Saturday, August 25, 2012

Los Espantos: Hispanic frightful creatures … and El Coco, the Hispanic bogeyman

There are many stories about scary monsters. Some are sinister that they scare even the bravest.

In every corner of a neighborhood, or a fishing harbor, or in a pasture and even in the alleys of our crowded  cities, there is always a story of such frightful creatures. Of course, they are full of the mystery of the legends and illuminated by popular myths and traditions.

La Llorona, La Sayona, La Mano Peluda, Cipitío and La Calaca, are part of the idiosyncrasies of Hispanics.

In his book about myths, legends and popular beliefs in Boyacá, Colombia, Javier Ocampo López says that the myths of Latin American phantoms have been passed on by tradition and appear in our present as survivors of the past. The author states that they “govern the lives of people and the countryside.”
He writes that every extraordinary thing in nature is seen as having a core or spiritual essence, which plays an active role in the existence of that which surrounds and includes people. He says “they can present themselves as enemies to be feared.”

In 2005 a research report was published by the National University of Central Perú with a title referring of the “nest” beings that scare. The study, directed by professor Daniel Mathews, concluded that like all things important to man, fear is born with humans, but it also created, formed.

Every culture has ghoulish beings whose sole function in life is to remain resignedly inside a closet, walk in a sweat along the boundaries of a mountain at the moment of maximum heat, or stand guard inside a well, waiting patiently for a child or an adult to commit a prank that allows these frightful beings to take action and demonstrate their varied talents.

La Llorona
This spook has many looks, since she ranges from México as far as Patagonia. The legend is about a woman who drowned her children and then committed suicide. At night she goes out to look for her little ones, following rivers, and crying out: “Oh, my children!”

La Calaca
It is the skeleton of a person chasing individuals at night, when it is very late and one is alone on the streets.

La Sayona
A female character who haunts the streets of Caracas, Venezuela, wrapped in a white robe, with long black hair and whose sole purpose is to scare those who are not inside their houses.

This is a Salvadorian character whose name is derived from the Nahuatl word, Xipe Totec, the God of Fertility. He is a sort of poet and according to the legend he uses his passionate voice to seduce women, making it easier to scare them one they fall spellbound at his feet.

La Mano Peluda
Perhaps this image of terror is the most well-known internationally. It appears everywhere. Common in subways and alleys, it is a large, hairy hand with long nails, which looks through windows or gaps in the walls. Its aim is to fright children who misbehave. It is also thought that it arrives at night and touches one while asleep.

El Coco, the Hispanic bogeyman
If children do not do their homework, do not want to take a bath or simply they refuse to go to bed, that where the most effective of all the “scare-the-Hispanic-child” ploys arises: the bogeyman, known in Spanish by the fear-inspiring name of El Coco.

For many parents – and grandparents who got tired of the mischief of their grandchildren – El Coco is the best negotiator when dealing with children. Simply announce his impending visit and it becomes a blessed remedy. Even the most rebellious child becomes an archetype of virtue.

So now you know, if your children disobey, here is the solution: “Duérmete niño, duérmete ya, que viene El Coco y te comerá” … or “Go to sleep child, go to sleep now, or El Coco will come and gobble you up.”

Did you know that the Spanish Royal Academy refers to “Coco”, in the fourth entry as the “ghost that is conjured up to scare children.”

Photos by Juan Miret


  1. I am so glad that you are in Tulsa and look forward to you becoming a part of El Dia de Los Muertos Arts Festival with Living Arts! See you Tuesday at 6pm at LA.