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!
Artist Dan Mora