Top 10 Venezuelan Legends (and their meaning)

Top 10 Venezuelan Legends (and their meaning)

Venezuela, officially known as the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, is a country located in the north of South America that enjoys a rich history and natural wealth.

In spite of the fact that it has been living in turbulent times lately, this is a people that has its own culture and tradition, with multiple legends that descend from the various peoples that have inhabited the country since pre-Columbian times. In order to understand part of its idiosyncrasy, in this article we will see some of the most well-known Venezuelan legends .

10 Very interesting Venezuelan legends

Below we show you a dozen Venezuelan legends, which tell us about themes such as the emergence of geographical elements such as some of the country’s best known peaks, the clouds, tradition and its break-up, love or jealousy. Some of them are typical of the indigenous peoples, while others are a mixture of them with the Catholic tradition .

Caribay and the five white eagles

“Many years ago, the first of the Mirripuis women was born, Caribay. Daughter of the Sun, Zuhé, and the Moon, Chía , possessed one of the most beautiful voices in the world and was able to imitate any bird. One day the young Caribay, who enjoyed the contemplation and admiration of the forest and nature, saw in the sky five large white eagles with beautiful plumage.

Wishing to contemplate their beauty and even adorn himself with their feathers, he followed them. He chased the birds up into the mountains, to the highest cliffs, but could not follow them beyond. Saddened, she sang, summoning Chia, making the night come and she illuminated the land. The sad song of Caribay impressed the animals, including the five eagles , which descended until they landed motionless on a cliff.

Caribay then approached the nearest cliff, where she tried to touch the first of the eagles. However, as he approached his hand he realised that the birds had frozen. Guilty and scared, Caribay ran away. As she fled, Chia grew dark, which caused the ice that covered the eagles to melt. They woke up again, furious, shaking and scattering their white feathers.

The birds shook again and again, filling the place with white. Their wings caused a cold breeze, and their squawks spread through the echo. The young Caribay took refuge, but once she stopped hearing the birds she calmed down and could see how each of the five beaks had become covered in white.

This beautiful legend tells us about the origin of the snow on the Venezuelan peaks , as well as the quacking of the wind and the cold winds typical of mountain peaks. The canticle of Caribay, likewise, reminds us of the whistle of the wind, an element that it represents.

2. The sayona

“A long time ago there was a young woman who lived with her husband, with whom she had recently had a baby. The young woman was in the habit of bathing in the river, but was often spied on by a man from the village. One day she discovered the peeping Tom and asked him what he was doing. The man, who had been surprised, chose to lie to her by telling her that he was there to announce that her husband was unfaithful to her with another woman .

During the night, when the family was already at home, the husband mumbled his mother’s name in his sleep. The woman, jealous and assuming that her own mother was her husband’s lover, set fire to the house killing the husband and the baby. Then, with a knife in her hand, the young woman went to her mother’s house. After claiming an infidelity that her mother denied, she stabbed her to death.

The mother, with her last breath, indicated that she had never been a lover of her husband and cursed her for the crimes she had committed . Since then the sayona wanders eternally, pursuing the unfaithful men who fall in her attempts to seduce them.

One of the best-known legends of terror in the country, the sayona (whose name comes from the garment she wore, a sayo) or the woman of the plain speaks of mistrust and jealousy, as well as the need to respect and care for mothers. It is said that the figure of the sayona seduces men with her beauty and then takes them to the plain. There it takes on its true form, with huge, sharp fangs and claws and eyes the colour of blood, often provoking death or madness.

3. Maria Lionza

“Many years ago, at the time of the Spanish conquest, one of the leaders of the Caquetíos Indians had a light-eyed daughter with a white woman. According to the beliefs of his village and the shaman of the tribe, the light-eyed girl was to be sacrificed to the god Anaconda or he would bring misfortune to his people. The girl’s father refused to sacrifice her and chose to lock her in a hut , with 22 warriors protecting her and taking care of her home.

Years went by and the girl became a woman. One day, despite the fact that it was noon, all the guards fell asleep, and the girl took the opportunity to go to the river. There she could contemplate her reflection for the first time. But she was also seen by the great god Anaconda, lord of the river, who fell in love with the little girl and ate her, wanting her for himself.

