By: Lucia Morales Gil (Colombia Coffee Tree’s collaborator)
About the oral tradition in the Colombian countryside
Nothing better to end the month of October than a good dose of stories of witches, horrors and more, based on the myths and legends of the Colombian oral tradition.
Any great-great-grandfather, grandfather, father or son that has had in his childhood the opportunity to spend some time in the country, will never forget those nights, dark, cold and stormy, where the official narrator of each place delighted and terrified the childish troop with his stories.
As I had the opportunity to live this experience, I can tell you that there was no pleasure more terrifying than that; no child wanted to hear such terrible stories but at the same time no one wanted to miss them for anything in the world.
The event always took place in the same way: the children gathered in the dining room, the kitchen or in the great corridor of the farm and suddenly, as if commanded by God or the Devil, the narrator in question appeared. Immediately someone pronounced, or better, opened the door to terror and fright – saying
– Candelaria, that’s the name of our narrator, why don’t you come and tell us some scary stories?
I never knew of any storyteller who resisted the temptation of such a silent, attentive and frightened audience. This is how Candelaria began to narrate her experiences or the experiences of her relatives, neighbors or close friends; it could never be the story of a stranger.
The best part came, Candelaria would start the story:
– I’m going to tell you what happened to Don Abel from the farm below.
On a night like this, dark and stormy, much later, since there was no fear before midnight, Don Abel came from town alone, quiet on his mule and smoking a cigarette. Suddenly, when he was walking along the path of Don Gerardo’s coffee plantation, he felt a shadow pass quickly by his side. The mule began to whinny, stopped and refused to continue walking.
– This fool mule, scared for nothing – said Don Abel. He got off the mule, grabbed it by the reins and pulled it along. At the bend in the ravine, just turning around, a phantom appeared, a woman lying in the ravine, just looking at her you could see she was a soul in pain, tormented. Her hair was long, her tunic was lighted up in white, her hands were chained together and she moaned in a heart-rending way: “ayayayay poor of me, death and with no rest”.
You had to hear Candelaria’s moans, they were so pitiful that not even the creature itself would be so frightened.
She went on with her story. Just seeing and hearing that, Don Abel was stunned and almost swallowed the tobacco. Of course, by this point in the story we were already frozen in terror, we had held hands and were already so close to each other that we looked like a bunch of bananas.
She continued: Little by little the phantom approached to Don Abel, and there he was, he got on the mule and almost flew away.
As soon as he arrived at the town square, he looked for the priest’s house and almost knocked down the door.
– What you saw, my son, was a soul in sorrow, said the priest, the soul of some deceased person of the town who died without being forgiven by someone he seriously offended, or perhaps, with the need to reveal some important secret.
– Son, come back again to the place of the meeting and help this poor soul in sorrow to rest in peace for ever and ever, Amen. Before returning to the meeting with the soul in sorrow, the Priest gave him some indications: Always carry a cross in your pocket, say a prayer to the deceased and finally ask her how you can help her.
With the same panic as the first time, he approached the place where he had heard her lament, and there she continued: “ay ay ay ay poor of me, dead and without rest”.
After following the priest’s instructions, the grieving soul told him: “I stole Carlota’s necklace and it was hidden in her henhouse”.
Mrs Carlota was a very rich woman who lived in a big house next to the village church, rich but extremely selfish. The priest and Don Abel visited her, told her the story and together they went to the chicken coop. There, under the chicken feeder, they found the stolen necklace and as Mrs Carlota was more fearful than selfish, she forgave the robbery of the suffering soul, as long as she rested in peace and never thought of going to meet her.
Once the story was over, the dining room, kitchen or corridor remained in an impressive silence, nobody spoke, nobody moved, nobody breathed… Then, something that I will never be able to define, if the most terrible thing had already happened or it was only the beginning of it
Suddenly, we all began to run to the rooms; 2, 3 and even 4 of us threw ourselves on each bed, our eyes overflowing and our ears attentive; the blanket up to the head and the heart beating fast.
Those were the worst nights I remember, nobody could sleep, everybody was attentive to the moaning and the sound of chains of some other soul in pain, besides, we stirred up all the stories and it was time to take care of it as no witch was flying over the roof, beating chocolate in the kitchen or laughing.
We all knew how easy it would be to hunt her, all we had to do was throw salt or mustard grains on the floor, which she was unable not to count and so she stopped to do it, leaving that moment as the precise one to tie her with a bow and throw her away; Even if the truth be told, if no one was ever able to put open scissors on the bedroom door, water salt on the floor or put a sheet of “witches’ scarecrow” under the pillow, to be protected from the witch’s discomfort, much less anyone would have the courage to hunt her down.
What we could never do, apart from hunting the witch, was to identify one. The only thing we had to do was to tell the witch who was bothering the house: “Tomorrow you come for salt” and the person who would get up early to ask for a little salt was supposed to be the witch from the previous night. We never saw anyone come for salt and we were always very attentive.
Although I never knew if the bad nights were Candelaria’s responsibility and her terrible stories or a few feet on my face, a surprising involuntary knee injury or the sustained balance on the edge of the bed to keep me from falling out of the bed.
The Colombian oral tradition is rich in myths and legends, the inhabitants of each region have transmitted through them, from generation to generation, the explanations of inexplicable phenomena.
Hacienda Portugal is part of a region called Antioquia la Grande and these are some of its main myths and legends:
La madremonte is a creature half woman and half mount, dressed in leaves, vines, mosses, and branches; with a big hat that prevents others from seeing her face. She lives in big and small tangled mountains, with big trees, rivers, creeks and puddles.
According to the legend, when she bathes, rivers and ravines become furious, and the muddy waters are carried away by terrible squalls that end up flooding everything, causing terrible damages to crops and fields. Also, it emits infernal cries and curses with plagues to the crops or diseases to the cattle of those who invade other people’s lands, are disloyal or cheat.
According to the legend, “La Llorona” is a languid figure, red eyes and dirty, careless appearance who wanders around on full moon nights looking for her dead son. She is a sorrowful soul that lives immersed in pain, horror and despair; of which people assure it was she who killed her son, left him at the foot of a ravine and the current of the ravine dragged him away.
Therefore, she was condemned to wander through the banks of the ravines in search of her dead son, shouting and crying in a heartbreaking and pitiful way.
This is a woman who lives among the thick tangle of jungles and forests. According to people she was a woman who dishonored her family by being found by her husband in the company of his employer, in his own home . When she tries to flee, he cuts off her leg and the woman dies as a result.
She becomes a soul in sorrow that appears as a beautiful woman who attracts men to fall in love, who in the darkness leads them to the depths of the forest with her lustful looks, until she becomes a horrible woman with eyes of fire, mouth with teeth of feline and a dishevelled hair that falls on her face to hide her ugliness.
Others say that sometimes, the laments of a lost woman are heard; they shout to help her, but the moans become more distressing and distant as the victim advances to the depths of the forest where she ends up getting lost and the leg alone attacks her.
There are still many missing: “El cura sin cabeza”, “El hojarasquín del bosque”, “La pate tarro”, “El sombreron”, “La larga” ………. but these are left for another meeting.