La Ciguapa: The Backward-Footed Forest Demoness Of Dominican Folklore

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By: Alex Postrado

Deep in the woods of the Dominican Republic’s mountainous regions, a mythical being with long, flowing hair and dark, piercing eyes is said to lurk.

Hiding in the shadows, waiting for someone 一 particularly, a man 一 to get near.

People call her La Ciguapa.

Believed by many to be “the most known monster” in all of the Dominican folklore, she is said to be a savage woman who is in constant search of disoriented men to prey on.

The story goes that you would know La Ciguapa is approaching when you are hiking through a forest, and suddenly, everything goes still.

The birds, the beasts of the land, the insects, and even the wind 一 all seem to have been frightened away by the arrival of the elusive monster.

Then, comes a soft whine.

An eerie calling that mysteriously ropes you in 一 until you see the strange, small woman with backward feet, standing in the middle of the trees.

In some ancient cultures, “the backward feet” is a symbol of forthcoming death 一 signifying the entry into a world that is different from ours.

It also hints at the creature-in-question, possibly being a spirit from the mirror world.

And if the same applies to La Ciguapa, then she is definitely one spirit that you do not want to cross paths with.

What is La Ciguapa?

Folklore is arguably said to mirror the reality of a particular place.

The existence of sea monsters is debated in areas surrounded by the sea; monstrous beasts in wooded lands; malevolent, slimy creatures in marshes and swamps; and so forth.

Such is the case of the legend of La Ciguapa 一 a ravenous demoness said to reside in the rich highlands of the Dominican Republic.

Since the country is largely composed of mountainous regions, it is only natural that at least one of their age-old monster figures will be alleged to inhabit the mountains.

Legend has it that La Ciguapa takes on the form of a small 一 not taller than 1-meter 一 and beautiful woman with dark, brown skin; piercing, black eyes; backward-facing feet; and long, glossy hair that runs the length of her entirety, essentially covering her body similar to how a gown will.

Yet, despite all that, the uncanny appearance of her feet is said to be the defining trait of the alluring creature.

Due to La Ciguapa’s feet being set in the opposite direction, the trail she leaves will always be difficult to track.

Though, no matter how grueling, this does not deter people 一 normally men 一 from following her into the depths of the dark forests.

Olden tales depict La Ciguapa to be a wild creature that appears to humans either as an attractive woman or a horrendous being.

Moreover, it is not unknown to locals that she is a creature of deceit and cruelty.

The wild woman is said to only come out at night 一 especially on the eve of the full moon to hunt for prey.

And her common victims would be lone travelers that lose their way into the thick of the woods.

La Ciguapa will hold each victim captive with her gaze while she leads them into her dwelling.

In there, the feral woman will satisfy herself by using the victim for her sexual cravings and then devouring them entirely afterward.

Legends say that La Ciguapa 一 an incredible seductress 一 will kiss her victims to suck the life out of them.

While in another version of the story, La Ciguapa is depicted with a more mischievous air.

As this version of the tale goes, La Ciguapa enjoys stealing butter and raw meat from households, as well as braiding the tails of horses during nighttime 一 making her much more of a pesky creature rather than a deceiving temptress.

Furthermore, La Ciguapa is also known to sing a melancholic song called Canto de Sirena 一 meaning, “Song of the Mermaids“.

And the tale says that aside from singing, she is only able to communicate through small whines 一 like that of a crying child.

Is La Ciguapa Real?

The legend of La Ciguapa is so widely known and accepted that you will still find locals who completely believe that the feral creature exists 一 or at the very least, used to exist.

And, interestingly, according to the lore, there is a way to capture the elusive demoness.

It is a given that tracking down La Ciguapa is indeed arduous due to her backward-facing feet. It is considered a nearly impossible feat unless you know exactly how to follow her tracks.

But if you have the courage to go into the depth of the forests in the dead of night, accompanied only by a black and white, polydactylic dog, then you might have a chance at capturing La Ciguapa.

Though if you ever capture the creature, you can expect its demise soon after.

It is said that La Ciguapa can’t bear the sadness of being locked up and she will die days into her captivity.

A small, mountain-dwelling woman with backward feet 一 could La Ciguapa actually be real?

If we were to look for a possible explanation for the Dominican’s most popular mythological entity, we will surely encounter the congenital condition talipes equinovarus 一 commonly known as “clubfoot“.

It is a condition that causes a baby’s foot to turn inward or downward 一 similar to La Ciguapa’s feet. This condition is treatable, however, if left untreated, the feet will never assume the correct position 一 sometimes even leading to severe cases where the feet are completely upside-down.

This may have inspired the lore of La Ciguapa to some degree, yet others still think that the monster’s backward feet are actually meant to be taken metaphorically rather than literally.

The Origins of La Ciguapa

Despite La Ciguapa’s story being centered on the creature’s double-dealing ways and savagery, there are still other versions of the lore that tells of her alternatively benevolent nature.

In fact, in these stories, La Ciguapa is said to be a rather timid creature 一 one that quickly vanishes from sight once she feels that someone is near.

Moreover, instead of having the intent to hurt, kill, or feed on humans, this version of La Ciguapa says that she wants to do nothing as such.

La Ciguapa is but a lonely girl 一 foraging fruits and hunting small animals to eat by day, then sleeping on treetops by night.

“Ciguapa” by Felix Esteban Rosario. Pastels on paper. Source

While the origins of the whole La Ciguapa myth is, in itself, already hard to pin down, this innocuous portrayal of the “forest lady” offers an allusion to the possible roots of the tale:

Francisco Guridi’s 1866 short story about ciguapas 一 creatures that are said to be descendants of “a race of small people” that lived within jungles and other secluded woodlands.

In spite of other researchers, pointing to the seemingly Nahuatl origins of the name ciguapa 一 as derived from cihuatl or “woman” 一 many still maintain that it was, in fact, Guridi’s work that introduced the legend of La Ciguapa to the entire Dominican Republic.

And if that proves to be true, then the myth wouldn’t be as old as some might think.

Though this particular origin gives us a sense of how people in the past likely viewed indigenous people.

To some, perhaps, as folkloric curiosities.

Still and all, some argue that the story of La Ciguapa can actually be traced down to the Taíno people of the Caribbean 一 explaining why the lore kind of resembles several other myths from the area, like La Cigua of Honduras, La Cegua of Costa Rica, and La Siguanaba of El Salvador and other Central American countries.

However, this assumption could easily be disproved by the fact that La Ciguapa 一 both the devious and the diffident versions 一 evidently shares more than a few characteristics with several European creatures of lore.

But the thing is, European influence only reached the Caribbean nations when Spanish colonization started 一 therefore, making it quite impossible for the Taíno to have heard of the myths of mermaids, succubi, fairies, nymphs, witches, ghosts, and other comparable creatures to La Ciguapa prior to the occupation.

Nevertheless, borrowing concepts and elements from different cultures has always been a thing in most of human history.

And while, nowadays, no known relic from the Taíno people reference La Ciguapa, we can’t be too sure about how the story actually developed.

I mean, how do we even start tracing the origins of a creature that, by itself, already made her footsteps too confusing and contradictory, to begin with?

References:

Magical Being, La Ciguapa
Ciguapa – Mythological Creature Of Dominican Folklore With Backwards Feet
La Ciguapa - Latin Folktales
Ciguapa - Mythical Creatures And Beasts
La Ciguapa Y El Ciguapeo: Dominican Myth, Metaphor, And Method
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