Dominican Myths

Myths and Legends/ Mitos y Leyendas

Folclore de la República Dominicana/ Folklore of the Dominican Republic

Chupacabra/ Goat Sucker or Evil thingcould this be the chupacabra of legends?
The chupacabra is (supposedly) alien in origin and was brought here by a UFO. It is a living creature that looks like a hunched alien with a line of sharp spikes down the middle of it’s back exactly where the spine is located. It has gray skin that is part fur and part feathers. It has short arms ending with long nasty claws. Its legs are like a kangaroos.
The chupacabra is said to be about 4 feet tall when standing erect. This gray being has huge red elongated glowing eyes, the better to see you with. They are said to be very powerful and people have reported seeing the chupacabra fly.

Creatures fitting this description were said to be spotted first in Puerto Rico in the mid-1990s. Then, a few years later, the chupacabra started showing up in Mexico, South Florida, Central America, and South America including Dominican Republic. Although few people have actually claimed to seeing a real chupacabra many claim to have seen the works of this blood sucking alien being.

Blaming the Goat Sucker for many domestic animals (cattle, goats, etc) that have been found dead with two holes on their neck. Their blood drained and their organs sucked out as well.

Whether such a creature exists is a great topic of debate. Some of the happenings are probably pranks, yet there is a possibility of such a creature living with no humans having ever encountered it. Some people think it could be a bat-like creature. This small fast moving evil creature has been spotted on the roadsides and in fields. It seems to be frightened when hit by the light beams of a car or flashlight.
It is said that the goat sucker will also pray on sleeping humans. So, try not to sleep to soundly. You never know what type of alien being may be lurking, waiting. Waiting to take your life’s blood….

Interpretation of Dominican myth legend of las Nimitas by Artist-Illustrator Ray Wu The Nimitas/ Fireflies/ luciérnagas or Lightening Bugs/ bichos de luz

Nimitas are a very common sight in the country around the open fields in Dominican Republic. The males have a bright tail light that flashes hoping to get a return flash saying that the female is interested in getting to know him.

Dominican superstition says that the Nimitas are the souls of the dead who are watching out for their loved ones still living. They shine their light reminding all who see that they are there always there….watching.

Fireflies are also called Cocuyo which is a Taino AmerIndian word.

Ratoncito Pérez / The Mouse Perez

Who takes your children’s teeth in the night from under their pillows? It is not the Tooth Fairy/ Hada de los Dientes as we were taught in the US. It is a little mouse who wears a straw hat, gold glasses, linen cloth shoes and carries a red pack on his back.

This little mouse has been around for a long time but in ancient times he did not wear clothes. Mothers would offer the baby teeth of their children to the mice that lived in the fields to ensure good crops thus making their children strong and healthy.

The mouse in clothing came about in 1894 when Queen Maria Cristina Coloma of Spain asked the Jesuit priest, Luis Coloma to write a story for eight-year old Alfonso XIII when his baby milk tooth fell out. The priest wrote the story about the small Mouse Perez, clothed him and made him the most beloved mouse of all time.

So remember, all little mice are not nuisances. It just may be the friendly Ratoncito Pérez visiting to exchange the little tooth with money or a small gift. Taking his precious tooth to make jewelry, build a castle or adding another star to the sky. Also, do not forget to remove those mouse traps before you place that tooth under the pillow.

*I have spoken to other Dominican children and they tell me that they throw their teeth onto the roof of their homes so the new teeth will grow down straight and good.”

Dominican Republic Myth Legend La Jupia by Artist-Illustrator Ray Wu La Jupia
Jupio or Hupio is an AmerIndian word meaning dead men come to life. The Jupia is the feminine version of the same. She was a spirit or ghost of the air who hides eating guavas during the day only appearing after dark in the form of a human. This spirit resembled a human in all ways with one exception; it did not have a navel. The Jupia did not have a navel because it was not born of a woman.
Many men have fallen for these spirit women and made love to them unknowingly. He found that just as they were reaching the loving climax his arms and love nest would be empty. It is very important to remember to always check and see if whomever you decide to make love to has a belly button. If not then you know you have been had by La Jupia.
Today this indigenous legend is still said to be seen by Dominican farmers and people who live away from civilization. Jupia is a ghost woman who visits, riding on a dark horse. Quietly, in the darkest night, roaming through the open fields….

