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La Llorona #FrighteningFriday

Banshee of Costa Rica

The story of “The Weeping Woman” interestingly has roots in many ancient cultures. However, most agree that the legend of “La Llorona — The Weeping Woman” began in Mexico in the 1500’s and is based on the real life figure, “La Malinche”, a young Aztec woman who was the conqueror Hernán Cortes’s interpreter, advisor and mistress. She spoke both Nahuatil and Mayan and helped prevent a rebellion in what is today, Honduras. They had one son together — who later accompanied his father back to Spain when Cortes decided to leave the “New World” for home. She married another Spaniard named Juan Jaramillio with whom she had a daughter, but not much is known about La Malinche’s life other than she died in 1529.

Although there are many versions of this classic legend, this one takes place in the Nicoya Peninsula near the River Tempisque…

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon and Marina was swimming in the cool waters of the river. Her family home was not far away and she was taking a break from her daily chores of cleaning, cooking and washing. She was young and beautiful with long chocolate brown hair down to her waist and intense almond shaped eyes. She was sought after by local boys, but to Marina they had not much to offer, but the same humble life she already lived. As she floated on her back and closed her eyes she dreamed of a better life; one with nice clothes and jewels, a big house, and trips to the city in a horse drawn carriage.

Not wanting to be in trouble with her mother, she reluctantly dressed and headed back home before she was too badly missed. Their simple home was on the outskirts of the estate of Don Armando Barrantes Chavez. He had a grand house, with vast lands and grew crops of coffee and sugar that were sold overseas to Spain. As she walked home she could see a carriage heading toward her in the distance and as it approached her, she stepped aside to get out of its way. As it passed her, she saw the face of a mature man look out at her and smiled. She gazed back at him and away and then with a quick glance back to see that he was still staring at her as the carriage rode off in the distance. Her heart all a flutter, Marina quickly headed back home to attend to her chores.

As days past, she tried to always be on that road around the same time for a chance to see him again. Until one day in the distance, she saw the carriage again. She braced herself, her heart racing in anticipation to see if it was the same man. This time the carriage approached and slowed down to a stop. Out stepped the man to make her acquaintance. He gallantly took her hand, kissed it and introduced himself as Don Armando Barrantes Chavez. He was an older man but, handsome with salt and pepper hair, olive skin, brown eyes that looked right into hers. His hands were soft, having never known a hard day’s work. Marina had never met such a man and felt safe in his presence. They talked on that roadside and he learned all about her, where she lived and how she spent her days and he told her of his vast estate, his travels, of life outside the town of Palenque.

They parted ways that afternoon, but after that meeting, Marina began receiving gifts by messenger at her home. Chocolates, bags of coffee and sugar, a basket of fresh hen’s eggs, material for a new dress, a bejeweled barrette for her hair or earrings. Her mother was not pleased with the gifts, but it was hard to refuse them, that is until one day when a letter came with the messenger and a carriage, asking her to come live with him on his estate.

She would have her own little cottage where he could visit her and they could have time alone to whisper their secrets. She would not have to worry for anything, for food, clothing, or finer things. Her mother was heart broken for a man of his station could never marry a girl like Marina and she told her daughter so. She would be his mistress, nothing more, but the taste of the finer things was a lure too great and she hurriedly packed her few belongings and mounted the carriage with a wave goodbye.

Marina was taken to the estate of Don Armando. The main house was in the middle of coffee fields, with sugar cane on one side and behind. She, however, was taken to a small cottage past the fields. There were other houses of varying types belonging to the workers who toiled in the fields, but hers was set off from the rest and surrounded by a garden of flowers and herbs. She stepped out of the carriage and into her new home. It was a two room cottage with a cooking hearth on one side — already supplied with pots, silver utensils, elaborate plates and goblets and a hardwood table with a silver candlestick holder as a centerpiece. A little sitting area with chairs covered in rich, blue satin and lastly, the bedroom with four polished wooden posts and fresh, white curtains surrounding the bed dressed in a rich, red satin. She climbed into the bed and rested her head on a fluffy down feather pillow, the softest she had ever known and fell promptly asleep.

Marina awoke to the sound of Don Armando’s carriage stopping in front of her cottage. He opened the door without knocking and Marina ran to his arms. He visited her almost everyday and brought her gifts of jewels, clothes, and food. Sometimes he took her for a carriage ride or picnic by the river.

