuth 2000: xviiii). However, from a Western standpoint, Costa Rican history begins with the arrival of Christopher Columbus on September 18, 1502 (Biesanz 1982: 15). Although Columbus remained in the region for merely eighteen days to repair his ships, he established friendly relations with the Indians and even received gifts of gold from them (Biesanz 1982: 15). Later, in 1522 Captain Gil González explored the region and “was given so much gold that the Spaniards came to think of this area as the ‘the rich coast',” hence the nickname “ Costa Rica ,” which denotes rich coast in Spanish (Biesanz 1982: 15). “Several Spanish settlements were founded in the 1520s [but] the invaders were soon forced to abandon them due to the relentless attacks by the indigenous population” (Helmuth 2000: 7). Prior to the arrival of Columbus , however, many indigenous tribes populated Costa Rica . Some of these tribes include: the Corobicí, Chorotega, and Talamanca. The indigenous population included approximately 400,000 natives. (Helmuth 2000: xviiii). However, these numbers drastically decreased due to the “slave labor and disease brought by the Spaniards” from 1510-1570 (Helmuth 2000: xviiii). Today, the indigenous population accounts for less than 1% of the Costa Rican population (Costa Rica-Culture…). Most indigenous tribes “have integrated to the extent that they are more or less indistinguishable from other Costa Ricans” (Costa Rica-Culture…). Thus, indigenous influence is limited in Costa Rica .   

            Due to the struggle with the indigenous tribes in the 1520s, Costa Rica remained neglected until 1562 when “Juan Vázquez de Coronado, who later became the Costa Rican colony's first governor, led successful explorations of the Pacific coast” (Helmuth 2000: 7). These explorations led to the establishment of the following settlements during the 18 th century: San José , Alajuela, and Heredia (Helmuth 2000: xx). In 1823, “ Costa Rica declare[d] itself a separate nation and wr[ote] its own constitution” (Helmuth 2000: xx). The following year, 1824, “the northern region of Guanacaste [was] annexed to Costa Rica on July 25,” thus, Guanacaste Day evolved (Helmuth 2000: xx). This annexation proved to be very influential in forming much of Costa Rican folklore and tradition. Figure 3 depicts the dance of the punto guanacasteco , which is just one of the many traditions that originated from Guanacaste.

           Just as Guanacaste provided Costa Rica with many traditions, the production of coffee helped to shape the sociopolitical structure of Costa Rica . The era of coffee production began in 1808 when coffee first arrived in Costa Rica from Jamaica . Prior to the commencement of the coffee era, Costa Rican culture was unstable and not yet clearly defined. “ Costa Rica was not a unified nation but ‘a group of villages separated by narrow regionalisms” (Biesanz 1982: 18). However, coffee production changed all of this. “The fertility of the soil…and the ideal climate, along with an early government program to distribute seedlings to coffee growers, resulted in a boom in coffee production” (Helmuth 2000: 11). However, it was not until the 1840s that “these efforts were rewarded…when a system of export and marketing, based on British shipping and credit, was established (Biesanz 1982: 19). Figure 2 depicts the red coffee beans which have played an integral role in the economy and culture of Costa Rica (Helmuth 2000: 13). In fact coffee was being produced on one third of the land in Costa Rica by 1890 (Helmuth 2000:11). As a result “income increased and the boom created an elite of coffee-growing barons… [whose] wealth gave rise to an economic oligarchy” (Helmuth 2000: 11). This oligarchy played a key role in shaping the sociopolitical structure of Costa Rica (Helmuth 2000: 11).

            Another major landmark in Costa Rican history occurred in 1949 when women were given the right to vote, and blacks along with indigenous residents were given citizenship rights (Helmuth 2000: xxii). Finally, in 1990 a large growth in tourism occurred (Helmuth 2000: xxiv). The history of this nation shaped Costa Rican identity and cultural ideals. “Costa Ricans believe they have a unique way of life and a distinctive national character. People of all classes, political parties, and regions share a sense of national identity and define themselves as Ticos” (Biesanz 1982: 8). The name Ticos originates from the “colonial saying, ‘We are all hermaniticos (little brothers)'” (Biesanz 1982: 1). The Costa Rican identity places emphasis and importance on the following ideals: their relative ‘whiteness', the closeness of family, education, democracy, peace, and machismo (Biesanz 1982: 8).



