USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘panama’
Rituals, festivals, holidays

El Entierro de la Sardina, Panama

This tradition was collected from a friend, who was born and raised in Panama City, Panama and is 20 years old. It is about el entierro de la sardina, which translates to English as “the burial of the sardine,” a ceremony that marks the end of the carnival festivities in Spain and some Latin American countries.

 

She told me that this ceremony consists of a carnival-like parade that mimics a funeral procession with the burning of a symbolic figure, usually a sardine. It is celebrated the Saturday after Semana Santa, or Holy Week, and it represents a metaphorical burial of the past that allows people to be reborn. My friend has attended many of these throughout the years and says it is a very fun experience, as well as a nice metaphor for starting over and she likes that it incorporates her religion as well.

 

I am from Panama as well, but since I am Jewish, I had never seen or even heard of this ceremony, but it sounds really fun. I’ll make sure to attend one of these when I go back home to visit, since the carnival festivities have always been a very important aspect of Panamanian culture and everyone seems to enjoy them.

Legends

La Tulivieja, Panama

This legend was collected from a friend, who was born and raised in Panama City, Panama and is 20 years old. It is the story about La Tulivieja, a ghost who turns itself into a monster and wonders through abandoned places all around Panama, especially in rural areas.

 

According to my friend, the story is about a spirit who seduced the most beautiful woman in the region. She became pregnant from that forbidden love, and she drowned her baby in a river soon after it was born to hide her sin. However, she couldn’t escape God’s punishment, and she became a horrible monster with a face full of holes from which long hairs came out, bat wings, chicken legs, and a tule hat (which is made from plantain). She eats carbon and ashes, which is why people believe her footprints are found near bonfires. When there is a full moon, she regains her original form and can be seen bathing in the river, but she turns into a monster again as soon as there is a loud noise around. She is condemned to look for her baby for eternity, and her breasts are always filled with milk, ready to feed the baby she will never find.

 

My friend first heard it from her childhood friends and she says it made her very scared. As she was growing up, she heard it many more times in many places. She says it is one of the most popular legends in Panama and everyone she knows has heard it before, she even thinks it is the only actual Panamanian legend she has ever heard.

 

I am from Panama as well, and everyone I know has also heard of this legend, which is not surprising since Panama has a very small population of three million people. I had never heard this legend in such detail, which was also interesting, and I do think it’s one of Panamas most culturally relevant stories that I think has been adapted from Mexico’s La Llorona.

Legends

La India Dormida, Panama

This legend was collected from a friend, who was born and raised in Panama City, Panama and is 20 years old. It is about the story of La India Dormida, which translates to English as “the sleeping Native woman.”

 

She told me about a story from Valle de Antón, or Anton’s Valley, which is a rural area about two hours away from the city. The place is known as a place of “eternal spring,” where people go to meditate and escape from the city. It is believed that an Urracan casique’s (Indigenous leader) daughter, often called Flor del Aire (Air’s Flower), fell in love with one of the Spanish conquistadors. Yaravi, the strongest warrior in the tribe, was in love with the woman, so he threw himself off a mountain as the woman watched. Stunned, the woman decided to forget about the Spanish conquistador and started wondering around the mountain in grief, until she fell asleep. It is said that nature decided to perpetuate her silhouette, and now that mountain has the shape of the sleeping woman.

 

I had also heard about this story before but didn’t know much of the background, and I actually drove by this mountain and thought that the shape was somewhat similar to a sleeping woman. I’ve heard that today, people regularly even go to that mountain for hikes. I’ve noticed that forbidden love is a constant theme in South and Central American legends, often punishing the woman involved.

Customs

La Mongonada, Panama

This custom was collected from a friend, who was born and raised in Panama City, Panama and is 20 years old. It is about a party that construction promotors throw for their employees after a project is completed.

 

It was her uncle who told her about it, since he works in the construction business. When a project is over, promotors throw a party called la monongada, where the promotors provide food and entertainment to thank their employees for all their hard work. It is named after the mondongo, a Panamanian stew served with rice and beans (while in other countries it is commonly eaten as soup). He told my friend that it was the only time the promotors and construction workers really interacted outside work, and that it was always a beautiful experience. My friend was so interested in seeing what that looked like that she asked her uncle to take her to one a couple of years back. There were popular Panamanian singers, delicious food, and hundreds of people. She said it was one of the best parties she had ever been to, and everyone was having a great time.

 

I think this is a very beautiful tradition. My mom is also in the construction business, and she throws these parties as well. I’ve never been to one, but she’s showed me a lot of pictures and it is clear that everyone really enjoys themselves. I think this speaks to Panamanians’ classism to an extent, but it is still a nice way for these promotors to acknowledge the hard work put in by their employees.

Legends
Narrative

La Descarnada

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.

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