Tag Archives: river

La Llorona

Main Text

CE: “Essentialy El Paso kinda runs along this main river that borders Mexico and the United States, El Rio Grande. So there’s this really famous, um, old tale, kinda like a legend that exists, it’s called La Llorona. Um, it’s basically about…”

Interviewer: “And will you translate La Llorona please?”

CE: “Yes. La Llorona is like ‘the crier’ it’s a woman who just sobs and cries and, um. The story was an old woman who lives by the river and she, um, used to have a really nice farm and this beautiful garden and then a really tragic accident in the Rio Grande, she lost her son. He got washed up because he was playing to close to the water when it was high tide and so he ended up passing away and dying and so now every night if you go by the river, late at night, and the water is high you’ll hear her sobbing and crying for her son to return her. So, it’s all in Spanish, so she goes like *breathes* ‘Ay mi hijo’ just like really sad kind of like wallowing and depression, it’s a very sad story. Essentially just to encourage kids not to play by the water late at night or else they’ll get taken up by this, like, scary woman who’s, again, called La Llorona.”


CE is a 21 year old Mexican/Colombian American from El Paso, Tx and is a third year student at USC studying urban planning. She first heard the story from her grandmother and mother growing up in El Paso, and said the tale was especially prevalent in her household because her home was so close to the Texas/Mexico border. It was used as an incentive not to travel too close to the border, which since her childhood has been a more dangerous region of her town.


This story was told in CE’s household, and in other’s she says usually by a maternal figure to younger more impressionable children in order to keep them from straying too far away from the house and towards the river, and coinciding national border. The story only works as a deterrent if the children believe in and are afraid of La Llorona.

Interviewer Analysis

La Llorona follows a larger folkloric trend of children’s stories designed to protect them by preying on their fear of the unknown, or upon instilling that fear. By using a story like La Llorona or Hansel and Gretel, parents are able to use a terrifying fictional character to protect their children from perhaps less terrifying real-world threats such as wild animals or losing their way. Children are naturally curious and may not understand the dangers of the world, but will certainly be scared of a vicious monster that steals children and lives in the river. This story is told with good intentions by Latina parents and grandparents alike and is effective at achieving its goal, but this interviewer wonders if building a world view on fear of the unknown has detrimental consequences in the long run.

Kappa in Japanese Folklore

Main Text:

KY: I’ll tell you about the kappa. It’s this, uhm— it’s basically this monster that lives in the river. The Japanese created this story of the kappa which is this monster… Its head is like a lily pad, and it just like submerges itself under water. So, if you see a lily pad in your river or something, it could be the kappa. They’re also like very hard to see. So they can be like just in like the rocks and stuff… So they’re like very scary monsters. They’re very, very scary… And they can come out at night, and take kids away… They’re really short as well, if I remember correctly… I think that like, in Japan, the reason why— it’s because rivers are dangerous, and they don’t want kids playing at rivers at night without supervision…


This was taken from a conversation with me and one of my suitemates, who is of Japanese descent, in the Cale & Irani Apartments in USC Village. He has heard of these creatures for as long as he can remember, from “before he could even speak.” He was warned of them by his parents and grandfather, who lived near a river, that he used to visit when he also lived in Japan.


We often see these folk beliefs and cautionary tales told to children, by their parents, to keep them away from danger. It makes a commentary on adult supervision since, apparently, parents are the only ones strong enough to fight back against these creatures. Stories like these are designed to scare children, make them weary of the unknown, and to keep them close to their parents. This particular belief can also reflect the societal fear that Japan has with bodies of water since it is notorious for bad weather such as storms, floods, and tsunamis.

Armenian Proverb – The Prudent Man

Main Piece

Original Script

Մինչեվ խոհեմ մարդը մտածում է, խենթը գետի ափին է և հեռու:

Phonetic Script

Minchev khoem marduh mdatsumeh, khentuh geti apineh yev herru.


Until the smart man thinks, the fool on shore he is and far.


“While the prudent man is considering, the fool is across the river and away”

(Some parts of this conversation took place in Armenian and have been translated to English.)


Informant: There is a saying, I don’t know if you know it, it goes “Մինչեվ խոհեմ մարդը մտածում է, խենթը գետի ափին է և հեռու” [“While the prudent man is considering, the fool is across the river and away”]. My grandpa used to say this to my dad. 

Me: And what does this mean to you?

Informant: Well, in Armenia we say this because we see the differences between the smart man and the fool. The fool is not afraid of crossing the river because he doesn’t understand what is in it. He is pretty much living in his own world, and what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him. You know how they say in English “ignorance is bliss?”

Me: Yeah I’ve heard that a lot.

Informant: Yeah. So this is kind of saying that. The smart man will spend his life contemplating what is the right thing to do, but the fool won’t because he basically doesn’t even know that there is anything to contemplate. 

Me: Yeah I understand, so the moral of this proverb is to take action.

Informant: Yeah, but also don’t be the fool. Think about what you’re doing, but don’t spend your life thinking about it. Take action. In a way, it’s telling you to be just a little bit like the fool. Because, in the end, who is enjoying their life more? Who is living their life to the fullest?

Together: The fool.

Informant: Exactly yeah. 


This proverb is told to teach people not to overthink. My informant heard her grandfather tell her dad this proverb in a casual setting. 

My Thoughts

I had not heard of this proverb before, but it has a message very much like “carpe diem.” While it does criticize the fool for not being careful, it also admires the fool’s confidence and initiative, and almost urges the audience to be more like the fool. The wise man will spend his whole life thinking about what he should do to get the best results in his life, and by the time he arrives at a conclusion, his life has passed him by. The fool is already “across the river and away,” and he lived his life without the stress of constant deliberation and overthinking. 

Nyami Nyami – Legend from Zambia


Informant MW’s family has a ministry based in Zambia. This ministry aims to “share the love of Jesus” and accomplishes this by “addressing these areas: hunger, education, job creation, and sustainability.” This ministry has allowed MW to spend several summers in Zambia where she has been able to observe and experience Zambian folklore firsthand.

When speaking with MW, she told me about a popular legend believed by many in Zambia.


Allegedly, there is a great river monster named Nyami Nyami who is “the god of the Zambezi River.” Nyami Nyami is said to “protect Tonga people and give sustenance in difficult times,” however many locals fear it. According to MW, “people fish, swim, wash clothes, and collect water there but only around the edges” in fear that if they were to venture too far out in the river that they could be taken by Nyami Nyami.

This legend is not unique to the smaller communities MW’s ministry serves, rather it is accepted by a large majority of the Zambian population. In fact, the legend has become so well-known that it has expanded into tourism. When talking about Nyami Nyami, MW says, “it is one of the first things you hear about when traveling there.”  “As soon as you arrive in Livingston it is on jewelry.” The legend of Nyami Nyami can even be seen on a plaque when travelers/tourists visit the falls.


While I am not at all familiar with the traditions and beliefs of any of the communities in Zambia, after speaking with MW, I am inclined to consider this legend as a reflection of the life that is experienced when living along the Zambezi river, especially in lesser developed areas/communities. Scarcity of resources and unpredictable harsh weather conditions could explain the reason why this legend has become so embedded in Zambian culture. With the river being such a valued resource to the surrounding areas, it might make sense that people would worship a “god” of the river and use it to rationalize unexplainable events/circumstances. I imagine that respect and obedience are desirable qualities in the individuals of the Zambian community as Nyami Nyami seems to serve/reward people when needed as long as they keep their distance and do not go searching for it.


Another version of this legend can be found in the USC folklore archive. See here:

Giles, Matthew, and Matthew Giles. “University of Southern California.” USC Digital Folklore Archives, 30 Apr. 2017, folklore.usc.edu/nyami-nyami/.

La Llorona Legend

KF: Ok so, um, there’s this tale, or folklore, or urban legend- I’m not quite really sure what it is…um, where- I think they recently made a movie on it too. Uh, La Llorona is a woman who was married and she had children, but her husband ended up cheating on her or leaving her, and so she decided to get back at her husband she was gonna kill her kids, and um, she drowned them in like a nearby river or something and she ended up- I think she ended up committing suicide herself. And so then at night, she comes back uh crying, um, “my kids, my kids!” And So practically, it’s well known throughout like Mexico that like if you live near a river, and she like- you hear her say like “my kids, my kids,” you wanna hide your children cause she’ll like she’ll take them…um, and they’ll disappear forever or something like that.



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 friend’s with KF.


Analysis: La Llorona has extensive foundations in the conquistador era, and the lack of knowledge about the historical context demonstrates to me how extensively the legend has spread and varied amongst different communties. I have studied La Llorona before but never had I heard about the warning cry “my kids, my kids!” Therefore, this is one of the more impactful versions of La Llorona I have heard because it actually has a physical effect on the people who might believe they have heard the cry because they remove their kids from a physical space.

Annotation: Another recent version of this legend is the The Curse of La Llorona movie that was recently released.

Citation: Chaves, Michael, director. The Curse of La Llorona. New Line Cinema, Atomic Monster Productions, 2019.