Origins of Guanacaste Day


The Annexation of Guanacaste Day, celebrated on July 25, commemorates the “annexation of the province of Guanacaste from Nicaragua in 1824” and celebrates Costa Rica's core value of democracy (Costa Rica Tourism...: 2002). The meaning of the name of the celebration “Annexation of Guanacaste Day” is self-explanatory. This celebration occurs and originated in Liberia , which is the capital of the Guanacaste province. Prior to 1824, Guanacaste was a part of Nicaragua ; however, in “1824…Guanacaste asked to be annexed to Costa Rica rather than remain part of strife-torn Nicaragua ” (Biesanz 1982: 18). The fact that Nicaragua was active in many civil wars at the time increased Guanacaste's desire to be annexed to Costa Rica (Glassman 1988: 132). The Central American Federation approved the annexation and thus Guanacaste became part of Costa Rica . (Biesanz 1982:18). Guanacastans take great pride in being a part of Costa Rica and claim that in 1824, they joined Costa Rica by choice. Demonstrating their pride Guanacastans possess the slogan, “‘De la Patria por Nuestro Voluntad.'” (Gadwa 2001). This phrase means ‘part of the country by our own choice' in Spanish. The fact that Guanacastans emphasize that they became a part of Costa Rica by choice, shows that democracy is valued. Therefore, Guanacaste Day is celebrated because Costa Rica highly values democratic ideals.



      “In celebrations people often affirm the joyous outpouring of their spirit and the creative play of their imagination in a variety of the performing and decorative arts” (Dorson 1982: 33). The performance aspects of the celebration of Guanacaste Day consist of parades, folk dances and the playing of musical instruments, and bullfights. The parades mainly involve the children of the province. “In the week leading up to July 25, all the schools, primary and secondary, have parades to the park at the center of town” (Gadwa 2001). These children wear masks, walk on stilts, and dress up as a variety of creatures ranging from monsters and skeletons to bulls and angels. (Gadwa 2001). Also, in the park throughout the Guanacaste celebration are booths that “sell handcrafts as well as snacks like carne asada (grilled meat with a corn tortilla) and tamales (steamed corn and meat wrapped in a corn husk)” (Gadwa 2001). Concerts and fireworks become a part of the celebration as night approaches (Gadwa 2001).

         Folk dances compose another aspect of performance in the Guanacaste Day celebration. The most popular bailes típicos (typical dances) that occur throughout this celebration include: the Cabillito nicoyano (Little Horse from Nicoya ), El torito (The Little Bull), and the national step dance, the Punto guanacasteco (Guanacaste dance step) (Helmuth 2000: 104-105).

         In the Cabillito nicoyano “the barefoot dancers are dressed in campesino style: the man wears white work pants, a long-sleeved white shirt, a campesino hat, a red cummerbund, and a red bandanna…The woman wears a white, off the shoulder blouse accented with lace, and a flowing, tiered skirt of bright colors” (Helmuth 2000: 104-105). The dance is between the character of a male cattle rancher and the woman he is trying to impress. The man in the dance is the cattle rancher and the woman is a colt that needs to be ‘captured.' The music mimics the sound of horses' hooves. The man follows the woman around in a circle attempting to lasso the ‘colt' (the woman) with his bandanna (Helmuth 2000: 104-105). “The dance ends with an intensifying chase as she twirls toward him, and is finally caught” (Helmuth 2000: 104-105). The El Torito is a dance between a man and a woman where the man is the bull and the woman is the bullfighter. (Helmuth 2000: 105). The man is “portrayed as a sort of spirited rogue, attempting to kiss her; while she showcases a graceful femininity oblivious to the danger the bull presents, and eventually dominates him…” (Helmuth 2000: 105).

