Author Archive
Legends

La India Dormida, Panama

This legend was collected from a friend, who was born and raised in Panama City, Panama and is 20 years old. It is about the story of La India Dormida, which translates to English as “the sleeping Native woman.”

 

She told me about a story from Valle de Antón, or Anton’s Valley, which is a rural area about two hours away from the city. The place is known as a place of “eternal spring,” where people go to meditate and escape from the city. It is believed that an Urracan casique’s (Indigenous leader) daughter, often called Flor del Aire (Air’s Flower), fell in love with one of the Spanish conquistadors. Yaravi, the strongest warrior in the tribe, was in love with the woman, so he threw himself off a mountain as the woman watched. Stunned, the woman decided to forget about the Spanish conquistador and started wondering around the mountain in grief, until she fell asleep. It is said that nature decided to perpetuate her silhouette, and now that mountain has the shape of the sleeping woman.

 

I had also heard about this story before but didn’t know much of the background, and I actually drove by this mountain and thought that the shape was somewhat similar to a sleeping woman. I’ve heard that today, people regularly even go to that mountain for hikes. I’ve noticed that forbidden love is a constant theme in South and Central American legends, often punishing the woman involved.

Proverbs

“Camaroón que se duerme se lo lleva la corriente,” Mexico

This proverb was collected from a friend, who was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico and is 20 years old. The proverb “camarón que se duerme se lo lleva la corriente” translates into English literally as “a shrimp that falls asleep gets carried by the tide.” It is similar in meaning to the American saying “if you snooze, you lose.” It can be interpreted in terms of laziness, opportunity, or devotion, depending on the context it is used in, according to her.

 

My friend first related it to laziness. To her, the “tide” represented life since, it is always moving, and the shrimp represents lazy people who refuse to move with it. It is something that her mother always used to say to her and her siblings in order to motivate her to stay focused at school, and she thinks that it was very encouraging. As she grew up, she related it to opportunity when comparing the tide to an opportunity, and if you “sleep” on it you can miss it. It was her dad who gave it this meaning as he was encouraging her to apply to jobs and network as she got to college. When she had a bad experience with a close friend, another good friend said it to her comparing the tide to toxic people.

 

Even though I am from a Latin American country myself, I had never heard this before, but it is hardly surprising since Latin Americans have a reputation for being lazy so I could see why this would be popular. Like most proverbs, this one can be interpreted differently by different people depending on context, and I think it is really interesting how one person could use the experiences she was having at a certain time in her life to assign different meanings to a phrase she has been hearing since she was a child. It speaks to the universality and flexibility that some proverbs can have when looking at them from different perspectives.

Proverbs

“Más vale solo que mal acompañado,” Mexico

This proverb was collected from a friend, who was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico and is 20 years old. The proverb “más vale solo que mal acompañado” translates into English literally as “it is better to be alone than in bad company.” It clearly comes from a place of experience, and it is about toxic people not being worth befriending just for the sake of having many friends.

 

Even though my friend had been hearing it all her life, specifically from her dad, she never really believed it. Like a lot of young kids, she believed that popularity was everything and surrounded herself with as many people as she could, even though some of them weren’t good for her. They were shallow and often mean, she says, which caused her to imitate that behavior as well just so she could “fit in.” However, when she left for college, all of those relationships immediately fell through. All her “friends” stopped talking to her, and it was hard for her to be alone at first, but her dad kept reminding her of that. She really got to know herself and learned to find peace on her own, and to be a better person. That saying has become really important to her, something that she constantly reminds herself, and she is very grateful to her dad for teaching her that lesson.

 

To me, this is also a very meaningful life lesson. I have also heard it since I was very young and I had very similar experiences to my friend’s. I think is a really powerful message that most of us forget as we let appearances and popularity define our behavior. Similarly to her, that reminder has gotten me through a lot and it has also made me learn to appreciate real friends, no matter how many of them I have.

Folk speech

El chamuco, Mexico

This folk saying was collected from a friend, who was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico and is 20 years old. El chamuco is a Mexican folk saying mostly used to as a slang term referring to the devil. It often comes with religious undertones, and some versions are very detailed; for example, some people believe that his body is on fire, has one cat leg and one chicken leg, and smells strongly like copper.

