The informant, EM, grew up in the country of El Salvador, which is in part known for its vast jungles and large amount of volcanoes. Naturally there are many legends surrounding these places, including ones about creatures that may live there. EM shared a story with me about one of these creatures, El Cipitio:
“So there are different, interconnecting traditions regarding beings or creatures in El Salvador. El Cipitio is a kind of a duende- or what do you call them, the Irish creature? Like those ones who trick you? A leprechaun! He’s a little bit like a leprechaun.
He always tries to deceive people, specifically young girls, because he wants to take them back to his cave or wherever he lives. So he will do silly things to entice them and deceive them.
But El Cipitio is the bastard son of another legendary figure, La Sihuanaba. Depending on the story, La Sihuanaba was a woman who lived in pre-colonial times- she was the beautiful wife of a famous chief. She was unfaithful- so there is something about that, right? A warning about what will happen to you if you are unfaithful in a very patriarchal society. So, it says, “this is what happens to women who are unfaithful”. A shaman condemned her to forever appear in front of men who wanted to be unfaithful- once they are alone together, she will become this ugly woman. So El Cipitio is her son.
In the story, El Cipitio is always alone, and he dresses like a peasant with a white clothing and a huge, huge hat. So I don’t know how you can’t spot this guy from a mile away! You’d think the hat is so huge you can see him anywhere. But he will hide in the jungle and entice youg girls to go with him, and little girls just disappear.
A statue of El Cipitio in El Savador
If you think about it, it’s a story that tells you what is wrong and what is right- there’s the idea that you will be marked for life if your mom is unfaithful. And people will always label you as something different if you were not born to a married family. There are specific places were it’s said that he lives, a specific cave in a specific town. It’s called San Vincente and its by a volcano called Chinchontepec. So there are caves there and people say he lives in them. It’s so people don’t go to places that are remote and dangerous, so don’t go there because something might happen to you and you will never return. There are stories that gold was hidden in those caves by the Spaniards- there’s a lot of folklore surrounding that region.”
Who told you about him?
“You grow up with those stories. It could be an adult, or you could hear it on the radio. You will find it any book with short stories when you are learning to read. But El Cipitio was so popular that he even had a tv show! And a song. You can see him pretty much anywhere.”
My thoughts: There are some very familiar elements in this story that are reminiscent of other Latin American legends, suggesting there is great intertextuality and variation by country. I was intrigued by the description of La Sihuanaba, who reminded me of two different Hispanic legends. She resembles La Descarnada, a legendary figure from Panama that another informant shared with me. Both stories seem to have the same cautionary purpose- to warn men not to womanize because they may end up encountering this monstrous woman. Her origin story also reminds me of La Malinche, another disgraced native woman who was transformed into a ghost legend (in her case, into La Llorona). These legends probably all derive from one story and then evolve as they are spread across Central America.
The legend of El Cipitio is reflective of Latin American views on gender, as discussed briefly by the informant. It warns women about infedility and how they will be punished for cheating or having an illegitimate child. It also depicts the male figure, El Cipitio, as a predatory figure who wants to steal young girls- this also reflects the common advice “don’t talk to strangers”, as well as deterring them from going anywhere dangerous like the jungle or the mountains on their own.
For more on El Cipitio, see this article, “El Cipitio” from El Salvador Mi Pais, a version of the legend in Spanish that expands upon the Nahuatl origins of this story: http://www.elsalvadormipais.com/leyenda-del-cipitio
The informant is a 2o year old classmate and friend of mine who was excited to share about her camp’s urban legend.
I went to a camp called Lake of the Woods Camp for girls, I was a camper for 8 years, and went for 8 weeks every summer since I was 7.
So its just kind of a camp legend that we’ve always had. theres this story about Turtle man- the legend of turtle man, and theres this place called turtle bay at camp and its part of our lake at camp and its filled with sulfur and so it smells really really bad. So the urban legend goes that there was a counselor who was really mean to all the campers- he worked at Greenwood’s Camp for Boys, and so um the counselor was really mean, just not a nice person- beat the campers, was awful to them. He would smoke cigarettes in the cabin, and he was just so rude to them and he told them if you tell your parents who i am I’m going to kill you all or something like that because he was an ex military person. And he um one day the boys decided to pull a prank of him because they hated him so much- it was fourth of july and they decide to pull a prank on him. This was back when you could receive a bunch of packages and have packages with fireworks and they were just going to blow them up and the counselor found them and he said he would confiscate them. So he put them under his bed. Since it was fourth of july, all the counselors like to get drunk and so he came home that night and he was really drunk and was smoking a cigarette and he fell asleep with the cigarette in his hand and the fireworks went off and the counselor ran into turtle bay and he was never seen again- and the myth is that he comes back every fourth of july to haunt the campers.
