I recently spent the day with my aunt. While we had lunch, she recounted a legend from her childhood in El Salvador:
E: “Esta leyenda trata de la historia de una mujer llamada Sihuehet q tuvo un romance con el hijo del Dios Tlaloc, del cual resulto embarazada, pero como era una mujer muy vanidosa, esta descuidaba a su hijo El Cipitio quien tenia q comer cenizas porq ella no lo alimentaba. Fue por ello Tlaloc la maldijo por ser una mala madre y le dijo q ahora se llamaría Sihuanaba (mujer horrible), sería hermosa y atractiva a primera vista condenada a viajar por el campo. Se dice q se veía lavando ropa por las noches buscando a su hijo, al cual el Dios Tlaloc e concedió la juventud eterna como recompensa a su sufrimiento. La sihuanaba se encontraba a la orilla de ríos y quebradas, apareciéndosele a los hombres mujeriegos, trasnochadores, don juanes y curiosos q se veian atraídos por su belleza lejana, pero cuando se acercaban a ella esta se convertia en un ser horrible con los pechos q le caían hasta el suelo, volviendo locos a los hombres. Cuentan q para no perder su alma, el hombre q la tiene cerca debe morder una cruz o una medallita y encomendarse a Dios, o estirar su mano y halarle el pelo para q ella se asuste y se tire a un barranco, de lo contrario enloquecían.”
E: “This legend is about the story of a woman named Sihuehet who had a romance with the son of the god Tlaloc, which resulted in her impregnation, but since she was a very vain woman, she would often neglect her son, El Cipitio, who had to eat ash because she would not feed him. Because of her actions, Tlaloc cursed her for being a bad mother and told her that from now on she will be called Sihuanaba (horrible woman), she’d be beautiful and attractive at first sight, condemned to wander the camps. It is said that she is seen washing clothes at night while looking for her son, who the god Tlaloc granted eternal youth as a reward for his suffering. Sihuanaba can be found beside rivers and rapids, appearing to womanizers, night travelers, and curious farmers who are attracted to her beauty from far away, but when they get close to her she would horribly transform and her breast would sag to the floor, driving the men mad. They say that in order to not lose their soul, the man who has her close must bite down on a cross or medallion and turn themselves over completely to God, or stretch out their hand and pull on Sihuanaba’s hair so she can become afraid and throw herself into the ravine, otherwise the men will go mad.”
The legend of La Sihuanaba is closely associated with rivers and ravines. Growing up with a river behind her house, my aunt remembers hearing this legend from her parents. My aunt vaguely recalls hearing the legend around her school, which also happened to be located near a river. My aunt said that this legend was her parents’ way of teaching her the importance of being selfless. She said she didn’t want to be vain like Sihuehet and she definitely wanted to be a better mother than Sihuehet.
The legend of La Sihuanaba is similar to that of La LLorona. However, I enjoyed hearing about La Sihuanaba more because it was so new to me and because it came from my parents’ home country. I found it fascinating how the legend affects men and women, equally. For men, the legend acts as a warning towards promiscuity. As for women, the legend warns against vanity and the neglecting of children.