The father and the people wanted to punish the spirit, but it began to swell until it caused the waters of the river to overflow causing a great flood. The tribe disappeared.

After the event, and as the serpent continued to expand, it burst, allowing the young woman, Maria Lionza (also known as Yara) to leave again. But she did not come out as a mortal, but became a goddess and protector of the waters, fish, nature and love”.

Yara is an ancient protective goddess of the indigenous peoples of Venezuela and other countries in South America that is linked to the protection of nature, love and peace. The arrival of Catholicism changed her name to María Lionza (María de la Onza del Prado de Talavera de Nivar), being a cult that is still in force and extended in part of the country.

4. The Lost Axeman

“Once upon a time there was a woodcutter who wanted to work on his own bier, so he decided to go and fetch wood from the mountain. However, he made the decision to go on Good Friday. The very moment he picked up the axe to cut down the first tree, God struck him dead. The axe maker was condemned from then on to wander eternally in the woods, attacking those hunters who go into them”.

This legend of terror coming from Venezuela tries to push on the one hand to respect traditions, while on the other hand it is a reminder of the dangers of the forest , especially at night.

5. The female mule

“Once upon a time there was a young woman who worked in a restaurant in Caracas. One day, the girl’s mother, an old woman, came to the restaurant to order a plate of food. Her own daughter denied her the dish and later expelled her from the premises.

Once outside, in pain, the old woman met a man who gave her a coin with a cross of St. Andrew . The man instructed her to go back to the restaurant and eat with that money, but when her daughter turned her over, he told her to stay with the change to buy maljo.

The old woman did what the man told her, which caused the daughter who had expelled her to partially transform herself into a mule , whinnying and kicking until she fled the place. Since then, the mule woman covers herself with a white mantle and appears in the churches, praying”.

A Venezuelan legend that speaks of the price and punishment of ingratitude , as well as the return of the wrongs done to others.

6. Guaraira Repano

In ancient times, the mountain known today as the Avila did not exist , living the villages of the valley of Caracas in a plane that allowed us to see even the sea. However, with the passage of time the acts of the citizens of the valley with respect to the spirits of nature offended the Goddess of the sea. She was furious and summoned a great wave that devoured and destroyed everything in its path, throwing it against the earth.

Terrified, all the citizens knelt and begged for forgiveness. When they looked up, they saw that just as the great wave began to descend on them it had been transformed into stone : the goddess had taken pity on their pleas and transformed the water into the Avila, formerly known as Guaraira Repano (roughly “the wave that came from afar”)”.

This ancient legend tells us the myth of how the mountain in whose valley Caracas is located was formed, a gesture of compassion by a deity and a reminder of the need to respect nature.

7. Dr. Knoche and his mummies

“Legend has it that Dr. Knoche traveled from Germany to Venezuela to settle down, building the Buena Vista farm in La Guaira. This doctor, who was present during the time of the Federal War, invented a formula that allowed corpses to be embalmed without removing their organs. He took to his farm the bodies of those that nobody claimed to experiment with them , achieving his first success with the soldier José Pérez, whose mummy he would place in uniform at the entrance of the house.

The doctor, along with his family and employees, would work in a mausoleum that would later house them when they died, and throughout his research he guarded every one of the mummies he obtained.

The bad tongues say that in the beginning he also worked with dying people. In fact, it is said that one night, one of the doctor’s corpses broke loose from its restraints, got on a horse and fled, rolling down the mountain and never appearing again. The doctor himself prepared a dose to be applied to himself, as well as one for the one nurse who survived him. Some say it was administered against his will.

This legend is actually a story largely based on real events . Gottfried Knoche was a German doctor who lived and worked as a doctor in Venezuela during the time of the federal war, being known as a very humane and charitable doctor who did not even charge for his services. However, he also became famous for inventing and working on a chemical formula to preserve corpses from decomposition.

For this purpose he experimented with unclaimed soldiers’ corpses, having them taken to his estate in Galipán , where he succeeded in his endeavour, even mummifying various bodies by injecting them with a specific formula (the exact composition of which was lost with his death). Also real is the fact that he created a mausoleum (in fact, his estate is now a museum) and that he guarded most of the mummies, including that of the soldier Pérez. For this reason some of the citizens of the surrounding area even considered him a vampire and suggested that he worked with subjects who were still alive.