        The Punto Guanacasteco, (Guanacaste dance step) contains three steps and involves “from time to time, all dancers paus[ing] in mid-dance and a male dancer shout[ing] out a witty sometimes racy…rhymed verse that comments on some aspect of the interaction depicted in the dance scene” (Helmuth 2000: 105).

         Finally, also involved in the celebration of Guanacaste Day is the music of “ Costa Rica 's national instrument, the marimba….In Costa Rica, early marimbas were made from hollowed out, elongated calabaza (a variety of squash) gourds set within a wooden frame whose top was lined with a panel of wooden keys, representing an octave” (Helmuth 2000: 106). In figure 4 local Costa Ricans play the marimba.

         Bullfights are also an aspect of performance. However, bullfights in Costa Rica are different than those in Spain . In Spain , bullfighting is very violent and many bulls are killed; however, in Costa Rica bullfighting does not involve killing the animal. Performance elements of the Tico style of bullfighting include: “young unarmed men teas[ing] a small bull or cow around an impoverished ring for a few minutes. Then the animal is lassoed and removed and replaced by another” (Biesanz 1982: 163). Thus, there are many visual elements involved in the celebration of Guanacaste Day: parades, bailes típicos, playing of the marimba, and Tico style bullfights.



Figure 4:

Local Costa Ricans playing the marimba. The marimba is used in the Guanacaste Day celebration. Source: STA Travel-Spanish Schools:Study Spanish in Monte Verde Costa Rica. Electronic document, http://www.amerispan.com/sta/Program_Detail.asp?Program_ID=3520    accessed October 20





Prognosis for Guanacaste Day

      Guanacaste Day “celebrates the annexation of the Guanacaste province from Nicaragua with a nationwide public holiday and special celebratory events in Guanacaste” (Harding 2004). On public holidays “ all banks, post offices, museums and government offices close…in Costa Rica ,” thus signifying the importance of the celebration (Harding 2004). Likewise, this celebration lasts for seven days and is one of Guanacaste's three major celebrations. The length of duration of this event shows that Guanacaste Day plays a significant role in the Costa Rican community. In fact, the week leading up to July 25, “all the schools, primary and secondary, have parades to the park at the center of town" (Gadwa 2001). The fact that children of this province are introduced to this celebration at a very young age demonstrates that this celebration is highly valued by Costa Rican society. In fact, when speaking of the Guanacaste celebration, a local Costa Rican who lives one mile from the province stated that “‘[the celebration] is part of us, part of the culture, part of the society. That is part of the Tico way. If we don't do that, if we don't celebrate this, it's against our duty, not to forget these historical events and all that happened in the past'” (Gadwa 2001). This being a fairly recent quote and since there is evidence that this holiday is still considered a public holiday as of 2004, Guanacaste Day remains an important celebration to Costa Ricans. Finally, this celebration will always be popular because it celebrates the Costa Rican's core value of democracy.



      The celebrations of a culture define its beliefs and values. Although these events may appear to be only gatherings of people enjoying themselves, celebrations have a deeper seated purpose. Celebrations are important because they symbolize, reflect and reinforce the important beliefs, and values of a society. The celebration of the Annexation of Guanacaste plays a significant role in Costa Rican culture. Through its typical dances and bullfights, many cultural ideals are reinforced including: courtship rites, gender roles, and the peace-loving attitude of the Costa Ricans.


Internet References Cited

    2003 ACM: Costa Rica photo album. Electronic document,    http://www.acm.edu/slacs/album2.html , accessed September 20

    This website seems to be a site for study abroad opportunities. ACM stands for the Associated Colleges of the Midwest. I used this site to find pictures of Costa Rica's typical dances.

  • .
  • 2004 CIA World Factbook-Costa Rica. Electronic document,    http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/cs.html , accessed September 16

  • This website gives basic background information for all countries in the world. For example: geography, population, government type, etc.



