It is claimed by many that an eerie crying voice has haunted Hispanics in the night for almost 500 years. This voice, that is said to echo in the heart of Mexico City, is that of an anguished woman, who laments the death of her children, and in retaliation, causes misfortune to those who are near or hear her.
She is known as La Llorona, the Wailing Woman. Donning a torn and blood-stained gown, she haunts the darkness, wailing her grief.
According to Mexican legend, the voice belongs to the ghost of Dona Luisa de Olveros, a Spanish-Indian woman known for her beauty. She fell in love with Don Nuno de Montesclaros, a nobleman, for whom she even bore two children. She prayed for the day when he would marry her.
But Don Nuno couldn’t feel the same. As time passed, he began to neglect her.
In solitude and a bit perplexed, Luisa finally made up her mind to walk to the palatial mansion of the wealthy Monteslaros family in the hope of personally asking her love to return.
What happened next made her aghast. She did find him. But he had company. To Luisa’s horror, he was at the centre of a lavish party, celebrating his marriage to a Spanish noblewoman.
Teary-eyed, Luisa rushed to Don Nuno, but he would push her away while harshly telling her that the reason she would never be his life-partner was because of her Indian blood.
Luisa became hysterical. She ran home to her two children, and using the small dagger that Don Nuno had presented her, she murdered both of them.
She fled from home, with her garments covered in her children’s blood, and dashed through the streets, screaming like a distressed maniac, until she was eventually arrested and convicted of sorcery.
Dona Luisa de Olveros was publicly executed by hanging, and as a final humiliation, her body was left swinging for ‘public mockery’ for six hours. Since then, every night, her ghostly cries are said to have rung out and will continue to do so until the end of time.
You’d be surprised to know that there are several versions of the backstory of La Llorona.
The most prominent story other than the one above is that of a beautiful young woman named Maria, who drowns her children in the river after finding out that her spouse has left her for a younger woman. Overcome with sorrow for her deeds, she later drowns herself in the same river.
After she is supposedly challenged at the gates of heaven about the whereabouts of her children, she is not permitted to enter the afterlife, and is bound to search for her children on Earth for eternity. She is caught between the living world and the spirit world.
Parents would use this story to keep their children from wandering at night. According to some versions, she will kidnap kids out of bed who resemble her own, taking them to the river. She asks them for forgiveness, and then drowns them to take the place of her two children. Those who have heard her cry are believed to be doomed. She is said to cry, ¡Ay, mis hijos! or Oh, my children!
The Chumash of southern California (Native American people who historically inhabited the central and southern coastal regions of California) have their own connection with La Llorona, evident by their mentioning of La Llorona when explaining nunašɨš (creatures of the other world). Mythology implies that the Chumash believe in both nunašɨš and La Llorona, and specifically hear the maxulaw cry up in the trees. The cry of the maxulaw, which is said to look like a feline with skin of rawhide leather, is considered an omen of death.
Outside the Americas, La Llorona bears resemblance to the ancient Greek demonic goddess, Lamia. Legend has it that Zeus’ wife, Hera, upon learning about Zeus’ affair with Lamia, kills all the children that Lamia had with Zeus. Unable to bear the loss, Lamia is said to steal other women’s children.
The tale of La Llorona is of significant prominence in the folklore of hispanoamerica. It sometimes takes aspects of urban culture, and is present thorughtout Hispanic culture, even reaching Spain.
The legend continues to be revered.