Posted on: October 1, 2021 Posted by: Deana Elhit Comments: 0

By Deana Elhit, Editor-in-Chief

Aurora Zwick hopes to shine a light for students on the stories of their own cultures and traditions from their homelands.

Zwick, who is manager of the English Language Learning Center, presented a series of myths, legends, and curiosities Friday in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. 

“I think it’s important for us to know the Hispanic culture,” she said. “I know sometimes it’s hard for parents to share everything within the culture, especially when they’re trying to assimilate into the American lifestyle. That’s why I did it, one for myself, two for our students just to celebrate the diversity within our legends and folktales.”

She believes it is important to reclaim culture with storytelling, as it can often be lost due to immigration.

“For many cultures, storytelling is how they pass their history,” she says, “how they  warn their children about how to take care of themselves and things they should do.”

Zwick comes from Mexican heritage. She said her parents had told her stories, a few of which were included in her presentation. However, she’s constantly learning new myths, legends, old ghost stories and folktales.

Her mother used to tell her the story of La Llorona when she was misbehaving.

“It is a bit of a scary story for children, and it has a message of ‘you better behave or La Llorona is gonna get you’ kind of feel to it,” she said.

She told the story of the beautiful Maria who received no attention from her ranchero husband. Instead, all the attention was on the children. On an evening near a shady pathway near the river, she saw her husband on a carriage with a wealthy woman. This made Maria furious, so she seized her children and threw them in the river. 

Photo from Austin Ghosts

For many cultures, story-telling is how they pass their history.”

Aurora Zwick

When she realized what she had done, she attempted to reach out to her children, but it was too late. She was found dead the next day. The first day Maria was in the grave, she could be heard crying for her children. Based on the white robe she was buried in, Maria was renamed as La Llorona (the weeping woman). 

This story led children to be warned not to go out during dark hours or near the river as the La Llorona might snatch them and never return.

Other versions of the story claimed God wouldn’t allow Maria to enter heaven unless she brought her children with her, leading La Llorona to kidnap children to present to God as her own.

 “For me that was a story I grew up with as a child. I always heard different ghost stories but that was the one that kind of stuck with us because you were told you have to behave,” she said. “You can’t throw temper tantrums or something is gonna happen to you if you do.”

She explained how Hispanic countries each have their own rich culture with their own stories attached to them, which she doesn’t think are widely known as they should be. 

Zwick told stories of God, Death and the Hungry Peasant, El Muki/Inca, La Ciquapa; La Llorona, Pishtaco, Pisadeira, and the Jarjacha. Many of the tales are cautionary..

Photo by South America to the World

When Zwick traveled to Peru for vacation, her guide mentioned going back to the hotel before it got too late and El Muki got you. This was the first time Zwick had heard of the legend.

El Muki tales warned children not to stay out late at night, especially in smaller villages. The stories inspired fear of being kidnapped and mining for gold and metals in caves and mountains until death.

The El Muki tales also come from the Central Andes, Bolivia, Columbia and Ecuador from the mountains of South America.Their name El Muki comes from the Quechua Native word, murik, which means asphyxia.

“What happens a lot to people that go into mountains and caves, which is where El Muki lived, sometimes they could become asphyxiated from various gases that are in mines or caves,” Zwick said. “It happens to miners where they could suffocate in the mines.”

El Muki, also known as duende (goblin, elf) or enano (dwarf) dates back to the precolonial times. They are described as no taller than two feet, with no neck, a deep voice, long and bright blonde hair, reddish face with a long beard and deep with aggressively hypnotic metallic eyes. They were extremely greedy and evolved over the years with modern technology. 

 Not all El Mukis are bad, as some are said to help those who are seen as worthy for having pure hearts and supposedly helped miners with their metal and gold deposits. They also allowed Incas to mine in their caves. The Incas would use the gold to worship the sun and make small offerings of food.

However, people who are greedy and uncaring will be trapped by cave-ins, unable to escape. El Muki’s are also very vengeful as if you catch you one, your wish will be granted and you can become very rich. However, you mustn’t go near caves and mountains as El Muki will seek revenge in honor of another El Muki.

“They’re an interesting little creature,” she said. “I’m sure the stories will keep going.”

In stories of the Pisadeira folktale, you are told not to overeat or the old, scary looking woman with stringy hair and claws for hands and feet will be waiting for you. She sits on rooftops, peering through the windows looking for a victim. Once she spots one, she will sit on their chest, feeding on the fear she caused her victim, and creating sleep-paralysis.  

Photo by ThayCane

Zwick also  explained that Pishtaco is a Peruvian legend dating back to 1500. They are described as very European looking humans with a mouth like a lamprey fish, with curricular teeth throughout. They are often compared to vampires however, instead of sucking blood, the Pishtaco sucks human fat until the person is depleted of all their fat and dies. 

The villains in the cultural tales are those with European features, telling of how the oppression of their colonizers affected them, seeing them as monsters, says Zwick. Pishtaco, for example, had red or blonde hair and beards.

“It’s interesting that for some of these they manifested into Europeans coming and that’s how some of them dealt with what was going on, so I’m sure there has been a lot of evolution in these stories over time,” Zwick said.

The villains in the cultural tales are those with European features, telling of how the oppression of their colonizers affected them, seeing them as monsters.”

Aurora Zwick

The La Ciguapa folktale from the Dominican Republic comes from the word guapa, meaning beautiful in Spanish. They are known for their backwards feet and beautiful long hair. They don’t wear clothing. Their skin is tan or blue and they have slanted eyes of black or green. They are the shy protectors of the forest and would sing beautiful songs in order to trap and eat people. The first written account of La Ciquapa was in 1866 by Francisco Javier Angulo Guridi, who was a novelist, poet, playwright. Guridi had left Cuba for the Dominican Republic, where he began writing. He heard the villagers talk about La Ciguapa, and was the first to publish information about them.

Throughout time, folk tales, legends and myths have created not only meaning but a deeper connection to culture. They made us believe and behave. The great depths of their imagination are endless and forever changing. As Zwick says, learning to understand different cultural tales will allow us to open our eyes to our own, connecting with our roots.