Eventually, the frequent visits resulted in two sons and the boys joined them on their outings by the river. As the years past, Marina grew accustomed to her life in the cottage, even though at times, she missed her mother, but Don Armando and her boys filled her heart with joy.

On one particular day, Marina readied herself and the boys for a visit from Don Armando. She prepared a meal for all of them to share, scrubbed the boys’ faces clean and shiny and dressed herself in her favorite powder blue garment. They waited, and waited, but Don Armando never came.

His visits became less frequent and then it was only the messenger who came with the food. When it had been weeks of no visits at all and her despair was too great, she told her boys to stay inside their little cottage and she began the long walk to the main house where she had never been and where Don Armando lived.

When she arrived at the large door to the entrance, it took all of her nerve to wrap her hand around the lion’s head shaped knocker and announce her arrival. A servant answered the door and although she never met Marina, she knew exactly who she was. “Where is Don Armando?” she asked in a weak voice. The servant took her by the hand and explained that he was to be married to a woman from a prominent family that day.

Marina was in disbelief, but soon she realized that it was true…that it was always going to be true. And as she walked home, her grief turned into a burning rage that consumed her and twisted her thoughts. When she reached the front door of her cottage, she swung it open furiously and grabbed ahold of her two sons, dragging them to the river where they had picnicked together.

She threw them in one by one and with a blank stare, stood unmoving as her children kicked and splashed, trying to stay afloat, but soon it ceased as their lifeless bodies drifted down stream. Suddenly her rage abated and the full reality of what she had done crushed her soul. The most piercing, sorrowful wail began to escape her mouth, starting out small and gradually escalating into a terrifying scream. She waded further downstream and drowned herself.

It was said that when the soul of Marina reached the gates of Heaven, she was asked where her children were and was refused entry until she found them. Condemned to search for her children whom she will never find, it is said that she can be seen wandering the rivers and streams. She is dressed in white, beautiful in shape when seen from behind, but when facing her, she has no eyes, nose nor mouth, and the most blood curdling scream leaps from a hole in her face to consume you, until you are driven mad or stricken with disease.

The legend sampled the real life of La Malinche, but took on a more dramatic twist. It is told that she bore the Conquistador two sons whom he wanted to take back to Spain with him. She, however, was not invited to come and in her desperate rage, she drug her sons to the river to drown them, claiming she will never allow them to leave without her. After realizing what she had done, she went insane with grief and spent the rest of her days wandering around the river looking for her children.

The story of Lamia is found in Greek mythology. She was a beautiful demi-goddess who has an affair with Zeus and bears him two sons. Hera, Zeus’s wife, discovers the affair and kills Lamia’s children of Zeus. Lamia, stricken with grief, goes insane and resorts to stealing other people’s children who resemble her own.

Costa Rica has its own historical precedents for the legend. Tracing back to its own indigenous forebears, the Bri Bri, who believed that rivers and waters had spirits who wept sorrowfully if a baby was about to die.

In more modern Costa Rica, the legend has been used as a cautionary tale to youngsters not to stray far from home for fear that “The Weeping Woman” might snatch them up as replacements for her lost sons, only to drown the unfortunates in the dark, emotionless river. Children beware… Run as fast as you can back home!


Image © Poas Rent A Car. All Rights Reserved.
Artist Dan Mora
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La Carreta Sin Bueyes #FrighteningFriday

Possessed Cart of Costa Rica

Unlike many folktales, the various retellings of this myth are only found in Costa Rica. Visitors to the country can still see the oxcart blessings in mid-March every year, when there is the Oxcart Festival or Day of the Oxcart Driver in San Antonio de Escazu, or in San Isidro de General on the town’s patron saint’s day mid-May. The parades and festivals are a tribute to the important part the carts played in Costa Rica’s agricultural past. Although today, the usage of oxcarts as the primary means of transportation across the country has declined to the point where almost all are purely decorative or in the most rural locations.

The oxcart, a national symbol of Costa Rica, was once the main means of transporting crops such as coffee and sugarcane to the market for sale. The large trademark wheels of the carts are made from sixteen pieces, fitted together in a metal ring, and designed to cut through muddy roads. Each artisan manufacturer has a distinctive style of colorfully painted geometrical patterns to decorate the carts, and no cart is painted exactly the same.

The year was 1776 in San Antonio de Escazu, Costa Rica. San Jose and its suburbs were not the maze of highways of today but small rural villages where life centered around farming and religious activities. The villagers worked hard tilling their land and growing crops. They gathered daily and sometimes more with their priest, Father Emmanuel, in their simple sanctuary to pray. They believed their saints protected them from the vast wilderness surrounding them, the dark magic of witches and the ever present temptations of the Devil.

