Folk Beliefs
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Duende’s Curse

Informant (J.B.) is a 19 year old Los Angeles native. J.B.’s mother is an immigrant from Thailand, and his father is an immigrant from Guatemala. J.B. speaks English, Thai, Korean, Japanese, some Spanish. J.B. and I grew up in the same neighborhood, with mutual friends. One afternoon while overhearing another collection I was conducting, J.B. offered to share a story about his late uncle.

J.B.: “My dad, when he was 8 years old, he was living in Guatemala, and his older brother was about 16. He had this job as a dude who delivers to the construction workers up in the mountains. There’s a folk story that in the forest there were spirits that would ask you to bring them a child as a sacrifice to eat, and they’ll reward you with fame, money, and whatever. If you decline than you’ll die or get sickness, your life is screwed over somewhere. My dad’s brother was walking one day, at night, to do a delivery, and a tree was talking to him, and he thought he was tripping out. And the tree asked him to bring a child and he said no. And the tree said I’ll give you a chance, if you don’t bring it in a week you’re going to get sick and die. So obviously he didn’t go back, and in a week he actually did get really sick, like on the verge of death. They had doctors there, and I don’t know exactly what it was, but he had an illness that couldn’t be cured for the rest of his life. He lived out the rest of his life pretty normal, but would have episodes from his sickness. A few years ago he died from one of the episodes from that sickness. I don’t know what he had, I’m trying to remember but I have no idea.”

Upon conducting further research, I discovered a mythological creature, present mostly in Latin American culture, called the ‘duende.’ Europe’s goblins, fairies, and leprechauns all fit into the same category as the duendes of Latin America and the Philippines. While the duende has many different oikotypes throughout the Latin world, they are broadly defined as magical sprites known to cause mischief, especially in areas surrounding forests. I am not acquainted with J.B’s family, however J.B. was happy to share a piece of their heritage with me this afternoon. As J.B. lost an immediate family member to an unknown illness, his father’s account of the duende’s curse carries sentimental value to J.B., and will forever be entwined with the folklore of his father’s distant homeland.

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