Mystic Boruca Art of Costa Rica

In Jaco, this weekend we were lucky enough to have Boruca tribe member and artist, “Kamel” Melvin Gonzalez, visiting to paint a mural on a wall in town and to share some of his culture with us. Melvin prefers to be called by his traditional name Kamel, is 38 years old, and is working hard to help keep the Boruca roots and traditions alive through his paintings, mask making, and by giving inspired presentations on history and culture from his tribe. Melvin at such a young age is considered one of his tribe’s leaders and is helping to pave the way for his people’s future. 


The are 7 indigenous tribes throughout Costa Rica: the Gutatusos (Malekus), the Chorotegas, the Huetares, the Cabecares, the Bribri, the Terrabas (Teribes), the Guaymies, and the Boruca (Bruncas).  Like many native American groups, the Borucas were influenced by Mesoamerican tribes from Central America and cultures from South America. The people of the Boruca tribe are still in close touch with their ancestral traditions, but this wasn’t always the case…


In the 1980’s Kamel’s father, Ismael Gonzalez (pictured above),  realized  that the culture of his people was slipping away. He began working with the young boys of the community, teaching them how to carve masks and carry on the Boruca traditions. He founded an artisanal workshop for his town that would transmit ancestral knowledge on to the new generations.  Ismael received several awards for his efforts to rescue the arts & mask making culture of the Boruca people including the Premio Nacional de Cultura Tradicional, the Premio Magon, as well as receiving recognition for his work towards the conservation of his people’s environment. Ismael Gonzalez was deemed a living human treasure before he passed away in 2014 at the age of 86.

Kamel says that his inspiration comes from his elder male influences of the Boruca village Including his Uncle Nemesio who is 88 years old. The elders taught him that everything in life is connected on a spiritual level. They taught him the legends of the spirit world including the energies and nymphs of the mountains, waterfalls, lagunas and oceans. Because of these teachings he has a deep respect for nature, which is represented brilliantly through his art.

Sadly for the Boruca people, they have experienced the loss of many of their elders in the past 2 years, leaving many of the younger men in charge of cultural relations and keeping their heritage alive. Kamel, following in his father’s footsteps, is one who has taken on the task. As he happily told me after he finished his work, “El arte se traduce bien a todo tipo de personas.” Art translates well to all types of people. 


Artify Jaco is an organization that has been working with artists to promote street art and artistic expression in Jaco. We feel honored to have had Kamel in town for the weekend to share with us and leave his mark in Jaco. The mural is located in central Jaco, just to the right of Tico Pod Art House & Pizza Pata, next to Jaco Fine Meats. Art works by Kamel Melvin Gonzalez can be purchased in Tico Pod.



Written By: Emily Easton Reyes

Jaco, Costa Rica June 25, 2017

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Artify Jaco is a movement to beautify the city of Jaco, Costa Rica through artistic murals, street art & installations, festivals, music, etc.

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