I first heard it my first year at camp from older girl campers, and now even though they don’t allow ghost stories everyone still knows about it.
I like this piece specifically because it really shows how strong a piece of folklore can be. As the informant mentioned, the camp banned ghost stories, presumably because the age range of kids in the camp is quite large. Even so, the informant mentioned that everyone knows the story anyways and it will continue to be passed down.
MR heard about the legend of Oniontown at a summer camp a few hours away, in New Milford, Connecticut. Him and his friends didn’t believe it was real, so they went on a legend quest to see if it was true. It’s a bit of a memorate in that their own personal experience might have been due to other causes, but fit into the legends surrounding the place and and therefore they (at least at first) attributed their experience to what they had heard about inbreeding and meth cookers, despite acknowledgements that the town might just be trying to keep all these dumb kids out.
“Oniontown is a tiny town surrounded by urban legends. People say that it’s a place where people are giant inbred mutants. It’s a lawless society where mutant people will drag strangers out of their car and beat them to death. Police overlook it, though it is only a few miles from civilization. It supposedly has a giant statue of an onion in the town square.
I was friends with camp owner’s son, and the counselors & them went to go and prove it wrong since we were so close and obsessed with urban legends. We got a van together and went to check it out.
They made a rule that if anyone gets too scared, they would turn back, no questions asked.
As they are driving, it starts getting more woodsy.
Two of the people get freaked out and don’t like way it looks. They decide they’re too scared, and ask to turn back.
Ok, fine, so we turn back, but then we get lost. We have no clue where we are. We got so lost that we ended up right near the main road to Oniontown. We decided we might as well go check it out, so we drop our scared friends off at McDonalds and tell them we’ll go explore and come back for them.
The stories say that first the road will turn to gravel, then get narrower and narrower, then mutants will come.
The first thing we see is a junkyard on right named “Murphy’s autobody,” which we take to be a good sign because Murphy is last name of guy driving car. Which, by the way, is a piece of shit car. It’s a van driven down from Canada, old and decrepit, which was given to the guy to run into the ground since it’s near the end of its life).
Then the asphalt turns to gravel.
The two car road changes to a one car then narrows even more to barely a one car road. We wonder how on gods green earth do people get to this city.
We come around a bend and stop. Headlights turn on in front of us.
Three enormous guys get out in road in front of us, huge ass guys, seven feet tall, and one is holding a cinderblock.
The mood in car turns from laughing to complete horror. One guy throws a rock, and the entire windshield shatters.
On of the other guys throws something else at passenger window, and that shatters too. I was in the backseat so it took a while for this to register.
One friend, who I credit our survival to his fast thinking, decided to drive forward. At the last minute he sees a branching road, spins the wheel and goes down that way and into a field. ACDC was on the radio, and my friend thought it was a good idea to turn it up. It was only funny later.
We go back to the road, spin around, and go back to MacDonald’s.Our friends are still there, eating a happy meal and taking their sweet time. We scream and motion for them to get in the car. They get up, take their time, throw away their stuff, not aware of what’s happening. Just then the truck with the guys pulls in and comes around other side of parking lot and rolls down the window.
A guy says: ‘You think this is a joke? Think this is funny? don’t ever come to our town again.'”
MR thinks that because so many people heard about onion town and started to visit, people got tired of strangers coming to town and now mess with people. He also still thinks there’s something fishy going on, maybe cooking meth or something of the sort. There are weird buff hillbillies, nonetheless.
The informant (my grandmother), loves Halloween and all things spooky. I remember that as a child, I could always expect to hear a horrific legend or other form of narrative when visiting her house. I asked the informant if she would be able to hold a video call with me over FaceTime, and during the call I asked her which of these narratives was her favorite to tell. She said it was a legend almost everyone had heard in some fashion, called “The Man With the Hook.”
