USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Monster’
Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Narrative
Protection
Tales /märchen

El Cucuy – “Boogeyman” Creature in Mexican Folklore

The Cucuy, I’m not really quite sure what it is, um, but, usually, uh, when like children are acting like- out of like the norm, like when they’re misbehaving uh parents will be like “oi, there comes the cucuy!” Like he’s gonna come eat you if you don’t stop being a bad person, um…and it’s sorta like similar to like the boogeyman like if you- if you put your child to sleep, and like they don’t go to sleep, you’ll be like the cuc- if you don’t close your eyes, the cucuy’s gonna come get you…so yeah.

 

Background:

Location of story – predominantly Mexico, according to informant

Location of Performance – Interviewer’s dormitory room, Los Angeles, CA, night

 

Context: This performance took place in a group setting – about 2-3 people – in a college dormitory room. This performance was prompted by the call for stories about beliefs, ghosts, or superstitions as examples of folklore via a group message. KF approached me two days prior to this interview, but schedules did not allow for a recording until she came to ask a homework and remembered. I am good friends with KF. This story followed two of KF’s previously about La Llorona and the devil appearing on people’s horses at night.

 

Analysis: This performance demonstrates the phenomenon of children being more inclined to follow instructions based on the threat of a supernatural creature or element rather than their own parents. Likewise, the parents utilize this tactic because the effect is so immediate. It is also interesting to note that the comparison to the boogeyman is drawn because I have only known the American version of that bedtime creature: bedtime and a fear of the dark seems to conjure similar fears and potential monsters across cultures.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends

Lake Champlain Monster: Champ

Piece:

“So, there’s this lake in the northeast called Lake Champlain, and people who live around the lake say that there’s a monster similar to the Loch Ness monster who occupies the lake, and the name of this monster is Champ. There have been multiple sightings ever since people have come to America, and people around there even believe that the monster, who lives in the lake, was worshipped by Indians as a god. But there have been no violent confrontations with the monster, and it is believed to be very nice and kind.

“I used to go to a ski lodge around the lake, and I heard [this story] from someone at a store there. Like one of those small souvenir stores.”

Analysis:

Local monster stories are both common and relatively easy to keep alive once started. As well as the two named in the story there are tales of the jersey devil, yetis, bigfoot, and countless other seemingly mythical creatures. Upon further investigation into Champ, the Lake Champlain monster, I was able to find examples of his cult of personality. Lake Champlain is the largest lake in the Adirondacks and draws large crowds for outdoor events throughout the year. Historically, the region was home to the Iroquois and the Abenaki, who both had stories about a creature that lived in the lake. Samuel de Champlain was cited as seeing a monster in the lake, but it was later found to have been in a different body of water. He described the creatures he saw as about five feet long, though he was told they grow up to ten, thick as his thigh with scales that even a dagger could not penetrate. This description sounds similar enough to a garfish, which current historians believe to be the actual creature seen in the lake. As time went on many of the stories began to report a larger beast. Some reported it at around thirty feet, while one even went as far as one-hundred and eighty-seven. Over time, sighting numbers and intrigue have grown, with Champ gaining national and international acclaim as ‘America’s Loch Ness Monster’.

More information on Champ can be found on the Lake Champlain tourism website at https://www.lakechamplainregion.com/heritage/champ.

Context:

The interviewee is a 23-year-old male who attends the University of Southern California, pursuing a masters degree in computer science. When he was very young, he lived in India, until he moved to South Africa. He lived in South Africa from then until he moved to New York City to pursue his undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering.

This interview was conducted in person at the interviewed party’s house. The audio was recorded in order to aid in accurate transcription of the dialogue that took place.

Myths
Narrative

Barn Monster

Main piece:

DM: You remember the Shed Monster story, right?

JH: You mean the one Zurbier or whatever his name told?

DM: Yeah! The Dutch fella that lived up the hill from you guys

JH: OH! Yeah, the Barn Monster. First time he told us was around the bonfire back behind my place. Scared me shitless.

DM: Do you think you can re-tell the story?

JH: Oh for sure! Yeah so we was around the fire, and Jos is a big ol’ Dutchy, right? Like – 6’8” or some shit. In a circle of Midwestern fellas, he looks like a fuckin’ giant. Has hands and teeth like one too. So he’s smokin’ a cigarette, Bud in hand callin’ us over to tell us a story and he goes points over at the pole barn a ways off and says, “Heard you boys been messin’ around in the barn recently after sundown”.

And of course you and me were, like, lookin’ around at my dad who knew damn well that we had been and we weren’t supposed to.

DM: Right, yeah.

