GUAITIL, CHOROTEGA ART AND FOLKLORE
The Chorotega indigenous tribes first settled in Central America during the sixth century; in Costa Rica, they put down roots in the area that is present-day Guanacaste. These Mesoamericans were directly influenced by the Mayans and Aztecs, and anthropologists agree that human sacrifice was common in the Chorotega’s southernmost cultures – including ritual cannibalism.
Today the Chorotega language, culture and community has been largely lost, except for the indigenous reserve of Matambú, located between Nicoya and Hojancha. Indigenous people also inhabit the towns of San Vicente, Guaitil and Santa Bárbara. However, a central part of their art - pottery-making - is still a thriving tradition and source of immense local pride. In any given piece of art both Aztec and Inca characters can often be observed – modern-day proof of their deul ancestral influences.
Just 10 minutes from Santa Cruz, the town of Guaitil offers an opportunity to dive into this ancient traditional Chorotega art form. Workshops, stores and organizations maintain this rich legacy of traditional craft and pottery-making, which has been passed down from generation to generation; a visit here is a journey back in time through art.
Miguel Ángel Leal Vega is 39 years old, and as a child of ten he learned the trade of his mother who was a Chorotega potter. From the shop El Pilón where he works, he tells us about ancient indigenous tools, utensils and their currency – bartering.
How to Prepare It
The two main ingredients used in preparing the clay mixture are 1) mud in its natural state (75%) and 2) iguana sand (25% ), which gets its name because it is the finest sand where iguanas usually nest.
This mixture is kneaded by foot for approximately two hours. By then it should become a single clay paste, which is stored in a plastic bag so that it remains moist and can later be molded.
Once Vega starts to give shape to a pot – or any other piece of artwork – the clay is ready to be polished and varnished with 7 layers of white paint known as puriol.
Later, he polishes it again with a rock or plastic.
Next he adds an additional layer of paint, this time with a sponge or a homemade tool assembled from bicycle and fan parts and electric stove burners.
Once finished, it is polished again to make it shine and chiseled to engrave its surface with drawings.
It is placed in the sun for two days and after this, straight into the oven, which must be cooked between 800 - 1000º for 25 or 30 minutes.