“We would always tell this story on the way to Clear Lake. We’d stop the car and park on the side of the road when we got close to Napa State Hospital, then start to tell the story to whichever kids were in the car. It goes that some teenagers were parked near the hospital the night before doing something they were not supposed to be doing, listening to music and making out. Suddenly, the music stops and an announcement comes on the radio that a mental patient who had a history of murdering young girls just escaped from Napa State Hospital. We chose this hospital because in those days, it was the closest place where crazy people were put, and there was a prison part to it. He was distinctive because he had lost one hand and had a hook. The girl got scared and said she heard something outside, but the boy dismissed her saying that she was just paranoid. She yelled at him, and he got mad so he peeled out from where they were parked and sped away. Right when the car started moving she asked if he heard something, and he said no. When they got back home and stepped out of the car, there was a bloody hook on the door. They never found the man, though, and rumor has it he is still out searching for his next victim.”
This is a classic scary narrative that most Americans will say they have heard in some form. This particular version was adapted to a particular location that was convenient to the informant, so that the fear of the children who heard it was amplified by the supposed proximity of the man with the hook. The legend functions not only as a way to playfully elicit paranoia in children, but also to warn them against misbehaving. It is implied that the teenagers in the narrative are doing something that they shouldn’t be by kissing in the car at a remote location so as to not get caught by their parents, and as a result of this behavior the man with the hook almost gets them. No part of this narrative must take place in a specific geographic location, so it can easily be told by those who know it wherever they happen to be.
Original Script: “Okay so this is crazy…but basically my friends dad is in the marines, and he is usually based in Guam or San Diego like at the Marine base. So, she was born in San Diego and lived their the majority of her life, when her dad would be deported she would stay with her grandparents. Anyway, while in Guam, her dad would go to bars with his friends when they had some time off… Well one night they were bored…or something, so they all went to someone’s house and there was a Ouija board and they started playing with it. And they were all drunk too so that made it worse. So, they asked a couple of questions and actually did work, so they got freaked out and wanted to get rid of it and they ended up throwing it away. But the friend had gotten the board from someone that lived there. Like the Island is still an old world nation so they still have a lot of old cultural things and they believe in demons attaching themselves to a living person. A couple days later he found it under his bed and thought, ‘who the hell is playing tricks on me it must of been one of my friends or whatever.’ So he went to throw it in a dumpster far away from where he lived because it still freaked him out a little bit and so nobody could find it and put it under his bead again. However, a couple of days later he found it under his AGAIN, and he was like, “No this is bullshit,” so he burned the Ouija board because he didn’t want to mess with it anymore. A couple days later, he found it under the bed, AGAIN. It literally unburned, like how the hell does that happen? And he got so freaked out he went to priest, the priest had to keep in the church because the Ouija board was possessed and had to close the portal that created the bridge between the spirit world and the living—so spirits and demons couldn’t come into where they were living. The priest had to go to all of the people who participated in the Ouija board and had to bless where they were all living. However, I don’t know if it worked because at her house she was possessed, like I’m not friends with her anymore because she acted that way…like her family is haunted, cursed! I would never mess with a Ouija board, that stuff brings in bad shit.”
Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Kamilah and her mother have always been spiritual people. The belief in witches, demons, and angels is strong to Kamilah’s mother however, it is even more so in her home country—Nicaragua. Kamilah has always believed that spirits and demons haunt Ouija board and had repeated multiple times that she would never participate in the practice of the Ouija board in fear of letting a devil haunt her and her family.
Context of the Performance: Ouija board usage in Guam
Thoughts about the piece: As a firm believer in never using a Ouija board, I have to say this story chilled me to the core. The legend of the demons in Guam is an interesting one. In this account of a Ouija board, the unexplainable—like the board ending up under the father’s bed and the board being mysteriously unburned—becomes prominent. This legend shows the prominent cultural influence of Guam and their old-world mindset. It also shows their belief in the demons and spirits not only attaching themselves to a Ouija board but also these entities attaching themselves to the living.
