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Latin American Legends: The Tale of Mariangula

Translated by: Felipe Cazar

Myths and legends are reflections of the culture that crafted them. They mirror the anxieties, aspirations, and nightmares of their people. They survive to communicate a message to the young or to trick people into what the culture believes is desired behaviour. Despite fantastical associations with the words ‘myth’ or ‘legend’, they give us insight into other times and places, into food, customs, horrors, ethics and attitudes, and ultimately further us in seeing how much humanity had and has in common.

These are the first stories; the primal oral and written tales and the ancestors of all literature that we read today. They permeate through time and across cultures, living on through the permanency of words.

Sometimes, whatever the purpose of a tale is, it may be plain terrifying. Here is a legend from Ecuador, South America, translated from Spanish by Felipe Cazar, an Ecuadorian student at Trent who grew up entranced by sharing tales and experiencing the weird and wonderful world of ‘stories’ through ‘leyendas ecuatorianas’ with his friends. He tells the haunting tale of Mariangula.  

This is the story of a 16-year-old girl from Ecuador called Mariangula. She lived in Quito, the capital city, where her mother made a living selling tripa mishqui, a traditional Ecuadorian dish made with grilled cow guts.

One gloomy afternoon, Mariangula’s mother, Vicentina, asked Mariangula to hurry along to the butchers to buy the guts for the tripa mishqui before it closed. Vicentina told her “Apura Mariangula anda a la tienda a comprar tripa! Hurry, Mariangula, hurry!”

As Mariangula headed to the door, her mother handed her a knife, telling her as she often did, to protect herself from the unsafe streets and alleys of Centro Historico. But Mariangula was a very naughty child who often disobeyed her mother’s orders. Instead of going to the butchers, she went to visit her friends and spent all the money with them on candy and chocolate.

With no money and the butcher long closed, Mariangula began to panic as the realisation set in of what she had, or hadn’t, done. In stress, the young girl began to shake. Though it was dark and cold in Quito’s high mountains, Mariangula was not feeling particularly cold. She shook in fear, worrying what would happen when she returned home and imagined being severely punished by Vicentina, who could be very strict with her children.

Concerned and flustered, Mariangula began to slowly walk back home through the streets of Quito, consumed in her thoughts, when she came across a cemetery. Seeing the graveyard gave Mariangula an idea. In horror and hysteria, Mariangula decided to take the guts from a dead body and provide her mother with what she had failed to collect. As her hysteria grew, her hands dug into the soil for flesh. Seeing the first sight of the body quickened Mariangula, her pace quickened and it was done before she could think about it.

Mariangula headed home and, having arrived, put the guts straight in the sink. She washed up and went to bed. Mariangula awoke to her pleased mother, smiling and preparing the guts to sell her tripa mishqui in the Central Plaza of old Quito. The guts sold well, and many customers came back for more.

Later that night, when all the food was sold and Mariangula and her family were back in bed, Mariangula heard strange noises beyond her window. A few moments passed and the noises began getting nearer, louder, somehow approaching her house. Vicentina and the rest of Mariangula’s family were already in deep sleep when a loud banging on the door shocked her bolt upright. Mariangula stayed in her bed, sitting motionless, in disbelief and horror. A low, hollow voice uttered “Marianguuuuulaa, give me my guts that you stole from my holy grave”.

The voice, as before, grew closer and closer to her, permeating through the door and all her senses. Mariangula didn’t know what to do and all she could hear, ricocheting from the walls, was “Marianguuuuulaa, give me my guts that you stole from my holy grave.”
Mariangula looked dizzily for a way to save herself from the voices that were calling her, but all she found was her knife. In a terrifying, frenzy-stricken moment, Mariangula cut her own body and gave back what she had stolen.

The spirits entered Mariangula’s room, but all they found was her dying body open, with blood and flesh surrounding them. Horrified by this image, the spirits left Mariangula’s body, untouched, for Vicentina to discover.

The legend says that Mariangula’s mother Vicentina no longer sells tripa mishqui. Now you can find her selling carne en palito, meat on a stick, in the same corner of the Plaza in old Quito. The sticks, Vicentina says, are for Mariangula—so she can fight against the bad spirits.

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