The Legends; Belize Folklore Myths Broken
The Belizean culture is unlike anything else on Earth. It’s a unique blending of many different influences, ranging from the Spanish Mestizos, to the German Mennonites, and the Ancient Maya. Today, aspects of these people live on in the nation of Belize and its folktales.
As a child growing up I recall conversing with my elders and hearing countless tales of old Belize. Stories that date back before there was any radio or television, when rivers were the main artery of transportation, men rode horses to work, and logwood and chicle extraction was the main livelihood of most Belizeans.
My granddad was the storyteller; he really enjoyed telling his grandkids how different things were when he was growing up. He didn’t only talk enthusiastically about rural life, early days of El Cayo, the dense jungles and little sacbe roads. He loved sharing with us the folklore characters that were part of everyday life growing up in a small British colony.
Here are the most popular Mayan, Creole and Mestizo beliefs:
Beware the Tata Duende
Deep in the Belizean jungle lives Tata Duende, there lives an ugly little man with backwards feet, a big red hat, and no thumbs. He greets the children who walk the jungle trails politely, and asks to see their hands. Belizean parents warn children to never oblige, lest Tata Duende rip their thumbs clean off!
The problem is, you can never be quite sure you’re in Tata Duende’s presence. Although his haunts probably won’t be on the tour for your typical luxury Caribbean cruise, this sneaky man will often change into a small animal, or even someone you know. Perhaps it’s best to keep your hands hidden in your pockets if you’re ever walking through the Belizean forests.
The Scary Sisemite
Legend has it that the hairy male Sisimitos and female Sisimitas lived deep in the caves of Belize. Their short, hirsute figures made them appear closer to apes than modern men. They ate fruits and leaves just like apes too, although they preferred snacking on human flesh.
It’s said that their heels were at the front of their feet and the toes at their back, a clever tactic that made their footprints appear as if they were heading in the opposite direction. Unsuspecting humans might feel the creatures were traveling away from them, only to discover they were dangerously close by.
A man would usually die within a month of looking a Sisimito in the eye. However women were much luckier, as a Sisimito’s gaze would prolong her life, if only she could escape. Sisimitos were known to abduct and rape women, while Sisimitas would kill and molest men.
The Sisimito and Sisimita weren’t without weakness though. They were petrified of water and dogs. Smart Belizeans knew they could escape an attack by walking near a river or with a canine companion.
Xtabai, the Ultimate Seductress
The Xtabai might look gorgeous, but don’t be charmed by her striking good looks. This mythical, malicious creature preys on Belizean men. She lures them back to her Ceiba tree home, where they meet a grisly end.
One version of the story tells of a 15-year-old boy who often disobeyed his mother and stayed out late. One night, he came across the Xtabai, and found himself seduced by her flowing raven hair and sweet voice. They embraced, and the Xtabai transformed into a thorny tree with needles that pierced every part of the boy’s body. She disappeared as quickly as she arrived, and he returned home to nurse his wounds, determined to mind his mother in future.
As you can see, Belize is a land rich in vivid tales and intriguing mythology. These are just a few of the many great tales that the people of Belize have passed from generation to generation. Do you know of any other great pieces of Belizean folklore?
So, you cannot say you were not warned. On your next Placencia travel, ask a Garifuna, Mestizo or Maya local to share with you detailed stories of their encounters with these and other characters.