El Bacà [Bacara]

The Bacà is a diabolical creature that people conjure up to get wealth and property. It is also called upon to protect land and property from being stolen. It is thought that when a person all of a sudden gets prosperous they have conjured up a bacà.

The baca can take the form of a black cat, a dog, bull or other animal. Once conjured this shape-shifting creature becomes very demanding. It wants great sacrifices on the part of the person who uses him. To get what you ask from this creature it is like making a pact with the devil himself. In return for your gains he might be nice and just take some of your lands, homes, businesses or livestock. You might have to pay the ultimate price by having you, your friends or your family suffering with diseases, illnesses, bad things happening or the ultimate price, dying mysterious or by committing suicide.

So before you decide you would give anything to become prosperous think long and hard before you call upon a baca. Do you really want to sell your soul to the devil for eternity just to have a short time of prosperity?

Interpretation of Los Biembiens by Artist-Illustrator Ray Wu Los Biembiens

The legend of the Biembiens started in the 1700’s. It is said these beings are located in the mountains of Bahoruco, Dominican Republic. An enslaved African and some AmerIndians ran from their Spanish enslavers. After some time hiding in the mountains away from any type of civilization they transformed into wild beings and became legendary.

The Biembiens only language is grunt-like sounds. They are mean, nasty and very unfriendly beings. They do not wear clothes to cover their naked short, deformed and ugly bodies.

These creepy creatures are very agile climbers of both trees and mountains. They travel and attack alone or in groups. They remain in hiding during the daylight hours and crawl out when the light dwindles. They emerge from their hiding places to search for food. Like the Ciguapa they also leave backwards tracks to protect themselves from being discovered. They eat humans entrails and also use humans as sacrifices.

So, if you are walking in the mountains and you hear unusual growls and gurgling knowing it is not your stomach.  Run. Do not walk. Remember, here in Dominican Republic we have no wild animals. If you hear this it can only be a roaming Biembien, looking for it’s next victim.

The ciguapa is a magical being, a wild creature, and sometimes compared to a mermaid. The Ciguapa is horrendously beautiful and cruel, not quite human. They are said to have brown skin and black eyes. Their black eyes are piercing and slanted. Ciguapa has smooth, glossy hair flowing the length of their naked bodies, covering them as if in a long beautiful gown. They are very shy in a sad way and also are deceitful, always waiting in ready to capture the wayward traveler.
The Cigupa usually comes out of her lair, be it a wooded area, cave or hidden spot, on the eve of the full moon. She is said to be such a spectacular sight that men will follow her into the forest even though following her tracks were very difficult. The difficulty is because her footprints are pointed in the opposite direction (the backward feet are found in ancient traditions to signify death, entry into the land of no return). Even thought following this striking creature was difficult, she was followed because of the promise that a beautiful woman was waiting. She seduces the men, kissing them passionately while sucking their life breath from their body.
Cigupa sings a sad mournful song known as the Canto de Sirena or the Mermaids Song. You will never hear a Cigupa speak words because they are said to communicate with small whines, like that of a crying child. It is a very somber woeful sound. The morning after a Cigupa cries the rocks and area where they were will be wet with their tears. Children are told if they stand by the shore facing the sea and yell [at them], a big wave will break and take them to drown in the sea.
The cinguapa is very mischievous. She likes to steal raw meat and butter from peoples homes. She has also been known to braid horses tails in the middle of the night.
If you do come across a Ciguapa do not ever try and capture her as this causes great pain and distress to the creature. Within days of capture she will surly die. Never never look into her eyes. She will bewitch you and you forever will be under her power sinking into an ecstasy of love disappearing forever……
 Interpretation of the Dominican legend of the Bruja by Artist-Illustrator Ray WuBruja/ Witch
The legend of the Bruja in the Dominican Republic originates in Europe with a little African flavor thrown in for good measure. This legend conserves the echoes of the medieval beliefs as an older person dies they become a bird. Our witches are old deformed women, perverse and night dwellers. They do fly on brooms but they prefer changing into large birds. In this form they can fly closer to houses and yell with loud squawking sounds.
It is said that the witch removes its skin before flying and keeps it in soaking in a tintature. When they take to flight they are said to say “Without God nor Santa Maria!”. People say they have heard the Bruja during flight laughing and singing in a hideous voice.
When the witches rest they do so under the branches of the platano tree. The witches will suck the blood of the children either from the navel or the big toe. It is said that a Bruja will not attack the children of its own friends or if they are twins.
The only way one can catch a bruja is to knock her down. The “tumbadores” are said to be the only ones that are able to fall a witch because only they know the special orations and rituals. After a witch is caught one must wait for dawn. Only when the sun rises and the witches enchantment is broken can their true identity be discovered.
So be careful, when it rains or when the day is cloudy. There could be a Bruja hiding in some dark corner or maybe even sleeping under your platano tree…
El Cuco / El Coco  (El Cucuy)