Father Emmanuel wanted to build a larger church since the population was growing and he wanted to accommodate his parishioners. One day when the people gathered to pray, he shared his vision of a new church with an altar, pews, and statues — all made of beautifully polished wood from the Guanacaste and Bitter Cedar trees. One young man, Eduardo, who was known to be especially hard working, was so taken by the priest’s vision that he rose to his feet to urge the townspeople to cut the wood for the new church at first light. There was no time to waste since they were under a waning moon — the best time to cut trees because the sap would be closer to the roots than their branches. The women went to their homes to prepare extra tortillas and tamales for the hard work of the next day.

As dawn broke, the men of village went to what is now the National Museum, but back then it was a forest known for its strong Guanacaste trees. The village men, and especially Eduardo, worked hard all day but as dusk fell, they knew they would need to come back for the wood the next day. They laid the trunks out in neat rows and headed home before the sun set.

One man, however, did not help to fell the trees — Pedro “El Malo” (The Bad). He lived just on the outskirts of the village in a big house that you could see from the town. He was unkempt, with long stringy hair, and big muscled arms, honed from whipping his oxen to work harder. He never came to pray with the rest of the villagers. In fact, he was said to practice magic and be in league with the Devil. He worked his land alone and never shared his crops — even when food was scarce in the village.

The next morning when the townspeople awoke, they could see the big house of Pedro “El Malo”. It had grown in size with more rooms built on. Next to his larger home, sat a brand new mill, stable and a lavish new oxcart painted in a colorful pattern. The vain and proud Pedro “El Malo” looked on, as Eduardo frowned.

The townspeople gasped in horror as they ran to the woods, hoping their timber was still there. Their hearts sank when they arrived at the forest and saw with their own eyes all their wood had been stolen. Some men wanted to go after Pedro “El Malo”, but they were also afraid of this powerful man and his pact with the Devil. Father Emmanuel urged the townspeople to let God deal with Pedro “El Malo”. They must wait for God’s sign for surely He will not abandon them. The crowd dispersed angered, but a bit relieved, having avoided facing this frightening man.

The following day Father Emmanuel would bless all the oxcarts in San Antonio. There were not many to bless, but all the town came out to see and celebrate together. The mood was solemn that year, as the townspeople thought of their stolen wood and the loss of their new church. Father Emmanuel blessed the oxcarts in his sanctuary and although simple, it was still sacred ground. The few men and their carts lined up in front of the sanctuary and waited their turn. Eduardo led his ox and carefully crafted cart to wait with his fellow men.

Just then Pedro “El Malo” stormed into town with his brand new oxcart and barged to the front of the line, demanding Father Emmanuel bless his oxcart. The Father refused and Pedro “El Malo” let out a loud laugh and yelled “I did not come here to bless my cart, you fool, because it is already blessed by the Devil, but I will enter this sanctuary!” and with that he whipped the oxen to move forward, but they would not budge. As he was possessed by the Devil, Pedro “El Malo” began whipping the oxen with such ferocity that surely he would rip their flesh from their bones, but the oxen would not budge.

Father Emmanuel could take no more of this cruelty and he called on God’s help to rid the town of this evil man. “By the power of the Almighty God, I curse you to roam in your cart for all eternity.” And with that, the oxen suddenly broke free of the cart and sent it rolling down a hill with Pedro “El Malo” chasing after it. The oxen were given shelter and their wounds tended. They were brave souls and deserved to live the rest of their lives in peace for their stance.

Pedro “El Malo” was never seen again, but on certain evenings, a cold wind would blow in the darkest of the night and the creaking sound of a lone oxcart, traveling without oxen escort, could be heard off in the distance. The wheels rotating across the road, “traca, taca, tratata” would make even a devout man pull the covers over their heads and gesture the sign of the cross, for they knew that the Devil was passing by.

This oral legend serves as a dire warning to those whose vanity and arrogance could tempt them away from the church. The Devil may make you do it, but the payout isn’t worth the price.


Image © Poas Rent A Car. All Rights Reserved.
Artist Dan Mora
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Independence Day – National Pride

When I was small, the year revolved around events of the 14th and 15th of September. Just as we looked forward to Christmas, the anticipation of the lantern parade, and the processions for Independence Day would leave me unable to sleep. I enjoyed walking through town with my handmade paper lantern, lit precariously with a candle flame, after taking hours to cut, paste and fold layers of red, blue and white crepe paper onto my cardboard house or ox-cart.

