Telisforo Blind Healer and Spiritual Leader of the Bribri Awapa

Telisforo was an Usekra, or high priest, most venerated among the sukias. He was renowned as a healer, for his communications with the Mystery, and his ability to walk among the spirits. His respect had spread throughout Bribri and across other Indian territories. He had married four times, the common marriage practice among the Bribri Awapa, a very secretive society of healers that the people recognize as being specially anointed by the Creator at birth. Even though he was blind, he said that he knows truth by talking with the spirit who tells the truth, no lies.

When a child Telisforo was watched by the elders; they look for two things: the ability of the individual, and the power of the Supreme Being. The elders elect to train this ability. Even before training, Telisforo had the gift as a child. At the age of ten began his studies, and when twelve he was taken to the region of Talamanca, San Jose Cabecar, the center for the studies of Jawa, which is like the university of Jawa. Afterwards he spent three years by the riverside as an apprentice doing all the elders told him. He learned one has to work to cure, but one does practice medicine without God. One always works with God. If anyone says he works medicine without God, the God of Bribri, it is a lie. Telisforo has been a Jawa for more than seventy years; and cured many.

His people only believe in one God whose name in Bribri is Sibu. Sometimes this gets mixed up, people of outside think there is more than one God, because each person has his own idea of God and how they represent him.

The witch doctors, the Jawa, represent God as the Spirit. This one Spirit speaks to the witch doctors through other spirits who serve him as messengers.

It is believed that after death the spirit of the person continues to live. The spirit of the dead person goes with Sibu to a placed called Kaska, a paradise.

The are people who can see in the future. Telisforo said he can. Sibu is the only one who sees into the future. He then tells Telisforo through the messenger. If there is a big illness coming to his people, Telisforo will see it this way.

The reception of this information requires concentration. Telisforo must concentrate in order to talk with the spirits. He, like other Jawa, has a stick which he uses to scare away bad spirits, but does not need to use it as often anymore, only when illness is incurable.

Telisforo talked of creation. At first there was no light, just rock. Sibu then came and made earth for Indians to live on. The Bribri people were born in the place of Talamanca. By born, he means like seed of corn. God’s thoughts produced them like seeds of corn. Like the seeds they grew into people, and learned to reproduce. When Sibu created the seed of corn, he already had everything planned out. He knew the seeds would open and the people would form. No one breathed life into the indigenous people.

The Bribri people were born at the same time and place as the Bruncas, but the latter were not born of corn but mountain pigs. The Indian people left Amari with mountain pigs, intending to take them to Brunca to kill them, but the pigs got lost. When the Indians returned to Brunca the next day, they found people, not pigs. Many indigenous people are said to have started this way; after pigs there were monkeys, the Teribe people came from them. People like telling these stories, but in reality all indigenous people came from the same place.

The indigenous own the land, then came the white man from a different place with his own way of thinking. This way of thinking they made the indigenous people adopt. Soon there will be a war, Telisforo thought within the next ten years. Many think the Indians will lose, but only God knows that. No president is for the indigenous people, but all leaders of all countries of this continent should give serious attention to what they do, and recognize the indigenous are part of the people too and listen to them.

When wars are started God usually gets mad. God does not create wars, they are created by man, which God allows to happen because people do not know how to care for each other, and take care of the earth. Some illnesses come to the indigenous people because of their connections with white men. For this reason many illnesses now indigenous people have no medicine for. God did this for punishment. The people never before had these diseases and can find no medicine to cure them.

No herbs are left, everything is for cultivation. Most of the herbs used by the people have been destroyed. Most of the sacred places have been destroyed too.

But the world will not end, Telisforo predicted. That is an idea that has been planted in the white man’s head. The indigenous people believe the world will continued. People will end, not the world. White people will eliminate themselves. Indigenous people will continue on with the earth. He advised the Indian people to continue to live in peace, even though God was very angry, it was important that they continued living in peace.

With his eyes seeing far beyond the black world of his blindness, he lividly revealed how he forced disease out of the ground. He explained that the home of disease was deep in the earth, where it was born and took root. It hides there, and the Awapa equipped with special sticks, would beat the ground to release the spirits so that illnesses would not attack the people.

When people came for help to be cured, Telisforo said he would go to the mountains for three days and three nights to listen for messages on how to cure the illness. He did not sleep during that time. He had to sing sacred songs to go to Sibu. These songs are guarded because of fear they will be misused by those who do not know their power. Once he reaches the Supreme Leader he asks what herbs he should gather and give to his patient. A.G.H.



Wall, Steve. Shadowcatchers. New York. HarperCollins. 1994. pp. 146-153.