8. The soul alone

“The legend says that there exists a soul in sorrow known as the lone soul, which wanders eternally being condemned to suffer the burning and thirsting of the flames of Purgatory. In life it belonged to Celestina Abdenago, who was condemned by God for refusing to give water to Jesus Christ despite being in charge of giving water to those condemned to the cross. Although she gave it to Dimas and Gestas, she denied it to Jesus because of the fear of the Jews who condemned him.

This legend, which in other versions says that the woman gave vinegar to Jesus when he asked for water while carrying the cross or that it is a woman who died during the war of independence, lets us see the importance given to the religious sphere in that country . Beliefs about her may vary: there are versions that believe she is a spirit seeking redemption and others that she is a malicious being, capable of doing both good and evil.

9. The owner of the fire

“Legend has it that near the source of the Orinoco River lived Baba, the king of the alligators. This king, along with his wife the frog, had a great secret kept in his throat: fire. The couple lived in a cave that no one could enter under threat of losing their lives except them, the kings of the waters. But one day the partridge entered the cave by mistake, finding scorched caterpillars. She tasted them and they loved the taste, and after that she ran to tell the hummingbird and the dummy bird. The three of them hatched a plan to discover how the alligator and the frog manage to cook the caterpillars .

The silly bird entered the cave and hid, unseen because of its dark plumage, and could see how flames came out of the caiman’s mouth and cooked the caterpillars that the frog was carrying. Once they both fell asleep, the dummy bird was able to come out and explain what had happened.

The three birds decided to steal the fire , choosing to make him laugh when all the animals came to drink from the river. The silly bird and the partridge took advantage of the occasion to do pirouettes to make everyone laugh, but King Baba did not do it. The silly bird took advantage of the frog queen laughing to throw a ball to him, causing it to stick in his jaw. Seeing his problems, the alligator began to laugh. The hummingbird took advantage of the moment to swoop down and steal the fire with its wings. But as it rose, it set fire to a tree.

The alligator and the frog expressed that even if they had stolen the fire, it would be taken advantage of by others and the rest of the animals would be burned to death, although the two of them would be immortal in the river. After that, they dived in and disappeared. The birds and animals tried to use it, but they did not know how. However, humans did learn to use it for cooking and to provide warmth, light and security, and they began to revere the three birds for allowing them to do so.

A brief legend in the form of a fable that nevertheless lets us see the prominent role given in antiquity to the crocodile and the birds in indigenous mythology . It also establishes an origin for learning the use of fire, curiously similar to the Greek one.

10. The Eternal Tears of Carú

“The legend says that at the time of the Spanish conquest, Princess Carú of the tribe of the dancers was going to marry the son of the chief of the mocotíes . The girl was looking forward to the wedding, as the time for the ceremony was approaching. However, shortly before this, the watchmen shouted that strange beings dressed in iron and mounted on beasts were approaching. The tribes prepared for combat, as did the strange newcomers. What should have been a moment of joy turned into an all-out conflict with a large number of dead. Among them, Caru’s fiancé, who fell in battle.

The young woman, broken with grief, embraced the body of her beloved. No doubt the mountain god of life would bring her back to life. Therefore she carried the body of her fiancé to the summit, where the deity lived, to ask him to bring back to life the body he was carrying with him. On the third day of the journey, the young Carú could not take it anymore and lost her strength: embracing her beloved, she cried, fell asleep and finally died.

Moved, the mountain god collected Carú’s tears and threw them into space so that all the inhabitants of the area could see and remember Carú, his love and his suffering. This is the origin of the Bailadores waterfall”.

A beautiful but sad legend that tells us about the order of the Bailadores waterfall, in the Parque de la Cascada de la India Carú, in Mérida. It also tells us of love, suffering and sacrifice for those we care about.

Bibliographic references:

  • Sahagún, Fray Bernardino de (2001). Juan Carlos Temprano, ed. Historia general de las cosas de Nueva España (Crónicas de América tomos 1 y 2 edición). Madrid: Dastin Historia.

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