USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Los duendes’
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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.

Legends

Los Duendes

Primary Informant: “So, there are these things called duendes, which are like gnomes and I guess they’re, like, cousins or something, they’re, like, related to leprechauns, essentially. And they’re popular, or known about, not just in Mexico, but also in, like, Central America, like El Salvador, or, um, in other parts of South America. And, um, apparently, from what I understand is, these, like, leprechaun-like creatures, these gnomes, they can, they like–, they choose a house or something and, um, when they choose a house, um, like, they’ll, like, try and, like, live in the house, but you can’t really see them, I don’t know, like, adults can’t really see them, I guess. But if you do see it, you have to give it food, um, because if you don’t give it food, it will, like, play pranks on you for the rest of your life. Like, it will just, like, mess with your life I guess after that. Um, and so a friend of mine was saying that, like, uh, he was at his other friend’s house and they had, like, a lemon tree or some kind of tree, a fruit tree, and, um, there would be, a, like, a– they would leave fruits on the ground, like the ones that fell. They would pick some, but they would leave others and he would pick ‘em up and he would, like, throw them or whatever. And I don’t know who it was, but it was like, ‘Noah! Don’t do that!’ and he was like, ‘Why? They’re just—they’re on the ground.’ And it was like, ‘Well, those are for the duendes, you know, so they don’t, like, come in and start, like, messing with my life.’ And, like, there are videos on YouTube, like, of duendes. And the same guy, that told me that story, he said that when he was in El Salvador with his parents, he was- he was young or whatever and he said that he saw a duende, like, following him. And he was like, ‘Mom! Mom!’ And she was like, “No, you can’t pay attention to it, don’t pay attention to it and then it will leave you alone, it won’t bother you.” Um, and that was just on the road. I don’t even think they were at the house. But, if it chooses your house and you don’t give it food, you like, you know, tell it to eff off, it will, like, mess with you forever. Um, but apparently, they really like hanging out with children and, like, playing with children I guess, um, that’s all I really know about that… Yeah. It’s, like, weird, the YouTube video, you see the guy, like this guy’s like playing soccer in his house, I don’t know why, and, um—“

Secondary Informant: “Uh, it’s like South America…. That’s like everyday.”

Primary Informant: “But, like in the house?”

Secondary Informant: “That’s like the pastime, dude.”

Primary Informant: “Okay, in the house, for sure. And he’s playing soccer in the house and he, like, kicks the ball over to the wall and ,like, you just see this little thing just like start running across the… and you just see the guy, like, freak out. He’s just like, ‘What the hell?’

Lavelle: “Is it… fake?”

Secondary Informant: “It looks genuine.”

Primary Informant: “I mean, the only thing is, it’s, like, terrible quality, so you can’t really tell. It looks like a cell phone camera.”

Secondary Informant: “Yeah, but do you really think someone would wanna go out of their way to…”

Primary Informant: “To make that up?”

Secondary Informant: “Yeah.”

Primary Informant: “I mean, maybe.”

 

Both informants who shared information about los duendes are of Mexican descent and heard this story from their families and friends. This story was shared in the primary informant’s apartment. We spent the afternoon sharing stories and combining the information we all had about each legend. These stories are important to the informants because they have been passed on from the older generations in their families. Because they value their older relatives, they value and enjoy the stories they’ve been told.

What I found interesting about this exchange is how it became obvious that my secondary informant was more open to the possibility of these supernatural beings actually existing, while my primary informant was growing more skeptical.

Here is the YouTube video mentioned in the story:

 

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