The Story of the Duende      


The viejitos, old folks, in western Honduras, especially in Copán Ruinas, tell of a being called El Duende, the goblin.  El Duende is referred to as an evil being.  It is said that he is a little dark-skinned man, of very short stature, always dressed in an elegant green suit, and always wearing a big hat or sombrero.

It is said that the Duende only appears to single women, either on remote roads to rural villages, underneath the nance trees (a shrub native of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua related to the plant family Malpigiaceas, and which produces a delicious yellow fruit about the size of the fruit of a coffee bean), or when women are alone in their houses. The viejitos in Copán, such as Don Felipe Aldana who is of Mayan descent, tell that the duende is an enamorado, playboy, who offers many gifts and wealth to the girls so that they go away with him. If a girl does not recognize the duende and accepts any thing he offers her, then she will remain enchanted by the evil powers of the duende.

It is said that because of the tricks of the duende some girls have become mute and even mentally impaired.  If the girls do not pay attention to the duende, then he chases them about, he throws little rocks to their windows at night, and also throws cow dung on them.
It is said that if the duende appears to a girl, the best thing than she can do is to remain calm, to act in a friendly way, and when the duende offers wealth to her, the girl must ask him to bring her something impossible. The most common thing is to ask the duende to bring a basket filled with water from a river. As it is impossible to fill a basket with water, then the duende will disappear due to the frustration and he will never return to bother the girl who requests such a gift from him.

In Copán Ruinas, families used to sit on the curb in front of their houses in the evenings to converse between family members or with neighbours.  Once, when I was very little, I was sitting on the sidewalk with my family as usual, and suddenly there was a blackout and the town was shrouded in darkness. After a while one of neighbours came shouting that we should go inside the house, close the door, and we should be careful not to open the door to anyone because the duende had appeared to a girl in the town.  It is because of cases like this that the viejitos do not like it when young girls walk by themselves in the streets or when they spend time alone in their houses, for fear that the duende will appear to them.