However, what fascinated me the most was the extent of the curse of the Ouija board. This curse of the girl’s father, travelled over seas to San Diego, where inevitably the whole family ended up being affected. Even though Kamilah was not a first account of the story happening in Guam, she was the first account of how the curse had affected the entire family, to the extend where it terrified her so badly that she had to cut ties with them. I believe this example of the legend of the Ouija board is relative to not only the Guam culture, but also the American culture. Even though, the people of Guam were terrified of the Ouija board, for example the priest having to lock it up in the church so that he could seal it properly, it also shows how an American, Kamilah, even I, were chilled by the story of the board. Perhaps, it is because of the unknown that scares us, but the aftermath experienced by Kamilah was what led her to believe that the family was cursed. Nevertheless, I do wonder who gave the father’s friend the board, for if the people of Guam were so afraid of them, was it considered an act of revenge to give the board to someone else? Nonetheless, this story demonstrates how legends can transcend upon different cultures, affecting them the same way—instilling a feeling so powerful that it influences people—in this case the feeling was fear.
S is a 21-year-old Filipino woman. She is currently majoring in Business Administration at the University of Southern California. She grew up in the Philippines and therefore identifies as Filipino, however, she also identifies as Chinese. S speaks English, Mandarin, Tagalog and Hokkien, the last being two of many languages specific to the Philippines.
S: There’s a lot of ghost stories from like the Philippines. Like there’s this one street in the Philippines, it’s called Balete Drive.
Me: Can you spell that?
S: B-a-l-e-t-e. Balete. It’s in Manila and ’cause I guess it got it’s name from like all the, ’cause it a kind of tree, so then there’s like a whole bunch of like tree in like that specific street, and no one ever wants to pass through there ’cause it’s just so fricken scary. And they say like in those trees, each specific tree, like there’s like this thing that lives up there and like it smokes and like…
Me: Is there like an actual story that goes with it, or is it just kind of a…
S: I can’t, I’m not exactly sure like what’s the origin, but I just know that there’s just a weird scary creature up there. Yeah, I don’t know, I mean, it’s pretty popular though.
Me: So you just don’t pass on that street?
S: Yeah, we just don’t go though that street. Because it’s too scary. I don’t know. But see that’s the thing, like we have so many ghost stories and just like ghost, like yeah, there’s like too many. There are many different kinds. But like I don’t think you should share that, or like search that, it might freak you out. Like once you start googling and see pictures of it, I don’t think that’s a good idea. Yeah, so maybe not.
S describes a street, Balete Drive, in Manila that is said to be haunted. She says that there are things that live in the Balete trees that are so prominent on the street and that they haunt Balete Drive and they smoke and are generally just scary to think about. It is obvious that she is still scared of this road and that she, even as an adult, will not go walk on that street for fear of the creatures of legend that are said to haunt it. She warns not to go on that street as well as not to even look it up because it would be scary. Even talking about it made her a bit uncomfortable, even though she does not know the origin and the story behind the legend, it still scares her and has a lot of influence on her.
AA is a high school senior living in Arcadia, California. She is certainly a folklore enthusiast- when I collected this piece from her in her bedroom, her bookshelves were stuffed with books about mythologies and tales from seemingly every corner of the world. But I was surprised to hear this legend about a location only miles away from our neighborhood that she shared with me:
“Ok, so the Colorado Street Bridge in Pasadena, right? So what I heard is that it’s known to be, like, a suicide bridge, so a lot of students will go there and jump off the bridge. I think there was this one time, uh, where there was this couple that went on the bridge. It was late at night. And they saw this kid, you know, and he was about to jump. And they had persuade him, and coax him for an hour or two so that he wouldn’t jump. He didn’t jump off the bridge. But he disappeared into thin air right after he told them that he wouldn’t jump.
Another story says that a man was just walking down the bridge and there was this certain area where, like, it felt colder than other places on the bridge. The air was still- there was no breeze or anything. And later he found out that someone had actually died jumping off from that same spot.
This legend really fascinates me. I’ve basically asked everyone if they’ve heard anything about it and I’ve read about it online. I’ve never gone to walk around there myself, though- I would be too scared.”
What made you want to look more into this story?
“The bridge is just so pretty. I always wondered about it though- I always wondered why it was just empty. Like, you will never see anyone on the bridge. I remember driving past it at night and the streetlamps were on, do you could totally walk on it- but still it was completely empty. I always wondered why, I drive past this bridge every day and not once have I seen someone walking on the bridge.
