Every culture has a bogeyman — a foreboding creature that strikes fear and cautions us from an early age to behave, whether it is Baba Yaga from Russia or the Jumbie from Caribbean folklore. The foreboding creature takes many shapes and I thought I’d start with the bogeyman (boogeyman) of Latinx and Hispanic origin.
First off, who is the Bogeyman?
The monster is known around the world by many names. We can first see stories around the 15th century. It has come to be known as an entity to be feared, especially by children. Many countries have their own version of the bogeyman and the many shapes it embodies to capture fear in that particular culture, which most commonly is by preying on children.
But over time, the monster’s mythological existence is believed to come from parents hoping to frighten children into behaving — even from wandering into potentially dangerous situations. However, the origin of the boogeyman is that and more. As I discuss how these legends came to be, the truth becomes a bit more sinister, which brings me to my first shadowy figure.
Pishtaco (Peru, Bolivia)
Known to roam the Andes and suck the fat from peasants, this bogeyman is a pale-skinned vampire whose origin derives from the real horror that Indigenous communities faced during colonization.
Many believed that the bogeyman represented the events of colonization based on the multiple descriptions of the monster that plagued them and the legend that coincided with the beginning of Spain’s conquest of South America. The monster was typically described as a “white” male and disguised itself as a doctor, priest, tourist, and even an anthropologist. What makes this one of the most terrifying creatures on this list is that the monster’s origin wasn’t a figment of imagination but a legend of true events.
Some who’ve seen Supernatural may recall an episode where siblings opened a weight loss retreat in order to feed off humans fat. However, they missed the mark by making the characters Latinx, which undermines the origin of the legend but thanks for the inclusion?
El Coco (Spain, Mexico, and Many Spanish-speaking Countries)
El Coco, El Cuco, El Viejo del Saco, or El Sacomán (The Sack Man) is a bogeyman that carries a sack to steal misbehaving children in the dead of night.
The legend of the monster varies from country to country but the story is thought to originate from Almeria, Spain. According to a legend, Francisco Ortega, was a sick man, tuberculosis, around the 20th century. He needed a cure and tried to get help from Curandera, a healer/shaman if you will. She told him if he drank the blood of children and rubbed fat on his chest, he would be cured. And that he did, kidnapping a boy seven years of age. Truly a monster!
In one legend from Mexican Americans, the monster is known as El Cucuy. This version is an evil monster that hides under children’s beds and either kidnaps or eats them, especially if they don’t obey parents. Are you seeing a pattern?
Some lore even describes the monster as small, hairy, and humanoid, others say that the monster is a kid that was a victim of violence.
The Cuca (Brazil)
The Amazon is home to many creatures but lurking deep within the forest is the hag called the Cuca. Similar to El Coco, she is used to scaring small children who do not want to go to bed on time. Her form can vary — she sometimes appears as a mean old lady, a witch but is most popularly an alligator female with blonde hair that will kidnap and do evil things to them.
The story originates from Sítio do Pica-Pau Amarelo (“Yellow Woodpecker Ranch” in English), a series of fantasy novels from Brazilian author Monteiro Lobato about two children going on adventures with their living, thinking toys. In one of the stories about the Cuca, a tactic to lure kids is she will sing and kidnap them all while their parents are away. A translated line from one iteration of the song reads, “Dad’s in the fields and mom is away at work.”
If this monster frightens you just enough, consider adding the Cuca to your next Dungeons and Dragons campaign from our Monster of the Week series.
Tata Duende (Belize, Myan & Mestizo)
Most prominently from Mayan and Mestizo folklore, this bogeyman is the protector of the jungle and animals. The name Tata Duende translates to grandfather goblin or demon. He is typically depicted as a goblin with a tall pointy hat, backward feet, and both his thumbs missing so naturally, he seeks out little children’s thumbs because why not?
Often blamed for weird occurrences, the monster is associated with being a mischievous entity but, ultimately, if he finds a naughty child, he will try to lure them into the forest and bite off their thumbs.
On the other hand, some view the Tata Duende as a force of good since he protects the forest. Due to its association as a protector, including for the animals within, some see the spirit as a potential guardian and make offerings to him.
La Llorona (Mexico)
*Trigger warning: Filicide*
This is one of the most popular stories from Mexico and you probably saw this coming because how can we not?
La Llorona can be considered a bogeyman of sorts due to her relation to children like the others, as well as several other categories of folklore such as a hag, a ghost, vengeful spirit, or even like the banshee from Irish lore. That is a female spirit who wails into the night.
The legend goes that a woman drowned her children from grief when the man she loves leaves her. In some stories, the woman is Maria, who marries a nobleman above her class but their differences become too great over time. He eventually abandons her for a fair-skinned woman and within his class. As a result, she drowns her children as they would have eventually died from poverty.
Heartbroken and unable to bear the weight of what she had done, she drowns herself but alas cannot enter Heaven until she has her children.
La Llorona is doomed to roam until she finds them, crying out for them into the night as the “weeping woman.” It is said that if you hear La Llorona cry, consider it an omen of death. Parents use this story to scare children into staying in and not roaming late at night as La Llorona is known to take children, mistaking them as her own.
What does it all mean?
Although the bogeyman comes from the fear of the unknown or even inspired by a real creature, the majority of people believe that the bogeyman is no more than a story to warn children from misbehaving. But as you’ve read from the Pishtaco, some of these legends have some truth to it. Or like La Llorona and Tata Duende, they have a cautionary meaning.
Want to dive deeper into other cultures? Let us know. Or better yet let us know what is your culture’s bogeyman? Share with us on social media. Don’t forget to sign up to join our mailing list as we’ll be sharing more horror content and discussing even more cultural mythologies including our Monster of the Week series and a Chai and Cocktails: Stereotypes in Horror.
Creepy Creatures and other Cucuys by Xavier Garza (2004)