The real highlight for my classmates and I was to put on our brand new band uniform in the colors of the year with a haircut for the occasion and my mother having scrubbed my face shiny to debut as one of the drummers. We practiced for hours to perfect our rhythms and to march together in unison just for this one day of celebrations. I’d pour with sweat in the blazing sun as the drum strap dug into my back and my hands blistered, as I hammered away with my wooden drum sticks, but I adored every second.

Every year we celebrate our independence from Spain with a countrywide celebration (Dia de la Independencia), starring the school children of our nation, marching valiantly through the streets.

The festivities begin on September 14 with the Desfile de Faroles (The Lantern Parade). Every year at 6pm, just as it gets dark, school children turn out in their town squares all over the country with their homemade creations made out of recycled materials; cardboard, plastic bottles, milk cartons, etc. which they creatively change into traditional houses, oxcarts or lanterns. They sing the national anthem, light their candles and brighten up the night; a tradition that symbolizes the news of independence traveling to Costa Rica.

Every Costa Rican remembers having to come up with their ideas for their lanterns, with prizes granted for the most creative creations. Competition can be stiff as people go to great lengths to recreate the little gardens around their cardboard houses, or a stove for cooking tortillas with a stacked woodpile in painstaking detail.

It is said that the original lantern tradition came from Guatemala when a woman by the name of Maria Polares Bedoya from Antigua. She took to the streets with her lantern calling to the townspeople to gather in the town plaza where a meeting was being held to decide on independence. They stayed all night long with lanterns a blaze in the night until the politicians greeted the crowd with the news they wanted to hear.

The tradition got somewhat lost in Costa Rica until efforts in 1948 when teachers were asked to encourage their students to make the homemade lanterns and offer prizes for the most creative ones. Then in 1953, the Director of the San Jose school system declared that September 14 at 6pm of every year would be the official time for Lantern Parades and it has remained a countrywide tradition ever since.

The 15th is also a big holiday for Costa Ricans and everyone must look their best. Women done, carefully coordinated in red, blue and white outfits, with nails, hair and earrings to match and everyone lines the parade route looking on proudly and waving their flags.

September 15th Costa Rica

Image Creative Commons Attribution Icon Some rights reserved by MadriCR. Cropped and shadows enhanced from original.

Each school puts on a show with representatives in traje tipico (traditional dress) from their region. Girls have long skirts of red, blue and white which they wave back and forth majestically to the rhythm of the music, and the boys wear straw hats, starched white shirts and red bandanas around their necks. Each band, dressed in their freshly ironed uniforms, with heads held high has a chance to stop and perform their hearts out, whether it be waving banners, flags or playing instruments for the applauding audience. The band members practice for months after school in preparation for this day, honing their songs and coordinating their dance moves. They march on, sometimes in blistering sun in rank and file as their parents and teachers pass them cold water and confites (hard candies) to urge them on. At the end of the march, a competition is held for the best band in each region.

The streets are lined with vendors selling tamales, arroz con leche (rice pudding), patacones (fried plantains) and fried yucca stuffed with ground beef, icy cold coconuts and other traditional foods.

A brief timeline of the struggles towards Freedom:

  • Costa Rica was under Spanish rule in the sixteenth century (1500s), with Guatemala being the regent’s seat.
  • Following the Mexican War, September 15, 1821 became the date of independence for the rest of the Central American colonies.
  • Battle of Ochomogo (Costa Rica’s First Civil War) in 1823 decided the new capital of Costa Rica would be San Jose.
  • Joined the Federation Republic of Central America, but by 1838, Costa Rica left.
  • Became officially independent in 1840.

So although September 15 is the official date, it was really the beginning of the process towards true independence.

These Independence Day parades and the tradition of Desfile de Faroles instill in us a feeling of unity and national pride in being Costa Rican. Why not join us for the celebration? Festivities begin on the 14th of September with the Lantern Parade at 6pm all over the country. You can pick up a readymade lantern quite easily, for example in the Central Market in San Jose. Grab some flags and a traditional hat and join in the fun. Festivities begin early on the 15th so get your secure parking spot early and be advised that most of the main roads through towns will be temporarily closed for the parade. Experience Pura Vida through the most exciting day for a Costa Rican child — and their parents.

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