Folklore – they are traditions, beliefs and stories passed from one generation to the next. Belizeans have their fair share of these tales, from omens to luck rituals, to creatures straight out of your nightmares! Growing up, we were told these stories and taught to believe in them.
While some of the stories may sound a bit farfetched, how couldn’t you believe it when even your “chichi” (grandmother) or “tati” (grandfather) claimed to have personally experienced them! Even with the passing of time, these folklores remain a vital aspect of our culture, defining who we are as Belizeans.
Much like our melting pot of cultures, the folk tales we share are intertwined. The Mestizo believe in evil spirits such as “El Duende” and “La Llorona”, while the Creole are believers of “obeah” (dark magic).
Most often, these tales were used as a means of disciplining children from doing wrong. I mean some stories were so scary that they were a lesson we did not want to learn first-hand! Of course we are a curious people, and sometimes we tried to test out these theories, only to realize its best to heed our elders’ warnings, thus aborting the mission.
One of my favourite folktales passed down to me by my grandmother was that of “La Xtabai” (La Ish-tah-bai). For years, the tale of La Xtabai had me making sure I was inside the house before the clock struck 9 at night!
But what is La Xtabai you may ask? Well, SHE is every misbehaving kid and drunk man’s nightmare!
La Xtabai is supposed to be this gorgeous woman with striking long black hair who lurks at the edge of the bushes. Bear in mind that Belize is still pretty much covered in foliage, and villages in particular are often surrounded by thick forests. While her appearance is that of a goddess, she’s really a monster with goat legs and claws that can rip a person apart – at least that’s what I was told!
What makes her so terrifying, is that she is an enchantress, luring people to their death. According to the story, La Xtabai targets children who do not obey their parents and are out late at night. She also preys on drunk men, luring them to her embrace.
My grandmother used to tell me that there was no escape from La Xtabai. Even if you evade her at your first encounter, once you have seen her, you are sure to disappear within the next 48 hours. The only way to prevent this is by offering a sacred prayer and receiving a blessing from your local priest or bush doctor.
Although this tale may be farfetched, it certainly helped parents get their children to behave. There are many Belizeans who swear relatives and acquaintances have been abducted by La Xtabai.
With each generation that passes, the stories begin to sound more unbelievable. One thing is for sure, these folklore tales are what makes us uniquely Belize!