Author Archives: lopezt@usc.edu

Arroz con Mango

Cuban culture in general is incredibly vibrant and colorful. With recent tourism to Cuba rising, foreigners often underestimate how vibrant the buildings, cars, and clothes are in Cuba. And this powerful expression also transfers over into language and proverbs. When visiting home recently, my aunt and grandmother came over to share common Cuban vernacular with me.

One idiom is: “Arroz con Mango”. Phonetically, it’s easy to pronounce since it utilizes the same Latin alphabet. It’s literal translation is “Rice with Mango”. Although it may sound like a delicious Cuban delicacy, it’s actually shorthand for describing “a terrible mess.” It’s such a specific description that if said in the right way many Cubans could be laughing up a storm. My aunt was cracking up as she remembered the phrase, suddenly taken back to many memories of growing up in the Cuban section of San Juan, Puerto Rico. So if something is chaotic or messy, and it can be tied to metaphorical things too like relationships, then it could be “Arroz con Mango”.

The Legend of the Lady Slipper

Many years ago, the Ojibwe tribe thrived in the forests of Northern Minnesota, close to the shore of the Great Lake. One harsh winter, a terrible fever struck the tribe. Many fell ill and the tribe leaders grew worried, wondering how they would find a cure. One day, word reached the tribe that there was a great and knowledgeable medicine woman in the tribe across the lake, who had found an herb that would break the fever. Unfortunately, the weather was frigid and the snow was many feet deep. The journey across the deemed impossible. However, one young woman, who’s mother and younger brother had taken ill came to the elders and volunteered to make the trek. They warned her against it, stating it was far too treacherous. But she insisted. 

Wrapped in furs and wearing moccasins on her feet, she set out into the daunting conditions. She walked for hours, freezing cold, until she at last arrived at the other tribe, just as the sun went down. The tribe took her in and warmed her by their fires. When she explained why she had come – to save her tribe, the medicine woman happily handed her herbs. They tribe asked her to stay the night and rest before returning home, but she insisted that she return that night, desperate to start healing those in her tribe. She set out once again, this time in the dead of night, into a raging storm that had started while she rested. As she walked, her moccasins fell off in the snow, but she did not want to take the time to stop and retrieve them. She continued on, the icy snow crystals cutting her feet. As she walked, she left a trail of bloody footprints in her wake. This journey back was much harder than her first and she grew weary, barely able to take another step. Just as the sun peaked over the horizon, she saw the wigwams of her tribe in the distance. She called out to her people, collapsing in the snow. They rushed to save her, carrying her inside, warming her and bandaging her torn feet. The tribe’s healer took the herbs from the girl and began to make a cure for those suffering from the fever.

Within a short time, the young girl died, but, because of her bravery, the rest of the tribe was saved. The next spring, when the snow had melted, her brother retraced her footsteps, searching for her lost moccasins, desperate for something to remember her by. Although he never found the shoes, in each place where the girl had left a bloody footprint sprouted a beautiful flower. Due to its unique shape, it was named the Ladyslipper.

My friend K told me this local legend. As a native Minnesotan, she has been heard Native American folklore since childhood. She recounts that she first heard this particular tale, “The Legend of the Ladyslipper,” when she was in third grade as a part of a school unit focusing on the history on Minnesota. The Ladyslipper is the official state flower, and this was a tale of how it came to be. K said she remembered this story in particular because she was impressed by the young woman’s bravery and dedication to her tribe and family.

For the definitive version of this legend, see The Legend of the Lady Slipper by Lise Lunge-Larsen

La Carreta Nagua

My informant M’s scariest legend was the one of La Carreta Nagua. Legend has it that in the middle of the night while everyone was asleep a cart would slowly roll through the village streets. It was being pulled by two skeletal horses and commandeered by the Grim Reaper himself. If anyone was awake or in the streets by the time the cart rolled through, they would be claimed by the Grim Reaper and taken to the Underworld.

This legend is based on the slavery and colonization of Native American tribes. In many pueblos, Native Americans who heard the carts of colonizers looking for slaves would know to run or hide. If they were to be captured, they most likely would have been taken to the mines; after years of enslaving Native Americans it was eventually deemed not worth it because Native Americans would commit suicide instead of live through the terrible means they were placed in.

When asking what M thought of the story, she said that as a child she was terrified to be up too late because she didn’t want to be taken by La Carreta Nagua. She would have consistent nightmares about being abducted too. I enjoy this legend because it is based in real events that occurred for centuries and was an actual threat to their very existence. Thus it’s a very good example of folklore saving people’s lives.

 

I found an article that details the multiple variations of the legend here: https://leyendas-nicaraguenses.blogspot.com/2007/03/la-carreta-nagua.html

El Cipitio

The informant M told me of another story that was incredibly prevalent in her native country of Nicaragua, the legend of El Cipitio. El Cipitio is the Mesoamerican version of the Irish leprechaun; he will try to trick young girls into going back to his cave with him by acting silly. El Cipitio is a bastard born out of wedlock, his mother was the wife of a prominent chief. She was cursed by a shaman to forever be seen by unfaithful men and when alone with the man, she will turn into an ugly figure.

El Cipitio looks like this short peasant wearing all white clothing and a huge hat. In some versions his feet are backwards, leaving many confused when they follow his footsteps because he is going in the opposite direction. Kind of like how his mom opposed the tradition of marriage by pursuing an affair. This legend clearly shows what is right and what is wrong in Nicaraguan society: the bond of marriage is one of the most sacred things one can have, and infidelity can ruin the generations that follow. For el Cipitio, he had been cursed due to his mother’s actions. He did not choose to be El Cipitio, he just is.

When I asked M about what she got from the legend, she remembered kids blaming El Cipitio for pranks that other children did. So she would try not to behave so out of line that she may be mislead either by the other children or by El Cipitio. Personally, I enjoy story of trickster figures in legends because they are there for a specific reason: to parody and mock a certain behavior that is consistent within a society. And also the idea that the rationale for the trickster’s actions is merely based on pranks and comedy is just funny and unique to me.

La Cegua

Many times this past year, I’ve spent the nights studying or working in the new Annenberg building. Whenever I’m up past 4 in the morning, one of the cleaning ladies M would come by and we’d make small talk. But as the all-nighters became more consistent, our friendship flourished too.

She soon began telling me about the legends she heard as a child in Nicaragua, one of which is La Cegua. According to M, legend has it that La Cegua is an evil woman, dressed in horse hair, and wears a ton of makeup. She appears in the dark hours of the night to seduce drunk men and once they get onto the man’s horse to go back to his place for the night, their real face–a horse’s skull with empty, dark eyes that stare into the men’s souls–is revealed, make them go insane.

This is punishment for their actions as one version of La Cegua’s origin stems from a betrayal of love. A man she was enamored with promised to marry her if they had sex. She was so madly in love that she agreed, this was a major taboo in Catholic communities as sex was saved for marriage back then, and he deserted her. The woman went insane and became cursed as La Cegua.

When I asked whether this story affected her growing up, she said yes that it scared her making her very careful not to do anything before marriage. But now she doesn’t believe in its validity anymore. Personally, this story reminds me of La Llorona and the Medea in that the actions of the man drive the woman to insanity, also representing that back then women were really possessions with no inherent value besides for marriage and having children.