USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘guatemala’
Folk Beliefs

La Sihuanaba

The following story  is said to have occurred in Guatemala.

EO: “My aunt told me the story of the Sihuanaba and I’m not sure if it’s the wide one because like she told it to me very specifically, as if it were her that saw her. So it was like a first hand account sort of thing…I was terrified.”

What happened to your aunt?

EO: “She says she was riding a horse, and someone was ahead of her on a horse. And the person didn’t have a head or something. So they turned around, and it turns out the person’s hair was super messy, like a horse’s mane.” 

Did they interact?

EO: “No, she just looked at her, then went away. But that’s all I know about La Sihuanaba. She just looks at people and steals horses–so you can’t go alone.”


 

La Sihuanaba is a mythological creature of Guatemala and El Salvadoran folklore. Like many mythological creatures shared from parent-to-child, the story of La Sihuanaba is told by parents to convince their children not to roam alone away from the home.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Myths
Narrative

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.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Tummy Full, Heart Happy

The informant is a student from my folklore class, and we ended up meeting and exchanging stories and superstitions one night.


Original Script

“Barriga llena, corazón contento”

Transliteration

“Belly full, heart happy”

Translation

“If your stomach is full of food, then your heart is content”

Background & Analysis

This is a saying that the informant’s mom says, and that the informant herself will say after a meal. She describes it as a little happy thing you say after eating to give thanks or show appreciation.

The informant’s mother is from a small, secluded town that is surrounded by mountains called Monjas in Guatemala. Although the town has become more modernized over the past few decades, many of the traditions and superstitions still circulate. The informant is from Boston, MA, but attends USC, and she often travels to Guatemala to visit family.

My dad, who is from Chile, has a variation of this saying, “Guatita llena, corazón contento.” This is translated as “Tummy full, heart happy,” and is used the exact same way the informant uses her variation of the saying. My dad most likely learned this from his father, whose vocabulary was full of proverbs and sayings.

Folk Beliefs
Signs

Black Moths

The informant is a student from my folklore class, and we ended up meeting and exchanging stories and superstitions one night.


Script

“It’s really bad luck to kill a black moth, especially the large ones that will land on the wall. They are a sort of bad omen , since the seem to attract death. If you see one in your house, just leave it be and don’t try to scare it away, because it is the spirit of someone who has died, or who is going to die, and the appearance of the moth is either a premonition of a death, or a sign that a death has occurred.”

I asked whether the moth was necessarily a bad spirit, or just a bad omen if you were to mess with it.

“One time when my mother was thirteen years old, she saw a black moth land on the wall of her room. She didn’t disturb it and just left it there, since her mother had told her the same omen. Literally an hour letter, they received a phone call saying my uncle died in a motorcycle accident.”

I asked if the moths visit someone that has a relationship with the spirit.

“Yeah, it kind of solidifies the idea that the moth is supposed to symbolize.”

I asked if her mom knew about the moth’s significance before the encounter described previously.

“No, and then coincidentally enough the death happened. But I’ve encountered moths and I just leave them be.”

Background & Analysis

When I asked if other colored moths are also bad omens, the informant said it is only the black ones, since the color black is associated with death. Also, she described them as somber creatures that always travel alone, and tend to be very frightening and intimidating since their size is so tremendous.

The informant’s mother is from a small, secluded town that is surrounded by mountains called Monjas in Guatemala. Although the town has become more modernized over the past few decades, many of the traditions and superstitions still circulate. The informant is from Boston, MA, but attends USC, and she often travels to Guatemala to visit family.

Present in folklore across many cultures are animals or other figures that represent death. Death is universal, and even though cultures and traditions can be very different, one of the things that binds everyone together is the cycle of life. Over time, humans have become more and more obsessed with death, whether it be the fear of it or the fascination with it. The black moth is just another example among countless others.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Guatemalan Proverbs

Context: The informant is a grandmother in her 60s, originally from Guatemala, but now lives with her family in Southern California and works as a home-health nurse. When asked some of her favorite proverbios (proverbs), she gave me the following examples and attempted to translate them for her American audience (me). I also looked up the proverbs online for further clarification and explanation. The results are below.

  • Porque te quiero, te aporreo: Literal translation is “Because I love you, I hit you.” Seems to be a cultural explanation or excuse for spanking or other corporal punishment, similar to the old saying, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” In online discussions, teh general consensus seems to be that it is (or used to be) a parent’s job to correct bad behavior and promote good behavior by any means necessary, so that beating was an accepted way to discipline your child and ensure they became good, moral adults.
  • Salir de Guatemala y entrar en guatepeor: This was the most interesting proverb to me, because it is both a proverb and a pun. The meaning is something like, leaving one bad situation and entering an even worse one–like “Out of the frying pan and into the fire.” But the pun part comes from the name Guatemala, where mala means ‘bad’, and guatepeor, where peor means ‘worse’. So the proverb is literally saying, going from bad to worse, but it does so through by locating the concept in a Spanish-speaking country that, presumably, most of the Spanish-speaking world would know of and therefore have some preconceived notion of.
  • El perro que ladra no muerde: The dog that barks does not bite. Seems to be similar to the American/English saying that some(one/thing)’s bark is worse than its bite, in that they may put on an intimidating show and seem very formidable, but really they’re harmless or nothing to worry about.

Analysis: I think it is quite interesting that these proverbs are all very similar to ones that I know in English, either the general content/concept of them, or the exact wording of the phrases. This makes me wonder whether these proverbs originated in either English or Spanish and then were translated for that language group; or perhaps they came to both languages around a similar time period and from the same source (is Latin too pretentious a guess?) (one source claims that the “frying pan into the fire” saying and its many European variations is ultimately derived from an ancient Greek saying. however, the Guatemala/guatepeor saying seems to be uniquely for a Spanish-speaking audience, based on its unique play on words, so it is possible that the sayings evolved independently.)

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