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The Gap Year Blog

Myths in Costa Rica - From the weeping woman to the goat-hooved dog

9 May 2019 15:55 PM

Photo Credit: Flickr | Mike Goren 

Edited with Permission by Frontier

Costa Rica is a country full of myths and folkloric tales, most of them dating back to the days of the country’s colonialisation in the 16th century. They reveal a lot about the history of Costa Rica’s culture, its traditions and scrutinize socially undesirable behaviour.  

Have you ever walked home late at night and felt a presence following your every move?  If that ever happens to you in Guanacaste, a province in north-western Costa Rica bordering the Pacific, it may be because of El Cadejo. Look around you for a big dog but not any dog, a black, goat-hooved one with fiercely bright red eyes and chains around its neck. The chains won’t hold it back, it broke loose. However, don’t be afraid. It is one of the good-natured spirits. It only follows drunken strangers to guide them home safely. 

You might need that protected guidance because not every folklore is that nice and there are others creature in the dark waiting for you. 

La Segua – the beautiful porcelain and vengeful damsel in distress  

Once upon a time there was a well-mannered, good-natured and innocent lady. Her native Spanish heritage gave her an outstanding beauty: cascading black hair and black eyes. She fell deeply in love with a Spanish naval officer, a colonist that seduced her into uncatholic behaviour which her family frowned upon with disrespect. After her lover disappeared, the lady had lost everything and became insane seeking for revenge. 

Until today – as tales say – La Segura, a lady of stunning beauty, waits on the road site for drunken men returning home from a night out. Unable to ignore her beauty, they will offer her their help to the damsel in distress. Once on their horse (nowadays rather a car or a motorbike), she reveals her true appearance as horrendous monster with red eyes resting in a horse’s skull ready to butcher the men and leaving them by the road site to bleed to death. 

Photo Credit: FlickrThe.Rohit

The real origin of the colour of the Rio Celeste 

The Rio Celeste in the Tenorio Volcano National Park is one of Costa Rica’s popular travel destinations and well-known amongst tourists because of its rich turquoise colour. But almost no one knows the real origin of its colour. The indigenous people that lived in Costa Rica before the Spanish invaded were spiritualists and deeply connected with nature and its inhabitants. The colour is not the reason of some bizarre, chemical pH drop because two rivers flow together but simply because “the gods must have dipped their paintbrushes in the river when they were painting the sky”. 

During the colonialization the Spanish mistreated the indigenous people. One known as El Malo (the evil one) was especially cruel. When it was time for Saint Isidro Labrador, a ceremony in which the priest blessed the workers and the Oxen carts, El Malo ridiculed the priest and the religious people by saying that his oxen and cart would be blessed by the devil. 

The cart without oxen and La Llorna 

He even tried to drive his cart into the people and the church. His oxen resisted. The priest forgave the oxen but cursed El Malo so that he will roam the streets alone with his ox cart for all eternity. Locals legends say that El Mal has been regularly spotted walking the streets in the dark with his oxen cart terrifying everyone who witnesses him. 

Another very popular Costa Rican tale is the one of La Llorna. Many years ago, in a small Nicoyan peninsula village lived girl called Maria. Her beauty attracted potential suitors from all over Costa Rica. All tried to win her hand – unsuccessfully. Until one day, a young, wealthy ranchero rode into town. Amazed by his wealth and fine stallion, Maria fell in love. They married shortly after, had two beautiful children and lived a happy life, at least for a short time. Her husband wanted his old life back roaming the prairies in freedom and took always longer absences until he never returned.

One day he came back. Maria spotted him at the river, he saw the kids and wanted to greet them when a sudden rage of jealousy and despair overcame Maria. She through her children in to the river. Suddenly realising what she did, she jumped after them for rescue, but the river currents were strong. The next morning, the villagers found their three lifeless bodies. Until today Maria’s ghost is said to roam the river beds screaming and seeking for her children known as La Llorna which is translated into the weeping woman. 

Photo Credit: Flickr | ryanacandee

Quetzals’ legacy 

The bird with its colourful plumage, Resplendent Quetzal, has long carried stories of the supernatural in Central America and even considered as sacred by the Aztecs and the Mayans. Many legends refer to it as the God of the Sky. Also, in Costa Rica that little bird with the striking appearance and somehow mysterious behaviour can be found in many ancient artworks. 

Quetzal is meant to carry the spirit of the great warrior Satú who was born to be a leader. On the day of his birth, a Quetzal came down to his village to sing. As a tribute the villagers made Satú a medallion shaped like a Quetzal that should protect him. And indeed, Satú was never hurt in any battle or fight. But one night Satú’s uncle stole the medallion in a matter of jealousy. The next day he killed the unprotected Satú but a quetzal flew down and sat over his body, it then flew away to live in the mountains where it stayed forever, carrying Satú’s spirit.

So when you are in Costa Rica look out for a Quenzal. It is associated with protection and prosperity, maybe you will receive some of Satús spiritual energy.

By Desiree Schneider - Online Journalism Intern

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