El Cuco is a mythical monster whose origins can be traced to Spain. The legend of El Cuco is used through out Spain and Latin America as a fright tool to keep the children off the streets late at night and to make them go to sleep. It is very similar to the Boogy Man in the US. There is no real description of this mythical being. It is as if he has no form or shape. It is just a being that is more felt than seen. It is said he is able to shape-shift into all sorts of creatures. He can be your favorite animal or a nondescript shadow moving across the floor. El Cuco can become a horrible monster or make him self so small that he can slip through a crack, hide under the bed or in the closet.

In Dominican Republic El Cuco roams the streets and alleys looking for kids to take away in his sack. He can take the form of a hobo or homeless man. Parents and grandparents alike tell the children if they do not go to sleep and fast that El Cuco will come and take them. Even worse if they are out roaming the streets unsupervised El Cuco will stuff them in his sack and take them away.

So be careful if you can’t sleep and you see a shadow with eyes glowing passing near your bed. Also remember to never roam the empty streets alone. If you see a faceless man with a big sack it could be El Cuco….

Dominican legend Los Indoso De Las Augas - The Indians of the Waters by Artist-Illustrator Ray Wu Los Indios De Las Augas/ The Indians of the Waters

These Indians are the fabulous beings who inhabit caves. Be they the submerged caves of rivers and lakes or inside the mountain caves. It is said that these were groups of escaped Taino Indians who kept up their old traditions and ways. In order to do this they had to stay hidden. These Indians are said to be very beautiful, especially the woman, because of her dark eyes, smooth black hair, and cinnamon colored skin. These beautiful women leave the waters on the nights of the full moon to detangle their long hair with gold combs.

Some say they do not bother people and are quite generous. They share their knowledge of natural medicines and possess old and powerful magic. Others say that they are dangerous and fear to bathe in deep waters and unknown areas. Some say the indios de las aguas leave their caves to look for the men who may wander near. These men are taken to their caverns never to be seen again

The children are warned not to sneak off to the “Pools of the Indians” because these Indians may take them never to be seen again. The “Mano Negra” will reach up from the dark waters and drag them into the water never to be seen again.

Do you think this is a way for parents to keep their children home at night and away from dangerous waters or could it really be that there is a dark hand waiting to pull them down forever to be lost…

El Galipote – El Gualipote/ Dog-like Creature & El Lugaru – El Zangano/ Flying Creatures

Both of these legendary magical creatures are said to be men who can become animals and become men again. Galipote can also become inanimate objects, like tree trunks and stones. He can transfer his desires to animals and in this way can make the animal do his wishes.  According to the belief galipotes are cruel and violent. They are very strong. Bullets do not hurt these creatures. It is said they like to cause havoc by frightening people traveling in the night. They do not permit the person to pass and also can help people to get hopelessly lost.

It is difficult not to find a Galipote when traveling in the country so it is good to carry a protective amulet and to cross yourself often to protect yourself from these beings. Galipote can become a dog. This dog-galipote is called a Lugaru from the French word that means Man-Wolf.  It can also fly like a bird. These high-flying, nocturnal birds are called zangano or zancu. It is said that this legendary being sucks the blood of the children during the nights and will also have sexual activities with its victims. It can also become invisible.

The only way to kill one of these beings is to get a branch and make a palo de cruz/ wooden cross. This wood can only be cut on Good Friday. Some say you must use a knife or machete that has been blessed with water and salt.

In the southern part of the country, families tell stories of how relatives were known Galipotes. To become a Galipote one must make a pact with the devil himself, selling their soul for the ability to change ones self into another form. A witch doctor is also able to help transform a human into this evil creature.