 

It was used in her household in different ways. Her mother would often say things like, “go to sleep right now or el chamuco will eat you.” The hostile tone of that type of threat-like statement made her feel very scared as a child.

 

However, people also used it to refer to an evil or angry person. When her mother got angry, her father would say “if you get any angrier the chamuco is going to come out of you.” It soon became a running joke with her siblings to refer to their mother as el chamuco when they wanted to tease her. She would get really angry, which they just thought proved their point.

 

Even though I wasn’t familiar with el chamuco specifically, my parents had similar ways of getting me to listen to them, like el cuco, which was used in the same context as el chamuco and I would think could even be a variation of it. As I pay closer attention to Latin American sayings and legends, I am beginning to see that parents tend to scare their children into behaving, which is really interesting. I think Latin American parents are very strict and more religious than the average American, which is reflected in these folk sayings.

Riddle

“Agua pasa por mi casa, cate de mi corazón, lleva un vestido verde, y amarillo el corazón,” Mexico

This riddle was collected from a friend, who was born and raised in Mexico City, Mexico and is 21 years old. The riddle “agua pasa por mi casa, cate de mi corazón, lleva un vestido verde, y amarillo el corazón” translates into English literally as “water passes through my house, cate from my heart, it wears a green dress, and has a yellow heart.” The answer is avocado, for the word in Spanish for it is aguacate, so if it is split in too it becomes “agua” (the word for water) and “cate,” which isn’t an actual word.

 

My friend says she used to hear it a lot around school as she was growing up. She says she isn’t surprised that avocados were made into a riddle since avocados are very common in Mexico, and she grew up eating them with every single meal.

 

This riddle is a variation of one I grew up with myself, and it is one of the most popular ones that I can remember from my childhood. It seems that Latin American riddles are a bit more symbolic in that they involved more imagery than American ones.

Proverbs

“A quien madura Dios lo ayuda,” Mexico

This proverb was collected from a friend, who was born and raised in Mexico City, Mexico and is 21 years old. The proverb “a quien madruga Dios lo ayuda” translates into English literally as “God helps early risers.”

 

This is something her dad used to say to her to get her to wake up for school. She has noticed that it is often the older people tell to the young, like it also often happens with proverbs in general. She thinks it highlights the fact that Latin Americans are notorious for being lazy and need to be encouraged to break that habit.

 

I actually grew up hearing what seems to be this proverb’s opposite, “no por mucho madrugar amanece más temprano.” It translates to “no matter how early you get up, you can’t make the sun rise any sooner.” I thought it sounded discouraging at first, but when I thought about it, I concluded that it spoke to a similar idea; it is saying that one should not make rushed decisions, to take the time to do things right.

Legends

Isla de las Muñecas, Mexico

This legend was collected from a friend, who was born and raised in Mexico City, Mexico and is 21 years old. It is about la Isla de las Muñecas (island of the dolls), an island just outside from where she grew up.

 

The story she had heard was about a reclusive man who lived in the banks of a canal in the island who saw the corpse of a little girl and her doll floating there. He said that he could hear the girl’s screams, so he hung the doll in some nearby branches so that the spirit of the girl would be appeased. Soon, he started to collect dolls and hanging them in trees until the entire island was covered in them. Since his death, it has become a tourist attraction and people even continue to hang dolls there. Some people believe that if you walk there at night, you can hear the little girl’s screams.

 

My friend was so fascinated with the story that she went to the island herself so she could see it in person. She says she didn’t hear any screams but that she could definitely feel a very weird energy while she was there; she says she couldn’t eat right for weeks after her visit to the island.

 

I think it’s really interesting how strong the belief in ghosts is in Mexican culture. It is very evident in their movies and literature, and even in holidays such as el día de los muertos, or the day of the dead. It is also a result of the strong religious background of the country itself that leads back to the Spanish conquest.

