USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Little People’
Folk Beliefs

Los Duendes

 Los Duendes

Informant: So my grandma, she used to tell me that when she was little, there used to be belief that these shoe-man, or shoemaker and he had a lot of little helpers and they were like little men, like elves. They were nice to children, but they were mischievous and they were mean to adults and they would destroy and mess up things around the house. When everybody is sleeping, they would go in the houses and they would like make a mess  and  . . .  they wouldn’t like hurt people, but they were just mischievous.

One of my friends told me a story also about a little man but this one was evil. She told it to me when I was little. She claims that she saw a little man sliding on the slide from her closet. The little man was on the top of a sled, and he slid down, and as he was going down he looked evil and he had a knife. A mean face with a knife. So she ran.

She said that at that time, her mom was pregnant and the baby was born dead. So she thinks that it was a sign, like the little man killed the baby. I don’t know, that’s what she told me.

Interviewer: Do a lot of people believe in duendes?

Informant: Yeah, a lot of people believe in like little duendes.

Interviewer’s notes:

I was very surprised to learn that Mexico also has a history of “little men” very similarly to other world cultures. It is interesting to see the dichotomy of the roles between the informants’ own account, and the one she picked up from a friend. In one instance they are seen as the protectors of children (albeit mischievous ones) and in the other they are seen as evil, or as bad omen.

Folk Beliefs


Duendes in this context are described as both little people or little children that are in people’s houses who can be mischievous take your things or want to play. They are creatures that my informant knew of in both Mexico and here in the United States.

My informant talked about duendes as both good and bad and then went on to discuss why she thinks Mexicans tell kids scary stories.

Her description of duendes verbatim:

“People they say those they call the duendes they say they’re little bit people some people said they’re little people and other people said they are kids. I hear two versions. I heard a story from my friend a long time ago because we talking about them and they say they scare you but they say they are play people, they like to play with you. They say they are mischievous? Something like this and they say they like to play, and they like to hide the things for you. Then another person say they are bad when you do something or when you are angry with them they are bad they do bad things to you. Also when I was a girl I had a neighbor and she was an old lady very very old. She was very very old. She has uh big house. She was living alone at that time, she was living alone in the house and she never come out. She’s always sitting in right inside it or behind the window. And she has the window with a gate, with the metal thing that always covered the window. I like to to go next to the house, but we stay outside by the street and we talking with her, she’s behind the window. And she always says she has duendes in her house. She would always say that ‘I have duendes in my house. And they play with me they come to be with me.’ And we we think it’s something bad or something scary and I remember I asked her all the time do you feel scary when they come and she say ‘Oh no, it’s not scary because they are good with me, they play and they come to be with me’ and I ask her ‘Really?’ And she say ‘Oh, yes, they are good.’ But I have friends that say they are bad and they do bad things but I never had that experience.

People in Mexico it’s very popular to scary the kids with uh scary stories. I think it’s something in Mexico we have. Now we don’t do that with my daughter. But we always use the scary stories to tell the boys or the girls. We tell because we expecting that if we say something then they are going to be good or they are going to be better. I think that’s why. Especially in Mexico. Especially Mexicans do. They scaring their children with scary stories because they hope if we tell about the scary stories we are going to be better or we are going to respect our mothers our father our brothers our family. I think that’s why people say that.”

There’s a lot to be said for duendes. I grew up hearing about them myself (I grew up in San Diego) and they were, as I knew it, creatures that took people’s things from them. I never believed in them but I didn’t know them to be scary either. I was also told scary stories by my friend’s parents who were Mexican about magical little people/creatures which scared the living hell out of me. That being said, I know first hand about Mexicans telling children scary stories. My informants theory that it’s to keep them in good behavior and establish respect for family, as most scary stories told to children probably serve that purpose. Duendes are interesting here because she knew them to be both good and bad. Either way, they are playful, and it’s interesting that they are sometimes seen as children rather than little people or creatures of some kind. My informant didn’t not believe in duendes, she just said she never had any personal experience with them, which makes them somewhat of a spectacle. With her neighbor’s description the duendes almost resembled ghosts in their likeness to children, since the name duende clearly distinguishes it from being human. It’s understandable that these entities seen as “bad” or “mischievous” would resemble children too because they can be impish without necessarily appearing threatening or dangerous.

Eberhart, George M. “Duende.” Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2002. 150. Google Books. Web. 22 Apr. 2012.