There are stories coming from the Palma Sola Massacres of 1962 that says the survivors of this massacre were Galipotes. They were able to change themselves into elements of the environment such as rocks, trees, or animals. In this way the soldiers were not able to see them to eradicate them and thus came about their survival.

Parents to this day scare their children with tales of these people that can change their shape at will. “If you be bad and don’t listen a Galipote will get you!”

So, when you are roaming in the campo at night, be sure to carry your wooden cross with you at all times. Better yet, just don’t be traveling in the campo after dark. You may never find your way home…..

Interpretation of Abad Alfau y la calavera/and the Skull by Artist-Illustrator Ray Wu Abad Alfau y la calavera/  Abad Alfau and the Skull
At the Iglesia y convento de Santo Domingo / Church and Convent of Santo Domingo there was a wall that has long been torn down. In 1905 when this wall was still there, there was a little niche. Inside this niche was a human skull. Written below the skull was this saying.
“Oh tú que pasando vas
Fija los ojos en mí
Cual tú te ves yo me ví
cual yo me veo tu te veras”
Roughly translated to mean
“Oh you who are passing by,
fix your eyes on me,
the way you look I used to look,
the way I look, is the way you will.”
This eyeless white skull with its lifeless grin would smile at all who passed. None paid it much attention until one evening after the street lamplighters passed lighting the lamps in the streets this lifeless skull came to life!
A neighbor was walking by as he did every night going to his home when he heard a noise. He turned and there was the skull. IT WAS MOVING! It was nodding its bodyless head to and fro all the while grinning and making diabolical sounds. As is common here in Dominican Republic, the news passed rapidly between all the neighbors. People would see the skull moving at night and soon not even the bravest military personal would use that street after dark. All were terrified of this chattering skull.After too many of the men ran in fear to the Fortaleza speaking of this frightful skull the 19 year old battalion sergeant Alfau Abad had enough. He was so disappointed and fed up with the actions of his military friends that he decided to take matters into his own hands.

The next night he had the men get a ladder and he went to the wall. The other men held their distance watching their friend in horror. Abad approached the nitch where the skull was moving and chattering. He bravely put the ladder against the wall and ascended. He drew his trusty sword and whapped that nasty thing! The skull broke and fell to the ground. When it hit, a group of mice scurried from the shards running in all directions.

The next day the street sweeper cleaned up the broken skull. No one ever spoke of this skull again. The wall was torn down years later but the embarrassment of the people who ran in fear from a mice filled skull always remained.

Duendes or Los Menos
These mythical beings are very similar to elves, gnomes, sprites or goblins. They are very mischievous creatures that like to play jokes on people. They can be both good and bad creatures all depending on their moods. Small but noisy, they can be very bothersome.
They are many times blamed for strange noises in a home. Duendes are known to drop stones on porches just to annoy. They can be heard running in the night and like to giggle and laugh loudly. Duendes like to make things disappear, move things around or change them completely. If a fire in the hearth goes out, gets too high or sparks it is always the fault of a duende.
Los Menos seem to prefer nature and freedom more than being inside but they can live in many places. They like caves, old tree trunks and hidden places under stones. They like hidden corners of a home, in the attic, or in warehouses. They are known to play with crickets and torture butterflies. Always they enjoy dancing by the light of the moon.
Duendes are said to be the size of a small boy. It may have the height of the boy but its face is wrinkled like an old man. They usually wear some type of red clothing and usually can be found in groups of no more than five. Even though they travel in groups they are almost impossible to be seen. These fun loving little imps are invisible to humans only unless they want to be seen. They make themselves visible usually only when there is no sun or at dawn. It is said that only children and simple minded people can see them and when they do it usually makes them cry.
Los Menos are known to take children that are not baptized. If they do take a child, usually it is a boy. They will take the child deep into the mountains or countryside and turn this child into one of them. If the child has been baptized and they took it by accident, they will set it free in the mountains where there are no people. Here the child will roam and get lost.
So, if you feel that there is someone watching you from the darkness. Maybe you see a quick flicker of eyes in the dark or hear a little giggle and feet scampering. You could be being stalked by the mischievous unseen Duende, waiting to see what turmoil he can cause….


Art: Artist-Illustrator Ray Wu



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