The seas in Latin America are full of legends and myths. Have you heard of El Encantado, mermaids in Mexico and El Caleuche from Chile?
El Encantado is a dolphin from the Amazon. It is 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, to 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 women 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 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.
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.
Prior to the Spanish colonizing Latin America, there were stories of creatures similar to mermaids, but with colonization, the folklore became like the European siren, that lures men to death. 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 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 is a Ghost ship, from the Chiloé Island of Chile. El Caleuche is only seen at night. It's a brilliantly lit ship, and it carries its own fog. 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, dances are held on the deck of the ghostly ship and the music from the ship can be heard for miles and miles. The sound of music attracts shipwrecked sailors or crews of sailing boats. These lost sailors join the party and later become part of its crew.
The crew on El Caleuche have very distinct characteristics. They are said to have missing limbs or deformities. They are also forgetful, preventing 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 with witchcraft.
When this ship captures someone, it takes them to the depths of the oceans and shows them great treasures and offers them to join the crew on the condition they keep quiet.
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 tells 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 exist as they did among the living. 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 are turned into an imbunche (A mythical creature that guards warlock’s caves). The imbunche all have a leg folded over their back.
Water Monsters South of the Border- Denver Michaels