It’s interesting because it’s so close to us. It’s this super recognizable landmark. You’ll read about everywhere, it’s one of the things people know about where we live. And the story is just so sad, you don’t really think about people committing suicide so nearby. It’s such a nice area. You wouldn’t expect it. Also it’s so public. It’s hard to imagine people going there to kill themselves right in front of the highway, in this very recognizable, very public place. It’s very tangible when it’s happening in a place you know. It’s a huge problem.”
The Colorado Street Bridge in Pasadena, CA
My thoughts: Places with tragic histories almost always have legends surrounding them. Perhaps these frightening legends are meant to deter people from going there to commit suicide themselves, or to warn people to stay away in case they end up witnessing something traumatic. While it might have originated as a way of explaining why the bridge is always empty, I think it might have gone the other way around, too. It’s a widely circulated story I’ve heard in my neighborhood, and I think it’s definitely had an impression on the people who have heard it- the bridge is always deserted because people are scared to walk there at night, even though its safe and brightly lit. Also this legend ties into other folklore that claims that the spirits of those who committed suicide might stay behind- again, this is a cautionary tale that denotes suicide as wrong or immoral by presenting potential consequences of committing suicide.
For more on this legend, see Weird California’s write-up, Pasadena’s Suicide Bridge, which discusses the bridge’s tragic history as well as the ghost stories surrounding it: http://www.weirdca.com/location.php?location=57
The informant, LF, is a 45 year old Panamanian woman. She went to college in the United States and lives here now, but she grew up in Panama City. Here is a cautionary legend she recalls from her childhood:
“This is a story that has to do with masculinity, I guess, and it is about men who are in the wrong place at the wrong time doing the wrong thing.
The men in the story are usually drunk, family men are coming back home from womanizing- whatever it is, they’re not supposed to be doing it. It’s always very late at night, and they are driving home, minding their own business- almost always driving under the influence. They’re driving through a lonely place on a deserted street when they see a woman on the side of the road. She’s beautiful beyond belief, so the men pull over to offer her a ride. And of course the woman says yes.
So the woman gets into the car. When they drive past a cemetery, the woman will say that that is her stop. When she gets out- the men want to touch her sometimes, taking advantage of the fact that her back is turned. But when they touch her, the only thing they can feel through the fabric is bones. When she turns back to look at them, she’s just a body without any flesh.
The story is called “La Descarnada”, which means “the one without flesh”, or “the flayed woman” in Spanish. At this point she will then turn around and run into the cemetery. The men are said to lose their minds, either forever or temporarily. If they survive the experience, they change their ways and learn to stop staying out so late, picking up women.”
Why do you know or like this piece?
“I know it because during the Holy Week, there used to be no TV. Well, there was TV, but it was just the same movies over and over, like “the Robe”- really old movies, black and white, all related to Catholicism. And when I was a kid, I didn’t know those movies were good! So I was bored. The radio would only play classical music- there was nothing to do. So us kids would gather around and tell stories, usually with the lights off. It was the Holy Week, so you couldn’t hear anything. You only heard dogs barking in the distance, or cats meowing, it was really scary. That was one of the stories that was told in our storytelling circles. I think I first learned it from my mom or my grandma, one or the other.
When I was a kid, I thought it was just a scary story. Now that I’m old, I recognize that it was a cautionary tale from women to men, like “don’t do this, you’re going to find something you don’t want to find”.
My thoughts: This legend reflects attitudes towards gender in Panama, and what is expected from both genders. Latin American societies consider womanizing to be a display of being macho, as well as heavy drinking and even driving under the influence to prove that you are “man” enough to handle it. These behaviors are self-destructive, so this cautionary legend warns against them. The fact that the story is often told by women reflects that they want men to remain faithful to them and be at home with their families instead of out drinking. Legends like this one can be powerful because they can dissuade people from acting dangerously or immorally since it is ingrained in them from a young age- in this case, this story would be passed from mothers to their children.
About the Informant(s): Informant A and her husband (Informant B) are both from Turkey. They met in college, got married, and then came to the US for graduate school. They are both currently teaching assistants for math.
Informant A: Before engagement, [to ask] for her hand…the [two] families get together and…
Me: They talk about getting engaged?
Informant A: Yeah. It’s like these two young people have seen each other; they like each other. So what should we do about this?
Me: The parents [meet]?
Informant B: No, the parents and the kids. The future bride makes coffee for the groom’s family.
