The Dominican Republic is a country rich in folkloric traditions and beliefs. They’re woven into our everyday lives and are an important, vibrant part of our culture. Part of that folklore is the magic, monsters and mythical creatures that populate our stories. Much like our magical rituals and superstitions, Dominican monsters can trace their origins back to our Taíno, European and African roots.
These five monsters serve different functions in Dominican culture: to corral wayward children and husbands, to explain unexplainable sicknesses and of course, to scare the living sh*t out of people.
1. El bacá
The mythology around el bacá varies slightly but the premise is the same: when a person makes a pact with the devil, a bacá is conjured to ensure that the person goes through with their end of the bargain. In some myths he’s a dog from hell with red burning eyes made of hellfire. In other more sinister accounts the bacá comes in the form of domesticated animals like cows and chickens that feed on the souls of any human that passes through the land they’re occupying at noon, sundown or three in the morning.
Think you’re safe if you avoid making pacts with the devil? Think again. Bacás can be inherited. When the pact-maker dies the bacá passes to their children or in the absence of children to their next of kin. Bacás tied to land can be passed on through inheritance of land or purchase of land and the debt to the devil passes on as well. Something to think about the next time you go out to buy a house or piece of land—your soul might be at stake.
2. El Cuco
El Cuco is the Spanish-language equivalent of the Boogeyman. Used to get children to behave and go to sleep, El Cuco has been terrifying children since the island was colonized. The Cuco myth is Portuguese and Galician in origin (and in fact this is where the word coconut both in English and Spanish get their name-the hairy outer layer and indentations made the coconut look like the monster’s head) and has since been adapted upon reaching the western hemisphere. Here, no one really knows what the Cuco looks like, each parent moulding his image to suit their needs. When I was a child my mother told me El Cuco was a monster that lived in the walls, when he sensed a child wasn’t behaving he’d drag his long nails along the inside of the wall until finding the them and snatching them up while they slept.
3. El Galipote
A galipote is a person that can transform themselves into animals at will. There are a few different kinds of galipote: one naturally born with this ability, others who are given through spells cast by a witch, some can turn themselves into any inanimate natural object like rocks or trees. The stories go that the galipotes are impervious to weapons like knives, machetes, and bullets. For some they’re mischievous creatures that love to pull pranks on normal humans: from re-directing sleepwalkers to misdirecting travellers in the forest, to scaring people who are walking around dark places. But in other myths the galipotes are violent, deceitful and evil. Between their immunity to weapons and their ability to blend in with nature, galipotes are truly dangerous monsters. Something to keep in mind the next time you go hiking-a galipote might be anywhere around you.
4. La Ciguapa
La Ciguapa is probably the most known monster of Dominican folklore. The origins of this myth are hard to pin down, some say it’s Taíno, others say African, and still others say its a legacy of colonial imposition of Christianity on the western hemisphere. The name however seems to be Nahuatl in origin from the word for woman, cihuatl and share similarities with the Honduran myth of La Cigua and the Costa Rican myth of La Cegua. In Dominican folklore, a Ciguapa is a wild woman-type creature with long dark hair that lives in the forests in the mountains. They are always naked and differ from other similar myths in that their feet face backwards making it impossible to track them. Though for some she is a herald of death, the most oft-repeated version of her myth is that men who look upon her are bewitched and follow her into the forest where she has sex with them before killing them. Tracking a ciguapa is said to be possible during a full moon with the aid of a special kind of dog, and their incredible beauty might make it worth the try, if you’re OK with her face being the last thing you see on this earth.
5. The Dominican Bruja
The Dominican bruja is said to have her origin in the European tradition but what makes the Dominican bruja special is the persistence in belief of her existence. It’s not common for people to speak about known brujas, that yes, fly on their broomsticks. In fact, a news story on Dominican television reported an incident in Moca of two witches teaching a third novice witch to fly a broomstick leading to a crash into a coconut tree. Witch sightings are common and like her European counterpart, Dominican witches have a penchant for broom flying, eating children (or sucking their blood), but it’s believed Dominican witches gain their wealth of knowledge from all of their roots incorporating indigenous and African magic into their practice. Our brujas can read futures at the bottom of coffee cups, make love potions and bring your fortune for a fee-which is a much better option, in my opinion, than conjuring a bacá.
But I’m of the belief that we all have a little bit of witchiness in us, it’s just a matter of waking up these inherent abilities and channeling them. For more spells, rituals and superstitions check out this post. Did I miss one of your favourite monsters? Let me know in the comments below or join the conversation on Facebook.
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