Myths and Beliefs

Dominican culture is rich in myths, legends and beliefs that have been passed down from generation through written and oral tradition.

Legends:

The Ciguapa

One of the most well-known Dominican folklore legends is the Ciguapa, a magical creature with inverted feet and long hair that appears in caverns and rivers.  

In the countryside version, the ciguapa is a small and beautiful woman that men fall in love with and then disappear into her nocturnal world.  

It’s origin has been related to the ciguaya princess of Samaná named Onaney, lover of the cacique Caonabo, who, overwhelmed by his death, took refuge in a cave with her virgin companions, according to the book “Lo Dominicano/All Things Dominican”, by the Global Foundation for Democracy and Development (GFDD).  

On her way to the cave, Onaney and her companions walk backwards as to not be tracked down.   

Exaggerated through centuries, this reading is found on the internet and influences plastic art, music, literature and Dominican film.   

Jupías

A ghost woman that circles mountains in silence during the night in search of men. Men disappear when they come into contact with her. Jupías evoke the beliefs of Taino mythology. They are ghosts that take over a body to seduce men, who disappear when they come into contact with the ghosts, according to stories told by friar Ramón Pané.  

Los Biembienes

“The mountains of Bahoruco became famous five centuries ago as a refuge for Indians and runaway slaves,” according to Lo Dominicano/All Things Dominican. From these remnants arose the story of the Biembienes, savage beings who lived in hidden clans in the mountains. Biembienes run around naked, using grunt-sounds as their only language. “They move in groups at night when they go out to steal crops, and, like the ciguapa they leave backward tracks to protect themselves from being discovered and to confuse their pursuers.”

Galipotes

Like many other cultures in the world, Dominicans have their own story about transformation with the galipotes. According to “Lo Dominicano”, the galipotes are men that transform into animals or inanimate objects, such as tree trunks or rocks. “are cruel and violent beings,” who are immune to weapons. The galipote that transforms into a dog is called a “lugarú,” coming from the French Word loup-garou, the legendary werewolf of the universal myth. Those that come into contact with a galipote in the mountains protect themselves with wood crosses and white sanctified weapons with water and salt.

El Zángano

The Zángano have the same characteristics as galipote, and can change form, walk with a large stride, fly like a nocturnal bird, run, climb and disappear at the speed of light.

Los indios de las aguas

Aborigine inhabitants of rivers, lakes and underwater caves. They are inoffensive and generous with their knowledge of herbal medicines.

Las brujas

In this popular story derived from Europe, witches are evil beings with powers from the devil. In the national tradition, “they turn into large birds and circle over houses, making frightful cawing noises… witches remove their skin before flying, leaving it to soak in a jar, and that they set out to fly saying ‘Neither God nor Saint Mary,’” according to stories compiled in the book “Lo Dominicano”.

Las marimantas

Marimantas are shapeless beings that appear wrapped in white sheets during the night in search of badly behaved children. If a child is trapped, the parents ask for the child to be returned. From then on, the child will behave well.

El cuco

Cuco is an undefined character invented to scare children when they do not want toe at or sleep. The threat of “cuco” or “coco” is also typical in Spain and in other Latin American countries.   

BELIEFS

Las nimitas or animitas

In Dominican folklore they are called nimitas like the fireflies, and it is believed they are the souls of dead children that come back to watch over their loved ones.

El guanguá

This 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, according to stories.

Mal de ojos

Mal de ojos can make children sick and is normally accompanied by the exclamation “May God watch over him.” When the child has mal de ojos, a witchdoctor should be summoned to pray over him and cure him of the magical disease.

La piedra de rayo

It is believed that pre-Colombian axes have the power to repel lightning strikes, hence the name piedra de rayo” (lightning Stone).

El bacá

A belief among poor Dominicans that says when a person begins to quickly progress economically they have the help and protection of a bacá, a denomic being that has taken over someone’s spirit, who paid the devil with the life of their loved ones.

La pesadilla

This is a spirit that prowls around dreams. La pesadilla has one hand full of holes and the other of riches to give to those that can grab the riches by threading the perforated hand with any object that fits in the holes.

El agua de mayo

The first May of rain is considered magical among many Dominicans, who bath under the rain or wash their face to rejuvenate and wipe away wrinkles.

Amarradores de agua

In the countryside there are “specialists” with magical powers to water bend in times when rain can damage crops. These amarradores de agua walk through the rain and remain dry, according to countryside stories.

Las cabañuelas

This is an ancient method used in the Dominican countryside to forecast the rainfall for the year and to plan crops. The first 12 days of January speak to the next twelve months, when there Will be rain or drought. With variations, the cabañuelas are also used in Spain and throughout the American continents.

 

Sources and References
Lo Dominicano/All Things Dominican, 2016, Global Foundation for Democracy and Development (GFDD).

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