JH: Anyway, Jos goes on and scares the shit out of us, right? Starts talkin’ about a shadow that can slide up walls and under doors about the size of a man. But he can change shapes and make the floor drop out from under you under the hay, too. He can trip you and touch you with a cold hand, and he moves from barn to barn on the New Moon. ‘Bout the scariest story I’ve ever heard. I don’t know that we went back in the polebarn for a year after that.”

Context:

Story originally told by Jos Zurbier in Decatur, IL.

Background:

Jos was a dutch, immigrant carpenter from the Netherlands. He fit in extremely well in rural, Southern Illinois.

Analysis:

This story reflects the Shadow Person motif which has been popularized in a variety of contexts. Similar stories describe a dark figure which does not speak, though Jos’ localization to the barn is particularly eerie. Additionally, most polebarns don’t have overhead lighting – meaning that shadows are cast by flashlights whenever someone enters them in the dark.

Folk Beliefs
Legends

El Cucuy

My friend Rudy, who is Mexican-American, shared the following description of a supernatural figure they learned about from their mom:

“El Cucuy was a monster that my mom told me was in my closet, and I had to close my door–my closet door–at night or else he would get me. And so, every single night- well I was- I would always leave my closet door open because I would forget and she’d be like, ‘el Cucuy is gonna come get you!’ She would like, slam the door shut and like, that was that. And um, I actually like- that was all that we talked about, about el Cucuy. Like that was the only interaction I had…it was very mysterious.”

Variants of a monster or ghost that hides in a child’s closet appear across various cultures and locations. Much of the folklore that children learn from their parents consists of vaguely threatening or scary legends that may or may not serve to teach children not to misbehave. For example, Rudy’s mother may have talked about el Cucuy partly to get Rudy to close the closet door and keep their bedroom neat.

A description of this figure, known alternatively as “el Coco,” can be found in the book Chicano Folklore: A Guide to the Folktales, Traditions, Rituals and Religious Practices of Mexican Americans by Rafaela G. Castro (Oxford University Press, 2001) on page 57.

Childhood
Initiations
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Drop Bears of Camp Orkila

Artist's rendition of a drop bear

Artists rendition of a drop bear

The summer camp councilor describes the legend of the Drop Bears at Camp Orkila, a traditional overnight summer camp on Orcus Island, WA.

When I was in middle school I went to Camp Orkila three summers. And the second time I was there, we had this councilor called Jim who had me completely convinced that drop bears are real.

Drop bears are a dangerous cousin of the koala bear. Jim described them as looking like koalas except with razor-sharp teeth. They live in trees and at night they drop onto your head, knocking up unconscious. Then they eat you. And he wore this skate helmet at night for protection. He warned us not to leave the cabins at night without a flashlight and he said even with a flashlight we still might be eaten. 

The source explained that the story was that the bears had been brought to the island by the Seattle Zoo in the 1930s after the zoo couldn’t contain them. The helmet is what convinced the source that the councilor wasn’t lying. After all, why would he bring a helmet and wear it every night if the threat wasn’t real.

All the other boys in our cabin didn’t believe Jim at all. They knew he was B.S.ing them but I totally bought it and I was really convinced and I would argue with them about it.

Well long story short, last summer I was the lead Grey Wolves councilor at Orkila—councilor for boys aged ten to thirteenand I brought my bicycle helmet and I told them all about drop bears.

Did they believe you?

[laughs] Well… they said that they did not but I know I scared some of them.

From internet research, it’s clear that drop bears are usually are typically an Australian story. Typically, Australians tell foreigners about drop bears as a prank. The drop bears at Camp Orkila function exactly the same way. The camp councilors and experienced campers are in on the joke and they try to trick newcomers. Because original camp councilor brought a helmet with him a prop, it’s possible that he heard about drop bears on the internet or elsewhere and planned to bring it to Camp Orikila. The camp is an ideal place to spread folklore of this kind because the campers are away from home in an unfamiliar place without access to cell service or the internet, making them much more likely to believe. As with other pranks, the drop bears story at Orkila can also serve as an initiation, or a mild hazing of newcomers.

