I interviewed a good family friend, and she is a middle aged woman from Chiloé, Chile, who now lives with her family in California. My dad was also present at the time, and he helped me translate some of the things she said in Spanish that I didn’t understand. This performance occurred after dinner, while we were still sitting at the table.
Informant: “El Imbunche es un ser mitológico… en Chiloé… que… es muy feo.”
Informant: “Y chico. Baja estatura. Y tiene una de las piernas dobladas atrás.”
Dad: “Ah, ¡Eso está muy interesante!”
Me: “Is this… What is this about? An object? Or is it a story?”
Informant: “It’s a story.
Me: “Ok. And it’s called El Imbun…?”
Informant: “El Imbunche.”
Dad: “Es un enano. Expliquale. Es un enano?”
Informant: “Es un enano. ¡No, no! No es un enano. Es… de baja estatura pero no es enano.”
Dad: “Ah, he is not a dwarf, but is… you know, not too tall.”
Me: “A short guy.”
Informant: “It’s a short guy. It’s a petite guy. And he has long hair, not really dark, but long hair. And, one of his leg, the right one, is… is-”
Informant: “I don’t know if it’s-”
Informant: “Bending. So it go on the back.”
Me: “Oh, it like bends all the way up his back?”
Informant: “Yeah, yeah, no yeah. Pero he just walk with one… foot.”
Me: “He just hops along?”
Informant: “He jump! So he is this way, like in the yoga class, and he… one of he’s… so he is, the legs… that was some… I don’t know who told me that. Maybe my mom did. So the legs, you can see his leg in the shoulder.”
Dad: “Touching his neck?”
Me: “He’s disfigured?”
Informant: “Someth-…Yeah. He is definitely disfigured, and… and he jump. And you have to be, be careful because every time umm… I don’t know if was my mom but one of my… the ancestors said, you know, have to be careful because… they like the beautiful girls. And the younger ones.
Me: “There’s not many. There’s just one right?”
Me: “Just one guy?
Informant: “Yes, is one guy. And… they like beautiful girls. And you have to be careful, because if he got you… you get… pregnant.
Informant: “And he like just pretty, young girls. And he doesn’t go for the… for the old ladies or some other.”
Dad: “The old ones! (laughs) Sin vergüenzas!”
Me: “And who told you this story? Your mom?”
Informant: “I don’t know. I heard something-”
Me: “You just heard it from friends?”
Informant: “No, people working, and you know, in the party when they get together they was working, it was always, it was something here. I was so terrified, I remember… I was so terrified, I’m glad I have brothers, because it was always goes next to me. There was stayed next to me, because for this guy.”
Me: “But how do you think this story came about? Like, it’s kind of like a warning? Not to walk alone at night?”
Informant: “Yeah, probably. You know, also you know, it’s a… they, they made those story, you know why? Because… they have to make something because maybe it was the neighbor… who abused the girl… or one of the family abused the girl… You know, so they made the whole thing… to scare the girl…you know… Or just, you know…”
Me: “Was this supposed to be someone in your neighborhood?”
Informant: “Yeah. It could be any in your neighborhood.”
Me: “Oh, ok. But this is a very widespread story?”
Informant: “Yeah, it’s all Chiloé. It’s all Chiloé, always… talking about… this.”
Me: “Is that where you’re from?”
Informant: “Yes, mhmm.”
We talk about the location of Chiloé for a bit.
Me: “And uh, you never saw him though?”
Informant: “No. Of course not.”
Dad: “In your dreams maybe.”
Informant: “I was a good girl.”
Me: “But you’ve heard of people who saw him, maybe?”
Informant: “Yeah. People saw him… They say, ‘Oh my God!’, you know, ‘Oh, I saw Imbunche jumping, you know on… from the window of my girls, you know.'”
Me: “It just perpetuates this story.”
Informant: “But it’s not… I don’t think it never exists, it’s not real. People made it up.”
Dad: “Like a myth. Un mito.”
Informant: “Yeah, made it up. It’s a mito. Yeah, made it up because, you know, to cover… to cover those seen, and you see… young girls, and then she’s pregnant, and the girl can’t talk because, you know, they say you can’t talk, because you have to say it was el Imbunche.
Me: “Oh, so do people sometimes when they don’t… Do some people use this name when they don’t want to say who the father is?”
Me: “Ahhh, ok.”
Informant: “It was that. It was them.”
Me: “So there is a story behind this. Ah ok, that’s interesting.”
Informant: “Yeah, it could be, even though it could be even-”
Me: “And no one questions it? Or they know, ‘Oh, someone…'”
Informant: “The same father, or the older brothers.”
Dad: “Incest. Yeah, incest sometimes.”
Me: “Oh, so if it’s like taboo…”
Informant: “It is.”
Me: “Then that’s when…”
Informant: “It was. It was. Not right now, but the thing is… Yeah, because now, you know, they don’t believe in that story. But… they used to use at that time for… to cover… family… or whatever it was there… involved.”
The informant described the Imbunche as a mythological being in Chiloé, that is very ugly and disfigured, with one of his legs bent up behind his back. He’s also short and petite, but not a dwarf, and he has long, black hair. He is known to hop around the streets, preying on young, beautiful women, and his victims end up pregnant. Although the moral of this legend can be interpreted as a warning of what might happen if young women wander the streets alone at night, the informant also explained how the name “El Imbunche” is often used as an explanation for how a young girl ends up pregnant when she doesn’t want to say who the father is. This is especially the case if the father of the baby is a deadbeat, or a family member such as a brother or the girl’s own father.
I found this particular legend very fascinating, since not only does it come from this village on an island off the coast of Chile, but that it holds such complex social implications. I have observed that legends often reflect the fears of the people who tell them, and therefore stand as a sort of warning not to behave a certain way or do a certain thing, lest the events of the legend actually happen. While the legend of El Imbunche in Chiloé may have started out this way, it has now become co-opted to describe any kind of taboo relationship that results in an unplanned pregnancy.
*For another version of this legend, see <http://wwenico96.blogspot.com/2009/05/el-imbunche.html> or <http://www.agenciaelvigia.com.ar/imbunche.htm>