Myths

Mayan creation story, Mexico

This myth was collected from a friend, who was born and raised in Mexico City, Mexico and is 21 years old. She told me about the creation myth of the Mayan civilization, which she learned about in school.

 

According to her recollection of the myth, the gods created the earth and the sky first, and then animals and living creatures, as well as birds and other flying animals. The gods wanted to be worshipped, but the animals couldn’t talk, so their first effort failed. Thus, they tried to make humans. They tried to make the body out of mud, but it would crumble. In their next attempt they incorporated wood, and they were successful. They reproduced, but they had nothing in their hearts and minds to worship the gods with. The gods were still unsatisfied, so they made a big flood that destroyed humanity. In their final effort, they mixed corn with water and it worked.

 

My friend is Jewish, and she sees a lot of links of this myth to her own religion’s creation myth, such as the world being created from nothing, and a great flood. She also credits this story for the view of maize, or corn, as sacred in many parts of her country. According to her, it can be found not only within the food but in literature, religious sculptures, art in general, and even in some holidays.

 

I think it’s really interesting how Mexico as a country embraces certain aspect of pre-Christian religion and finds ways to incorporate them into their everyday life. Being Jewish myself, I could also see the clear links between the two stories and the blending of different cultures into one story is very interesting.

 

For a more detailed description of this myth, see https://www.khanacademy.org/partner-content/big-history-project/what-is-big-history/origin-stories/a/origin-story-mayan

Legends

La Tulivieja, Panama

This legend was collected from a friend, who was born and raised in Panama City, Panama and is 20 years old. It is the story about La Tulivieja, a ghost who turns itself into a monster and wonders through abandoned places all around Panama, especially in rural areas.

 

According to my friend, the story is about a spirit who seduced the most beautiful woman in the region. She became pregnant from that forbidden love, and she drowned her baby in a river soon after it was born to hide her sin. However, she couldn’t escape God’s punishment, and she became a horrible monster with a face full of holes from which long hairs came out, bat wings, chicken legs, and a tule hat (which is made from plantain). She eats carbon and ashes, which is why people believe her footprints are found near bonfires. When there is a full moon, she regains her original form and can be seen bathing in the river, but she turns into a monster again as soon as there is a loud noise around. She is condemned to look for her baby for eternity, and her breasts are always filled with milk, ready to feed the baby she will never find.

 

My friend first heard it from her childhood friends and she says it made her very scared. As she was growing up, she heard it many more times in many places. She says it is one of the most popular legends in Panama and everyone she knows has heard it before, she even thinks it is the only actual Panamanian legend she has ever heard.

 

I am from Panama as well, and everyone I know has also heard of this legend, which is not surprising since Panama has a very small population of three million people. I had never heard this legend in such detail, which was also interesting, and I do think it’s one of Panamas most culturally relevant stories that I think has been adapted from Mexico’s La Llorona.

Humor

Salvadoran joke, El Salvador

This joke was collected from a friend, who was born and raised in San Salvador, El Salvador and is 21 years old. It goes like this:

 

A German, a Frenchman, an Englishman and a Salvadoran, comment on a picture of Adam and Eve in Paradise. The German says, “look at the perfection of bodies; she, slender and spiky; he, with that athletic body and profiled muscles. They must be German!” The French man immediately responds, “I do not believe it. The eroticism that emerges from both figures is clear. She, so feminine; he, so masculine; they know that temptation will soon come. They must be French!” Shaking his head no, the Englishman comments, “not at all. Notice the serenity of their faces, the gracefulness of the pose, the sobriety of the gesture. They can only be English!” After a few more seconds of contemplation, the Salvadoran exclaims, “I do not agree, Look carefully: they do not have any clothes, they do not have shoes, they do not have a house, they only have a sad apple to eat, they do not protest and they still think they are in Paradise. Those idiots can only be Salvadorans!” My friend told me this was a very popular joke that she heard many times, the first one being from her dad, and she genuinely finds it very funny.

 

I find it really interesting that religion is even incorporated into the humor of El Salvador, but not surprisingly since most of the population is Catholic. I also thought the punchline speaks to how classist Latin America and be, and how politically incorrect our jokes are in comparison to American ones.

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