https://australianmuseum.net.au/drop-bear

general
Legends
Narrative

The Watermelon Boy

“So I used to go up to camp every summer for like two weeks at a camp called Camp Belknap.  It was in New Hampshire, in Wolfeboro, right on Winnipesaukee.  Fun time, it was an all boys camp.  Did all the typical camp things like play sports, shoot bow and arrows, go swimming, boating, sailing– all that stuff.  And then of course we would tell stories at night when we were back in the cabins.  My first year at the camp I was like 11.  I’m already missing home, and mom and dad and all that, and one night my counselor, who was probably like 17 or 18 tells us this crazy scary story about this Watermelon boy.  He had gone to Camp Belknap back in like the 1920s.  They called him watermelon boy cause he had a huge head.  Big dome, shaped like a watermelon.  So my counselor tells me that the kid used to get bullied cause he was a little weird, looked funny, wasn’t that good socially.  Finally one day, the kid had enough.  Took a rifle from the rifle range and shot a bunch of other kids.  Now this is tough to hear for me cause I’d already been to the rifle range a couple times and really had a good time shooting at targets and shit and what not.  So after the kid does this he runs into the woods somewhere near the highway that runs past the camp.  They never found him.  Now the story goes that he lives in a little shack in the woods and comes out to terrorize little kicks in the camp.  Just this guy with a massive head and really long fingers.  The story scared the shit out of me,  couldn’t sleep for like the last two nights I was so scared.  The worst part was, they had all these pictures of all the campers that had ever gone to the camp.  So me and some of my buddies go to check the pictures out and sure enough, in one of the pictures from the 1920s, one of the grainy, black, and white ones, there’s this kid with a massive head scowling in the first row.  We totally thought he was real.  It’s funny I was recently talking with one of my buddies who i went to the camp with and the story came up and he said it’s banned at the camp now cause it scared too many kids haha.  Crazy.”

 

Conclusion:

 

This is a classic, campfire story designed to freak out little kids.  It clearly did it’s job with my friend, Jack.  When he told this to me, I was surprised an 18 year old counselor would tell this grisly, violent story to a bunch of 11 year olds. I guess that was the kind of camp that this one was.  During the recitation, it was interesting to see Jack recall the horror that he once found in this story.  You could really tell it used to rattle him as an 11 year old.

Customs
Holidays
Legends
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Chinese New Year’s Monster

Daniel is an immigrant from Hong Kong who immigrated to the United States in search of better opportunities and a better life for both him and his family. Living in a poor family with seven other siblings, he immediately went to work as a police officer after receiving his high school diploma in Hong Kong. Once he moved to Los Angeles, he worked as a computer technician, and subsequently, changed his career to a funeral counselor.

Original Script

This legend is talking about the New Year’s Eve. A lot of Chinese, they like to light the firecracker during the New Year’s Eve because they believe, actually the legend said that there will be a monster coming out during that time. They light the firecracker in order to scare away the monster. I think that this tradition is still used in most of China.

Background Information about the Performance from the Informant

The informant performed this tradition with his parents and relatives ever since he could remember as a child. He continues this practice with his wife and children every year on Chinese New Year’s. Neither him or his family believe in the existence of the monster, but they continue this Chinese custom because it is an enjoyable opportunity to bond as a family. His children enjoy this custom especially, because they can run around freely, lighting firecrackers and making a lot of noise.

Context of the Performance

I interviewed the informant at his house.

According to Chinese mythology, the Nián, whose name means “year,” is a beast that would appear every New Year’s Eve to consume humans and animals alike. However, an old man from Peach Blossom Village eventually discovered that the monster had three main weaknesses: the color red, loud noises, and firelight. Many New Year traditions, such as the firecrackers and the Chinese Lion dance, have originated from the legend of the Nián.

My Thoughts about the Performance

In many cultures, people generate a lot of noise and light during festivals, believing that the sounds and brightness would scare away evil spirits. When I was small, I never wondered about the reason why the Chinese let off firecrackers on Chinese New Year; I merely thought it was for fun. After learning about this legend, I found it fascinating how the Chinese came up with a tool possessing three different features to combat the mythological creature on Chinese New Year. This tool—the firecracker—utilizes the color red, bright firelight, and loud blasts to scare off the Nián.

general
Myths
Narrative

Aswang

Pauline is an international student from the Philippines. She is studying Chemical Engineering in the United States, and she plans to return to the Philippines once she graduates and receives her B.S. in Chemical Engineering. Her hobbies are watching anime, eating delicious food, and taking naps.

Original Script

Alright, so there’s this creature in Philippine culture. It’s called the Aswang, so it’s basically like the Filipino version of a vampire. So like it’s a shapeshifter like during the day it’s a normal human and it can talk to other people and you can’t tell it’s an Aswang, but then at night it transforms into this really ugly monster. And then, what it likes to do is like it likes to look for pregnant women and then it like sucks out the fetus and eats it. That’s what its food is. And then it also likes to eat little kids. And it likes to eat like their livers and their hearts. So yeah, so that’s the Aswang and they make this really ugly sound like, “Eahhh.” And then it like tries to delude you so like the louder the noise is the farther away the aswang is. So like when it’s really near you, you can’t hear anything so you can’t tell that it’s there. And basically, to lure it away, you need to hang like garlic on your door like for the vampire. Or like you put like salt or something on your door.

Background Information about the Performance from the Informant

She heard about this creature from her parents when she was small. They tried to get her to sleep by warning her that the Aswang would kidnap and eat her if she does not.

