Tuesday, March 23, 2010

La Llorona and El Cuco

"You Can't Get Away Now, Llorona!"Image by garlandcannon via Flickr

It sounds like some crazy pair of South American bandits, but they're actually the main characters of two Peruvian folk tales.

For those not in the know, this week is World Folktales and Fables Week, so I thought I'd tell you about a few of the tales that I've heard since I've been here.

La Llorona
(lah yore-OWN-a)

There are tales of La Llorona (the crying lady) all through South America, and it's particularly popular in Mexico. Here in Peru, the story I was told goes like this: There was an indigenous woman who fell deeply in love with a Spanish nobleman, and he with her. Although his family forbid him to marry her, they maintained a relationship and even had children. Then, one day the nobleman's father announced that they had found the perfect Spanish lady for his son to marry. When she heard the news, his lover was so distraught that she took her children down to the Rio Rimac (some people say she took them to the beach) and drowned them. When she came to her senses and realized what she had done, she killed herself. Now, her ghost wanders the banks of the river, sobbing and crying out 'Donde estan mis hijos?' (where are my children?) It's said that if she finds children out alone after dark, she'll drag them into the river to join her and her family.

El Cuco
(el COO-coh)

El Cuco is one of my favorite Peruvian folktales. It's another story that's popular in much of S. America, and is also known in Spain and Portugal. El Cuco is very much like the boogeyman of North America, in that he's used to frighten disobedient children. His appearance has changed over the years and from place to place, but in Peru he's thought to be a large hairy beast with large teeth. What's really frightening about him though, isn't how he looks, but in what he does. He kidnaps children, takes them away and most likely eats them - but they're never seen again. It's a common thing to hear a parent say 'if you don't eat your dinner, the Cuco will take you away!' (No wonder children are terrified of the dark!) It's such a well known story that Lima's main newspaper used it as the theme for a television ad.

Comercial El Cuco - El Comercio
Cargado por morris_cristhian. - Descubre más videos creativos.

(Kid won't eat his liver, El Cuco comes to take him away, the kid argues that the food's really bad. El Cuco tries it out, and is so disgusted he takes mom instead - takes her to buy a series of recipes published by the newspaper!)

(peesh TAH koh)

The final tale in our gruesome threesome today is one that was actually in the news a bit lately. The Pishtaco is another type of boogeyman, this one from the Southern Andes, although it's known all over Peru. Generally reported as being a white skinned man, the Pishtaco likes to kidnap unsuspecting Indians and steal the fat from their bodies, and sometimes fry them up as chicharrones. Pishtaco comes from the Quechua word pishtay which means to behead. In the past, belief in the pishtacos has caused some problems for everyone from early Spanish missionaries to US aid programs; people thought it might be a plan just to fatten children up for later 'harvesting'. The belief in the pishtaco exists to this day, and recently made headlines when it was used as a cover-up for alleged extrajudicial police killings.

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