June 23, 2021

Espooky Sea Tales: Latin American Sea Legends

Espooky Sea Tales: Latin American Sea Legends

Hello Espookies! Here are our notes for our episode, "Espooky Sea Tales", where we share a few different sea legends from Latin America. If you haven't listened, click here

El Encantado

El Encantado is a dolphin from the Amazon. It is specifically a long beaked river dolphin that is said to have the ability to take the form of a human. Legend tells that they are very curious about humans and love to attend music festivals as musicians. They are said to be friendly, but have been known to hypnotize and kidnap young women and take them to the underwater city of Encante. Sometimes a young woman is able to escape, but comes back pregnant.

How can you tell a musician is actually one of these dolphins? They have a bald spot where the blowhole should be and wear hats to disguise them. Surprisingly, some sources say that they seduce both men and women.

According to legend, El Encantado has a beautiful singing voice and uses it to lure indigenous and white women to take underwater and virgins cannot resist going with him.

One story tells that there was a beautiful indigenous woman, who got together with a brave warrior and eventually she gave birth to a beautiful boy. After a while, she began noticing a weird thing protruding from her husband’s back, it appeared to be a fin. She asked him about it a few times and he grew tired of her questions and one day, he was never seen by anyone again. The tribe searched and searched for him, but did not find him. They came to the conclusion he wasn’t human, but an Encantado. Another darker version of el Encantado tells that he leaves the sea, transforms into a young man and impregnates pre-menorrheal girls, meaning girls who haven’t gotten their periods. 

This dolphin is actually one called “el boto”, also called the Amazon River Dolphin or  Pink River Dolphin. It can be found in freshwater in the Amazon and Orinoco river basins in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, and Venezuela. It is also on the list of endangered species. 

Mermaids

Prior to the Spanish colonizing Latin America, there are stories of creatures similar to mermaids, but with colonization, the folklore mixed and the European mermaid that lures men to their death widely influenced Latin America. Creatures that were originally more half snake, are now depicted as half fish.

One example of this is the Tlanchana, which was evolved from the Otomi Goddess named Acapaxapo. Acapaxapo was believed to be a helpful Goddess, but under the Aztecs, she was known to be both good and evil. After Spanish Colonization, then powers of having a song that lures men to their deaths or stories of her taking men underwater forever emerged, much like the European mermaids we hear about in the Odyssey. 

On his way to colonize Latin America, Columbus claimed to have encountered mermaids. On January 9, 1493, he wrote that he saw three mermaids come to the surface, but that they were not as beautiful as the stories say they’re supposed to be. It is said he actually saw manatees. At another point, while close to Costa Rica, his crew killed 2 “strange serpent creatures, 5 feet in length”, which they claimed to be mermaids. 

The Yara

The waters of Colombia and Brazil are said to be inhabited by mermaids called the Yara/Lara or Uauyara. They are said to be both bad and good, also immortal. The yara falls in love with men and takes care of them for their lifetime, but due to their immortality, the relationships are doomed from the beginning. They are blamed for missing people, are said to be bad luck and are said to destroy boats. The merman version of them seems to be older than tales of the yara and was said to drag women underwater and r*pe them, leaving them with a child. It is also said the Yara don’t care if one is married or single and will take any man they desire and even prefer destroying marriages. There is one story of a young man named Alonzo, who doesn’t listen to his fiance’s warning to stay away from the river and he sees a Yara. After seeing them, his way of being changes completely, he laughs differently, thinks differently and eventually has to return to the river to be himself again and join the yara until he dies. 

El Caleuche

El Caleuche is a legend of a Ghost ship, from Chiloé Island in Chile. El Caleuche is only seen at night. It's a brilliantly lit ship, and it carries its own fog with it. It’s thought to have a consciousness of its own. It is often seen floating above the water and can navigate underwater. There are several myths and origin stories for el Caleuche. 

According to one version of the legend. On the deck of this Ghost ship, dances are held and it’s possible to hear music. The sound of music attracts shipwrecked sailors or crews of sailing boats. El Caleuche later takes these people and makes them part of its crew. When the Caleuche is approached by someone who is not a witch, it becomes a floating log or it becomes invisible. The crew on El Caleuche have very distinct characteristics. They have missing limbs or deformities. They are also forgetful so it prevents them from telling the secrets of what happens on board. El Caleuche should not be looked at because if the crew catches someone looking at the ship, they punish them by twisting their mouths, turning their heads backwards, or simply killing them by the use of witchcraft. 

When this ship captures someone, it takes them to the depths of the oceans and shows them great treasures and offers them to be part of their crew, on the condition they keep quiet about what they have seen.  Warlocks are said to use this ship to transport goods as well and those in this area who become rich quickly, because they have a pact with El Caleuche. Many people swear to hear the Caleuche anchoring in the homes of the rich. In fact, there is one story about a fire that broke out but none of the houses of the rich merchants were damaged at all. One of the most important jobs this Ghost ship has, is to collect those who have drowned at sea and have them serve on el Caleuche for eternity.

Another version of this legend is that El Caleuche is crewed by the drowned. There are 3 mythological figures who bring these drowned souls on board.  La Sirena Chilota, her sister la Pincoya and their brother El Pincoy. Once the dead are brought onboard El Caleuche, they can exist as if they were still among the living. It is also said that El Brujo Chilote (Warlock of Chiloe) likes to visit the party which he reaches by summoning un caballo marino (water horse). The king of the seas Millalobo prohibits anyone else from boarding the ship or reaching the ship by any other  means. The crew of the Caleuche is also made up of Fishermen and sailors who have been kidnapped to work as human slaves. These human slaves turn into an imbunche (A mythical creature that guards warlock’s caves). These slaves have the characteristic of having a leg folded over their back. 

 

Sources: 

https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/12703/7-legendary-monsters-south-america

https://www.nationalgeographic.com.es/naturaleza/grandes-reportajes/delfines-del-rio-amazonas-2_77#:~:text=Seg%C3%BAn%20la%20tradici%C3%B3n%20amaz%C3%B3n Ica%2C%20el,espir%C3%A1culo%20y%20la%20frente%20bulbosa.

https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/amazon-river-dolphin

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tlanchana

educacionyfp.gob.es/brasil/dam/jcr:81a1f03b-7697-4240-bb0f-251ec75a1bc7/leyendasamazonas.pdf

http://folklore.usc.edu/brazil-iara/

http://talesoffaerie.blogspot.com/2015/06/mermaids-from-south-america.html

Water Monsters South of the Border- Denver Michaels

https://cryptidz.fandom.com/wiki/Caleuche 

 https://www.vayaadventures.com/blog/el-caleuche-the-ghost-ship-of-chiloe/ 

https://mandradey.wixsite.com/myths/carthttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caleuche#:~:text=The%20Caleuche%20is%20a%20mythical,of%20the%20culture%20of%20Chile

https://evil.fandom.com/wiki/Caleuche