Myths and Beliefs
Myths and beliefs
Dominican culture is replete with myths and beliefs that enrich the identity of its people and make it all the more enchanting.
According to popular beliefs, witchdoctors or healers have the capacity, in the name of those interested, to change people into animals for their protection or so they may better carry out their work. These creatures are “galipotes.”
The galipotes, through magic, can escape when pursued, thanks to their capacity for mimicry, through which they can take on the shapes of different animals and be immune to knifes, machetes and bullets, as well as to prayers.
Zánganos have the same characteristics as galipotes, but differ in that they walk with a large stride. Both share a penchant for roaming in the night to frighten people and make all sorts of mischief.
When a person begins to quickly progress economically and the public is unable to explain the sudden improvement, they comment that the windfall is thanks to a bacá. A bacá is obtained by a pact with the devil, who offers riches, health and property in exchange for the surrender of loved ones to him. If the person does not keep his side of the bargain, he will lose all the riches and properties and receive as punishment pain, disease and disgrace and will lose his loved ones, relatives and friends one by one, until finally losing his own life.
The first May rain is considered magical in the Dominican Republic. When it is falling, the people catch it with their hands and wash their face with it as an act of purification, and for some, in hope that it will wipe away wrinkles and rejuvenate them. The water is also collected in bottles, which serve as protection and as a remedy for health problems.
Amarradores de Agua
When there are black clouds in the sky, or negrecito, as the people say, there are specialists in the community that, with their magical powers, frighten the water so that it will not damage the crops or knock blossoms from the fruit trees. These characters also have the ability to reason with the rain, making it fall, or not, in determined locations that are convenient for agriculture. According to the beliefs of the people, they can even walk through the rain and remain dry, as the water runs off their backs.
In our countryside, we have the cabañuelas gatherers, who forecast the rainfall for the year, so that farmers can plan their crops. Cabañuelas happen at the beginning of the year. The first twelve days correspond to the months of the year. The days that it rains or not indicate the months of rain and drought, respectively. They also have the technique of placing twelve grains of salt on the support of the houses, organizing them in a line on the night of December 31. The moisture in each indicates the frequency of rain throughout the year.
It is believed that at night, a beautiful woman with long hair emerges from the mountains, but her feet are turned back, for which she is named “la ciguapa”. She is completely inoffensive and very timid: even people frighten her.
According to popular belief, the witches appear frequently, as they can travel long distances on a flying broomstick and enjoy injuring and frightening people. Their weakness is children, from which they suck blood through the bellybutton or the big toe until the child dies. If the child is baptized, upon sucking on its finger, the witch will begin to vomit the blood. As protection against witches, brooms are placed upside-down, so that they will not be able to fly if they arrive to the roof of the house. Also as protection, grains of salt, mustard and sesame seeds are placed around the house. The witches’ greatest fear is salt, as it pickles their bodies and paralyzes their joints, particularly when it touches their skin.
These harmless, mute and naked creatures live in the deepest parts of the hills and mountains, emerging at night in search of food.
Marimantas are shapeless beings that, wrapped in a sheet at night, emerge to take away badly behaved children to frighten them or carry them away. If a child is trapped by one of these creatures, the parents ask for the child to be returned. From this moment on, the child will behave well.
Nimitas are fireflies, common in the countryside, that emit a light at night as they fly through the silence. People believe that these nimitas are the souls of the dead that come back to watch over their loved ones, especially children. The name nimita comes from animita, or a small animal.
Some farmers with certain economic resources buy a “zombi” to put to work in their field. The zombies are cadavers that have been partially awakened by a spell. Upon delivery to their owner, they become slaves and must be maintained without ingesting foods with salt. When an error in its food occurs and salt is added, the zombie awakens from its lethargy, kills its master, destroys his property and returns to its tomb to rest in peace.
Mal de Ojos
A small, beautiful child can provoke envy in some people, and it is feared that someone could cast a spell on him that could affect his health or kill him. This spell is known as “mal de ojo”. Therefore, when a person sees the child, is impressed, and says “what a beautiful child!”, he or a person close to him should end the exclamation by affirmation “May God watch over him!”. As protection, a type of shield, often a stone, is affixed to the wrist, which will be more effective if it has been blessed by a witchdoctor for three consecutive Tuesdays. When the child has mal de ojos, a witchdoctor should be summoned to pray over him and cure him of the magical disease.
When a person wants to free himself of an enemy or wants to collect a personal debt for revenge, he goes to a witchdoctor and pays to make the person sick, or even kill him, by putting a guanguá on him. A guanguá is a “package” prepared by the witchdoctor in a series of magical rituals on Tuesday or Friday and should be placed in a location where the victim will step on it or brush it upon passing it. To neutralize the guanguá, it must be removed with the left hand while crossing oneself with the right hand or by sweeping it out with a broom and afterwards making the sign of the cross.
The pesadilla, or nightmare, is a being or spirit that prowls around sleepers. It has one hand full of holes and the other of riches to give to those who manage to grab it. To grab the treasure, the person only has to thread the perforated hand with any object that fits in its holes.
The cuco is an undefined entity that is always threatening to appear and frighten badly behaved children. The creature a nationally recognized popular belief.
Los Negros y las Máscara del Diablo
In some communities of Guerra, during Easter Sunday, some masks of the carnival of the escaped slaves emerge, known as “los negros”. Their task is fundamentally educational: frightening badly-behaved children in the communities. The same occurs in some locations in Elías Piña, for example, in Matayaya, with the “máscaras del Diablo” or “masks of the devil”.
La Piedra de Rayo
Upon finding a pre-colonization axe, many people believe that they stand before a magical rock that serves as protection against thunder and lightening. If a house owns one of these, neither of these meterological disasters strike it, hence the name “piedra de rayo” (lightning stone). It is also believed that one of these appears wherever a lightning bolt has struck.
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