I have fond memories of spending the summers in Colombia when I was a kid. I didn’t get to go every summer, but when I did, I spent just as much time in the city visiting family as I did going to the fincas, or farms. I was lucky that some of my aunts and uncles had them on both Mom and Dad’s side. Some had names I remember to this day, like Villapaz, or Villa of Peace, in Caldas, where I have the image of my Tia Ruth sitting on a stone wall, churning butter. Others were so remote that in order to reach them, we had to travel over a tiny, flimsy wooden bridge–the kind made out of logs tied together, so that crossing over it was a bumpy, jumpy affair. Somehow, my Tio German would get his jeep over it, though people would have to help navigate. And still others were in higher, colder grounds, where every morning a curtain of fog blanketed the finca and surrounding land like the mosquito nets surrounding the beds. Most of the farmhouses contained staples of country living: hammocks, open kitchens and courtyards, parrots, roosters, and beautifully crafted wooden beams and burnt brick tile roofs.
They, along with flowery balconies, are epitomized in the many Colombian crafts sold there and abroad.
Those were times of adventures, of setting out and exploring mountainsides, creeks, and forests. They were also times ripe for ghost tales and mysterious legends, especially the kind to scare children into behaving!
One I remember often is the story of la mano peluda, or the furry hand. I don’t remember much of the actual story behind it. What comes to mind is anecdotal. My cousins and I were in a large room with several beds. Dusk had settled and outside, the noises of the country were settling. Inside this over-packed bedroom with cold cement floors and bare walls, however, was full of the sound of children not wanting to go to sleep. With the lights off, we took to telling stories, with local cousins leading while those of us from abroad listened. That’s when someone–who exactly I can’t remember–started tip toeing, grabbing our ankles in the dark saying, “La mano peluda got you!” You can imagine the screams that elicited.
I always remember that night, just like I do waking up in the morning and stepping out into the wet morning, watching the fog lift back painfully slow until the mountainous surroundings were reveals, and just like I remember the scent of dew and grass and the slow chirping of birds as they awaken. To this day, any time I get up early and step into my backyard, I get sent back to that moment in a Colombian finca.
What I never bothered to find out until recently, however, was the story behind la mano peluda. In Latina.com, I found this, though it most likely refers to the legends across Latin America, not just Colombia:
La Mano Peluda
Imagine lying in bed and feeling a big furry paw grabbing at your feet. La Mano Peluda (or “The Hairy Hand”) is said to belong to a man who was killed during the inquisition, and chopped up and buried in an old Indian cemetery. His hand is said to have come back to life to seek revenge on his enemies while they’re asleep. Our advice: Wear socks at night!
Then I stumbled on a Facebook page for Mitos y Leyendas de Colombia (Myths and Legends of Colombia) and it said this:
Mito o leyenda de la mano peluda
Se dice que un hombre fue injustamente culpado de robo, por lo que su castigo fue cortarle la mano. El hombre con su mano mutilada juro tomar venganza de todos los que injustamente lo señalaron.
Al tiempo del hombre morir, todos estos hombres que los acusaron tiempo atrás, fueron asesinados por una mano peluda, según un testigo que lo vio todo.
That loosely translates to: “They say that a man was unjustly accused of robbery. For his crime, his hand was cut off. The man swore to avenge himself of all those who accused him. When he died, all those who wrongly accused him were murdered by a furry hand, according to witnesses.” Kinda gruesome, if you ask me! It’s also said that parents will tell their children this to make sure they behave. Go figure.
And then there’s this, which I found in a forum:
La Mano Peluda
Localizada en México y Colombia. Común en los subterráneos de las casas. Es una mano grande y velluda de uñas grandes que se asoma por las ventanas o los huecos de los muros. Sirve para infundir temor a los niños traviesos, malcriados y callejeros. En México se cree que llega por las noches y te toca mientras duermes.
“Located in Mexico and Colombia. Common in basements of houses. It’s a large, hairy hand with large nails that peeks through windows or holes in walls. It’s used to strike fear in mischievous, bratty, and wandering children. In Mexico, it’s believed that it comes at night and touches you while you sleep.”
Just one of those things that goes bump in the night. 😉