  • Costa Rica-Culture and people (Ticos). Electronic document,    http://www.puntacoral.com/costarica5.htm , accessed September 20


  • David and Cecelia Reid are the creators of the Punta Coral reserve, which the site mainly focuses on since they purchased the property in 1980. They are the creators of the Calypso Island Cruise. They are basically tour guides for the area. The site offers basic information on Costa Rica.

  • .

  • Costa Rica 's History & Facts. Electronic document,    http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/costarica/gen_1.htm , accessed   September 16

  • This site gives basic information about Costa Rica as well. Its goal seems to be to give people a general overview of Costa Rica's history and basic facts.


  • 2002 Costa Rica Tourism & Travel Bureau. Electronic document,    http://www.costaricabureau.com/cultural.htm , accessed September 18


    This is a Tourism company site. It gives information about everything you would need to know to plan a trip as well as cultural information.

  • Harding, Charlotte . “Holidays and festivals.” Associated Newspapers Ltd, This is Travel   Electronic Document,    http://www.thisistravel.co.uk/travel/guides/article.html?in_article_id=39298 ,   accessed November 12

  • This website, which is run by Associated New Media (ANM) is the "digital publishing division of Associated Newspapers Ltd., one of Britain's premier national newspaper groups, which publishes the Daily Mail, The Mail on Sunday, Evening Standard and Metro. Launched in 1995, ANM publishes some of the UK's most successful new media recources and services." My article is from the "This is Travel" section of the website which is a travel site for people in the UK to look at for advice regarding travel.

  • Innovaplant; Costa Rica . Electronic document,    http://www.innovaplant.com/cr/photogallery/costarica/photo_Costa_Rica.htm ,   accessed September 20

  • I used this website for a photograph of Costa Rican coffee beans. This site mainly shows different photographs from Costa Rica.
  • .
  •   2004 Last Frontier- the specialists in tailor-made travel to Latin America . Electronic   document, http://www.lastfrontiers.com/costarica/ , accessed September 20

  • I used this website to find the picture of my map of Costa Rica. This site, "Last Frontiers is a small, specialist Tour Operator." The focus of the site has been geared towards the individual and has iteneraries for independent travelers.
  • .
  • STA Travel-Spanish Schools: Study Spanish in Monte Verde Costa Rica. Electronic   document, http://www.amerispan.com/sta/Program_Detail.asp?ProgramID=3520 ,   accessed October 20

  • I used this site to obtain the photograph of my artifact- the marimba. This marimba is from Monte Verde Costa Rica. This site also seems to be some sort of study abroad site.


Peer-Reviewed References Cited

  • Biesanz, Karen Zubris, with Mavis Hiltunen Biesanz and Richard Biesanz

      1982 The Costa Ricans. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice -Hall, Inc.


  • Dorson, Richard M.

      1982 Material Components in Celebration. In Celebration: Studies in Festivity    and Ritual . Victor Turner, ed, pp. 33-57. Smithsonian Institution Press,   Washington


    Ember, Melvin, and David Levinson, eds. Encyclopedia of Cultural Anthropology. Vol. 1. Canada : Fitzhenry & Whiteside Ltd. , 1996.


    Gadwa, Tess.2001 “Guanacaste Day: Celebrating Democracy's Heritage in Costa Rica . ” In The    World    & I. July 2001, 172. Electronic document,    http://www.worldandi.com/subscribers/searchdetail.asp?num=21349 , accessed   November 12


    This website, “ The World & I” is a monthly publication that contains many different types of reading: politics, differing cultures throughout the world, the arts, science, literature, etc. The site claims that tts articles are written by “scholars and experts”. The section of the site I found to be most interesting was the People of the World section. This section allows you to look up articles about particular cultures around the world.


    Glassman, Paul

      1988 Costa Rica . Champlain; Passport Press.


    Helmuth, Chalene

      2000 Culture and Customs of latin America and the Caribbean : Culture and   Customs of Costa Rica London: Greenwood Press.




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