When you think of bedtime stories, particularly if you live in the United States it might be a bit of a challenge to come up with explicitly Latinx ones off the top of your head. Bedtime stories are something that many children will remember the rest of their lives which is why it’s important to know of some that reflect one’s own cultural background, particularly since many common English bedtime stories that are repeated in the United States have their origins in England (such as Jack and the Beanstalk). The point of today’s post is share some Latin-American myths and folkloric creatures that have the potential to be transformed into fascinating bedtime stories to help Latinx parents interested in ensuring their children develop a passion for folklore, spirituality, and mythology from Latin-America from an early age. Some of these tales may be found in books specifically for keeping cultural alive for generations to come.
1.) The Tawahka Tale Of The Orphans The Tawahka are an Indigenous group who live in Honduras and they have this charming fable about the importance of listening to instructions completely and how curiosity can be dangerous. I’ll be providing a fairly solid translation of this article by XploreHonduras, which is in Spanish and is the most detailed textual version of this myth that I’ve ever seen.
In a small town very far away two siblings lived with their parents, until their parents died. After the death of their parents, the sibling had to live on food the little boy brought home from the mountains. One day the boy came across a massive orchard, and started to bring fruits from it to eat day after day. Eventually the orchard’s owner realized someone was stealing the fruits from his trees and placed a guard there to stand watch over the orchard during the day. The boy was smart enough to hide until nightfall and then he grabbed the fruits and went home.
The owner of the orchard noticed fruits were still going missing ordered the guard to watch day and night. The next time the boy came to get some fruits his luck had run out and he was captured by the guard, a devil, and forced to explain his actions. The boy explained what had happened to him and his sister and the devil came up with a evil plot: to enslave the boy and his sister. The devil told the boy to bring his sister to him and when they were both in front of the devil they were enslaved and forced to do the bidding of the devil.
The boy was instructed to go and grab firewood from the countryside and the girl was told to make tortillas. The siblings worked under the devil until sadness began to invade their hearts. Eventually a woodpecker would appear before the boy and warn him that the devil planned to murder them and gave him the following advice to escape a nefarious end: “Today when the devil asks you to dance on top of the wood covering his pot tell him that you don’t know how to dance and that he needs to show you how to do so. Once he is on top of the wood you need to move it so that he falls into the pot and burns once he reaches the bottom. After that you’ll need to burn his body and take the ashes to the other side of the sea.” Said the bird. The boy listened carefully and when he arrived home later that day carefully instructed his sister as to what they needed to do.
The devil appeared later and instructed them to dance on top of his pot, but the orphans were ready and did as they were told. The devil was tricked and went on top of the pot, only for his wooden cover to be moved out from underneath him and send him tumbling to a boiling end. The instructions of the bird had saved their lives! They were quick and burned the body of the devil, placing its ashes in a jar and tightly closing it with a lid to make sure none of the ashes fell out. At this point they had to ask for help in getting the jar across the sea so that they would forever be safe from the devil. Two animals volunteered: a deer and a toad. After a fierce dispute between the two, the toad wound up the winner. The toad was instructed to not open up the jar under any circumstances and told to swim across the sea.
The toad swam for a long time until it became too tired to continue before taking a break. It had reached an island and began to rest until it heard a loud noise come out of the jar. Curiosity would be its downfall, and it opened the jar. A massive swarm of insects exploded out of the jar and as they flew out of the jar and into the world they stung, bit, and hurt the toad, whose wounds would be permanently etched into its skin and eventually the skin of its children. The insects flew towards the mountains that the devil once made its home and ever since the mountains have been the home of thousands of wicked insects who enjoy inflicting pain on disobedient children and animals. Some believe that if the deer had won the dispute and been tasked with taking the jar across the sea none of this would have happened.
2.) The Tale of Taroo and Alida Puerto Rico has a story similar to Romeo and Juliet in one of its myths explaining the origin of the Hummingbird.
This tale of love revolves around Alida, the daughter of a village chief and Taroo, a mysterious stranger who was once a member of a rival tribe and was left behind in a hunting trip. The two meet at a pond and begin to fall love, before Alida’s father discovers their romance and forbids Alida from seeing Taroo again. In order to put an end to their romance permanently Alida’s father arranged a marriage for Alida. Alida in her frustration begged the gods to have mercy on her and intervene in her love life. She was answered by the gods who decided to transform her into a beautiful red flower.
Taroo waited for her by the pool they had met at and had no clue what had happened to her. He waited for a long time until the gods felt pity and the moon called out to him, to inform him as to her fate. He begged for the chance to be reunited with her and the gods decided to turn him into a bird. He was told to find his love among the flowers. To this day he still has yet to find his love among the many flowers of Puerto-Rico.
3.) The Pesanta If you want to begin to get your children interested in Spanish mythology you could do worse than introducing them to the mysterious Pesanta. The Pesanta is a ghostly dog or cat that appears in Catalan legends and popular cultural tales. It is similar to a Succubus or Incubus in the sense that it’s a evil creature which causes terrible nightmares and is associated with difficulty breathing while someone’s sleeping. This is a fun one because it can be scary, and someone could try to come up with an original tale that ends with the Pesanta being defeated, rather than narrating an existing story for it.
4.) Another scarier type of creature that could be found in Latin-American (specifically Colombian) folkloric tales is the Patasola. This vampiric being is known for its one leg and its eerie ability to shapeshift, which it uses to lure in unsuspecting victims. It’s origin differs from tale to tale but generally it revolves around a woman who was either “bad” or a victim of someone who was bad, and after death found her spirit transformed into a new and vicious form. Tales that incorporate one of these vampires could be a multiple night event with one night featuring their origins, another night featuring the misadventures of one of their victims, and finally the last night could feature a more hopeful tone with it ending in someone escaping from their clutches.
Part of the neat thing about bedtime stories is that you can create them yourselves. You can learn from these mythological and folkloric beings and figure out ways to use them to creatively make sure your children stay passionately interested in the folklore of their homes, rather than forgetting about the beliefs people once had in Latin-America in favor of the beliefs of Estadounidenses. As someone who is now studying history because I was in love with mythology and folklore as a child, I can personally attest to the importance of developing an early passion for folklore and mythology. Making sure that our children stay passionate about these topics can help make sure that we never forget our roots.
Luciano Gonzalez is a writer, blogger, future historian and Latin American activist. You can follow Luciano on Twitter!