Informant A: It’s a special kind of coffee. Turkish coffee. It looks like espresso. The bride puts salt in the coffee. The groom’s coffee. If the groom drinks it without any complaints, then the bride’s side says: ‘ooh, our groom is very nice. He didn’t say anything even though the coffee is not the best.’ But I didn’t do it…
Informant B: She was afraid that I would just spit it out.
Informant A (slightly sad): I didn’t do it.
Informant B: I heard a story but I am not sure if it is correct or not. A groom was…
Informant A: Dead! It is rumored that the bride put pepper, salt, eggs, many spices…
Informant B: Many spices, and the groom drank it and like, there was news that he…just died.
Informant A: He died!
Me: From drinking coffee?
Informant B: But they put several things inside the coffee.
Me: Like poison?
Informant A: I think they overdid it extremely. I don’t know. I just heard of it. I think it was food poisoning.
Me: So is it like a legend? No one knows if it’s actually true?
Informant B: It could be. I’m not sure.
Background Information/Context: I asked this couple about some Turkish wedding traditions, and the conversation went to how an engagement happens. Although Informant A didn’t follow tradition and give her current husband salty coffee, they both knew about it. It seems that brides normally put salt in, but they might add a variety of other things like spices in the coffee as well. Soon, the conversation turned to a legend about this fateful cup of coffee (that has to be Turkish coffee). Although the legend is about dead groom, we still laughed about it because of how extreme and ironic it sounded. I got the impression that the couple thought that this tradition was quite unnecessary and laughable, yet Informant A still seemed a bit disappointed that she did not put her husband to the test.
My thoughts: It seems that this tradition came about as a way for the bride’s family to see how fitting the groom is for the bride and how much he loves her. If the groom is willing to go through this kind of pain, then he can endure any kind of hardship in the future as well. This would explain why Informant A might have been disappointed because she did not place that trust in her husband back when they got engaged (even though they are a great couple today). The fact that a legend exists because of this tradition also shows how some people do not approve of this kind of test, since after all, someone could die from it. This legend acts as a cautionary tale for people thinking about getting married (telling the bride to go easy on the groom). It also acts as a way for people to deal with the fear of the engagement meeting not going as well as expected–even if the groom doesn’t spit it out, he could still die. Perhaps, for Informant A, it is a way for her to deal with the regret of not putting salt in Informant B’s coffee.
My informant is a freshman at USC. He is half white and half Puerto Rican but was raised solely by his Puerto Rican mother and grandmother along with his younger brother in San Antonio Texas.
“So it’s supposed to be a mixture between like a vampire and a wolf. So its supposed to be like, a demon-dog kind of? La chupacabra. People’s sheep and cows and stuff started to die mysteriously and…they would like, have weird bite marks that they couldn’t identify on them. It never tears up the animal, there’s just these like…just like these two bite marks in them. That’s why they think it’s a mixture between a mixture between a wolf and a vampire…that’s what it lives off of. And it’s not supposed to be too big it’s supposed to be around like, two feet long and a foot high. But its really vicious with like red eyes and hairless…it, it looks like a rabid coyote pretty much…like a rabid fox. And its…its, people have claimed to have found the Chupacabra multiple times and they’ve found like…dog looking things but most of the time people find “Chupacabras” its like a diseased coyote or a rabid dog. And so, there’s been like sightings of it in Mexico and South Texas—where I’m from—which is where I heard about it. And my grandma you know, used to like scare me you know, saying like, ‘If you go outside at night or if you walk around’ like if I got out of bed at night, ‘the chupacabra will come and get you.’ So I guess that’s where I heard the story from.”
Analysis: The legend is said to have originated from from the mysterious disappearance of peoples livestock. Unexplained bite marks and animals that had been completely drained of blood were unsettling sights in the areas where La Chupacabra was rumored to have been sighted. The legend has taken on the purpose of scaring young children as a means of preventing them from wandering off or getting up in the middle of the night. Mothers and grandmothers would tell their children the story of La Chupacabra to instill good behavior. Given the graphic nature of the way in which La Chupacabra sucks the blood from its victims, the story seems scary enough to keep little children in bed at night and prevent them from engaging in bad late night behavior. Another version of this story can be found on Animal Planets “Lost Tapes” section of their webpage: