Every country has fables, some more than others. And Belize’s diverse and vibrant cultures have contributed to one of the most unique and interesting mix of folklores.
As a child I recall spending Sunday evenings at my grandparents’ house hearing countless tales of old Belize. Stories that date back before there was any radio or television, when rivers were the main form of transportation, men rode horses to work, and logwood and chicle extraction was the main livelihood of most Belizeans.
My grandmother was the storyteller; she really enjoyed telling her grandkids how different things were when she was growing up. She didn’t only take pleasure in telling us about rural life, early Cayo days, the dense jungle and little Sacbe roads. She loved to tell us about the folklore characters that were part of everyday life growing up in a small British colony.
Here are the most popular Mayan, Creole and Mestizo beliefs:
Tata Duende translates to grandfather demon. He is depicted as an old mischievous character that is very short, with backward feet, wears a tall pointy hat and has both of his thumbs missing. If you ever saw him you couldn’t show him your hands as he’d surely cut off your thumbs. Parents also warned their children that if they skipped classes, Tata Duende would lure them into the jungle and they would never to be seen again.
Tata Duende was also to blame when weird things happened around the farm. I remember him being blamed once for destroying the neighbour’s crops. And once in a while he would braid a horse’s hair and it would have to be cut completely as it couldn’t be loosen.
Sisemite or Sisimito is a tall hairy monster-like creature equivalent to Big Foot. Usually depicted as being a male; the Sisemite lived in Caves and survived by eating raw game meat. What he was commonly known for was kidnapping women and taking them to live with him. He would then force them to be his partner and bare children.
The Sisemite was said to commonly roam the river banks at dusk, therefore women were always warned by their mothers never to stay out late when they went to wash clothes at the river (a common practice in the old times).
La Llorona translates to weeping woman. She is depicted as a tall and slender gorgeous woman with long black hair that reached her waist. No one could ever see her face unless they caught up to her.
There are several variations of what she did; one of the most popular versions was that she lured children to rivers found deep in the jungle, hoping they got lost. Legend says that she lost her children near a river and she did the same to others as a way of revenge.
La Llorona was also known for luring young men on their way home late from bars. Young men were warned by their parents not to stay out late drinking since if La Llorona caught up with them, they would never be seen again. La Llorona would charm the drunken man into the forest and when they were far away from the town, she would show them her ugly and distorted face as she let off a shrieking cry. The men would either immediately die or fall terribly sick for weeks.
There are several more mystical characters of Belizean folklore but the above are by far the most popular. As an adult I now look back at the fond times I had when my grandmother shared these eerie stories with me and my cousins – bless her for that.
Did you enjoy learning about Belizean folklore? And how about your culture, do you have any similar folklore characters?