Context of the Performance

I interviewed the informant in a study room at Parkside IRC.

The Aswang, a carnivorous, shapeshifting monster in Filipino folklore, is the most feared amongst the mythological creatures of the Philippines. Especially popular in the southern areas of Luzon, areas of Mindanao, and the Visayas, the Aswang has gained regional names, such as “bayot,” “kling-kling,” and “tik-tik.” This creature has endured centuries, told by mothers to their children as warnings to avoid walking the streets at night. The Aswang had also been used to explain events relating to grave robberies, child kidnappings, and other bizarre incidents.

My Thoughts about the Performance

Hearing about this myth reminded me of the stories I heard about the Bogeyman. Both creatures, amongst the many others in various cultures, are used by adults to frighten children into exhibiting good behavior. Parents would tell their children that if they misbehave, a certain monster would take them. It seems that these Aswang variants are universal, common to the folklore of several countries.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

El Cucuy/Chupacabra

The informant, K, is 19 years old. She was born in Long Beach, California but was raised in Los Angeles. Her dad is from Guadalajara, Mexico (Southern Mexico) but moved to the United States when he was 2. Her mom was born in Obregon, Sonora (Northern Mexico) but grew in Mexicali (a US-Mexico border town), and she moved to the United States when she was 18. She is majoring in Applied Mathematics with a Computer Science Minor. She considers herself Mexican-American (or Chicana).

K-“For me growing up the Chupacabra (goat sucker) and the cucuy (bogeyman) were the same. Thing I know for other cultures I’ve heard that they were different. I forgot how they were different but for me growing up they were the same thing. Basically our parents used to tell us ‘oh if you don’t go to sleep on time, or you don’t listen, or disrespect me the cucuy/chupacabra is going to get you. It was mostly if you didn’t go to sleep because it was told the chupacabra ate the children who stayed past their bedtime.”

What age were you when you heard this?

K-“I think they started telling me when I was about 5”

According to the story, where did they used to live?

K-“Anywhere. That’s why it was used by the parents, because they could come from anywhere. But mainly I heard that they can come from like a cave in the mountain but even if we lived nowhere near a mountain they would still come and get us”

Analysis- Normally in the Hispanic culture, the chupacabra and the cucuy would be different. Only the cucuy would be the one that would take the children if they did not behave or at random moments when it came out from under the bed. The chupacabra was not really a worry to children but instead to cattle. This version of the story, however, was adapted to scare children even more by creating this new monster than consists of two already scary creatures. The fact that the monster can still come and get the children, even if they do not live near anywhere near where the monster lived, shows that the story was specifically aimed at children.el cucuy

Folk Beliefs
Tales /märchen

La Tulivieja – A Panamanian Demon/Monster

“The story is, there was this girl who was very beautiful. And she had a secret relationship with a guy in her town from which a she got pregnant and a little boy was born. Then she drowned the boy in the river to make up for her premarital relationship sin. After that, God punished her by making her the ugliest monster possible. Like, making her face like a colador (pasta strainer) where hair came out of the holes. And like her hands turned into claws, and her feet turned backwards. And she’s supposed to spend the rest of her life looking for her son in her river. The legend is that she still hounds the river looking for her son and she will take her beautiful form while sitting by it. Any noise will bring out the ugly monster, though.”

            According to the informant, this legend is so well known that is ofen reffered to in a common phrase that is used. Typically, when someone who is going out with/dating a woman suddendly discovers that she is not as charming as she once appeared, it is common to say “salio la tulivieja”, which translates to “the tulivieja emerged”. Because phrase and the meaning behind it are so popular, many young men are warned to make sure that the women they are interested in are not secretly tuliviejas.

The informant, Jonathan Castro, is a 21-year-old student from Panama. Because until recently, he had spent his entrie life in Panama, he believes that he is well informed in Panamanian folklore. Jonathan claims that because the phrase that was derived from this story is so popular, most Panamanians are familiar with the story behind it, since knowledge of the tale is necessary for the phrase to be understood and used properly. Thus, if someone does not understand the phrase, they usually end up asking someone else to explain it to them, eventually causing the story to be told. This is how Jonathan himself learned the tale. Although it can really only be used by members of the male gender, Jonathan still finds the phrase entertaining and fun to use because it is such a silly way to tell a friend that he should stay away from the girl that he is interested in seeing.

Clearly, the tale itself is prominent within it is prominent within Panamanian culture. What makes it remarkable, however, is that it has changed into something more than just a story. It has now become an expression that is often to convey a generally understood idea. The fact that this was able to occur says something interesting about folklore in general. It reveals that folkloric pieces can still maintain their original essences, even when conveyed in a different form. Thus, because the original tale is still eventually being told, there should be no fear that the story is being lost.

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