Ghosts and Elves

Tocopilla street and mountains

The folklore of Tocopilla is much like that of other small towns in Chile and probably much like that of Latin America in general. For instance, there’s a mythical creature called ‘chupacabra’ – ‘goat sucker’ that kills animals by sucking their blood, evidenced only by small puncture holes in the throat, if anything at all. The animals (initially goats, it would seem but this has grown to include chickens and dogs and others) are found dead without having caused any kind of disturbance to alert their owners beforehand. Legends of the chupacabra exist not only in Chile but up and down Latin America, from the far south, up into Mexico and Puerto Rico. They remind me of the legends of Bigfoot. No one can quite agree on what it really is.

I’ve heard all kinds of stories about the chupacabra. One time an article appeared in La Prensa de Tocopilla with an illustration of a creature striding down the street in a flowing black cloak. This was after a woman accused the creature of raping her. No more news was forthcoming.

Apart from the chupacabra, I asked my mother-in-law to help collect local stories and was fortunate that she had a friend who had compiled several ‘cuentos’ written by Tocopillanos. The majority of them had to do with ghosts in the desert or ghost ships. Most of the stories had no beginning or end but rather they described the tragic death of a person and how the spirit remained on or near the site of their death to either haunt or comfort passersby. It would seem that all stories are ongoing.

One of my mother-in-law’s own stories has to do with duendes – elves. It seems that duendes sometimes fall in love with children, they want to play with them and they become jealous if someone interferes. My mother-in-law told me that when my husband was a baby, she tucked him securely into his crib at night but in the morning, she found him playing on the floor beside his bed. She insists that he was too small to crawl out himself and she deduced that a duende had fallen in love with her son and had taken him out of bed to play with him. This went on for several nights and she finally sought advice from neighbours. They told her that the solution was to place human excement on the floor around his crib because duendes are clean creatures and they don’t like to go near anything like that. She followed this advice for a few nights and the duende never took out her son to play.

These are just the tip of the iceberg. Countless fascinating stories and beliefs are shared locally and across the continent.

Talking about local myths and stories leads us into the next post, which takes place in Santiago. No doubt it will be necessary to visit Tocopilla again at a later date.