Coco (folklore)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

  (Redirected from Cuco)
Jump to: navigation, search
Que Viene el Coco (1799) by Goya

The Coco (or Cuco, Coca, Cuca, Cucuy) is a mythical ghost-monster, equivalent to the bogeyman, found in many Hispanic and Lusophone countries. He can also be considered a Hispanic version of a bugbear,[1] as it is a commonly used figure of speech representing an irrational or exaggerated fear. The Coco is a male being while Coca is the female version of the mythical monster, although it is not possible to distinguish one from the other as both are the representation of the same being.

Names and etymology[edit]

The myth of the Coco originated in Portugal and Galicia. According to the Real Academia Española the word coco derives from the Portuguese côco, which referred to a ghost with a pumpkin head.[2] The word coco is used in colloquial speech to refer to the human head in Portuguese and Spanish.[3] Coco also means "skull".[4] The word "cocuruto" in Portuguese means the crown of the head and the highest place.[5] In Basque, Gogo means "spirit".[6][7] In Galicia, crouca means "head",[8] from proto-Celtic *krowkā-,[9] with variant cróca;[10] and either coco or coca means "head".[11] It is cognate with Cornish crogen, meaning "skull",[12] and Breton krogen ar penn, also meaning "skull".[13][14] In Irish, clocan means "skull".[15]

In the Galician Lusitanian mythology, Crouga is the name of an obscure deity to whom offerings were made. In the inscription of Xinzo de Limia, written in Lusitanian, it is Crouga that is offered (given). The theonym Crouga derives from *krowkā.[16][17][18]

The ancient Portuguese metaphor 'to give someone coca' (dar coca a alguém) means: to have one subdued and at the disposal with caresses and cuddles, to make one dizzy, meek with magic potions and magic spells.[19][20][21] The words "acocado" ("spoiled rotten child") and "acocorar" ("to spoil a child rotten") derive from coca'.[22][23]

Many Latin American countries refer to the monster as el Cuco. In Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado, where there is a large Hispanic population, it is referred to by its anglicized name, "the Coco Man".[24] In Brazilian folklore, the monster is referred to as Cuca and pictured as a female humanoid alligator, derived from the Portuguese coca,[25] a dragon.


In Spain and Latin America, parents sometimes invoke the Coco as a way of discouraging their children from misbehaving; they sing lullabies or tell rhymes warning their children that if they don't obey their parents, el Coco will come and get them and then eat them.

It is not the way the Coco looks but what he does that scares most. It is a child eater and a kidnapper; it may immediately devour the child, leaving no trace, or it may spirit the child away to a place of no return, but it only does this to disobedient children. The coca is on the look out for child's misbehavior on the top of the roof, the coco takes the shape of any dark shadow and stays watching.[26] It represents the opposite of the guardian angel and is frequently compared to the devil. Others see the Coco as a representation of the deceased of the local community.[27]

The oldest known rhyme about the Coco, which originated in the 17th century, is in the Auto de los desposorios de la Virgen by Juan Caxés.

The rhyme has evolved over the years, but still retains its original meaning:

Duérmete niño, duérmete ya...

Que viene el Coco y te comerá.

Sleep child, sleep now...
Or else the Coco will come and eat you

The Portuguese lullaby recorded by Leite de Vasconcelos tells Coca to go to the top of the roof. In other versions of the same lullaby, the name of coca is changed to that of "papão negro" (black eater) the name of another boogyman.[28]

Vai-te Coca. Vai-te Coca

Para cima do telhado
Deixa o menino dormir
Um soninho descansado

Leave Coca. Leave Coca
Go to the top of the roof
let the child have
A quiet sleep

During the Portuguese and Spanish colonization of Latin America, the legend of the Cuco was spread to countries such as Mexico, Argentina and Chile.

Physical representations[edit]

"Festa da Coca" during the Corpus Christi celebration, in Monção, Portugal
Cucafera during the "Fiesta Mayor de Santa Tecla" in Tarragona, Spain

There is no general description of the cucuy, as far as facial or body descriptions, but it is stated that this shapeshifting being is extremely horrible to look at. The coco is variously described as a shapeless figure, sometimes a hairy monster, that hides in closets or under beds and eats children that misbehave when they are told to go to bed.

Mythical animals[edit]

Coca is a female dragon that in medieval times, in the Iberian Peninsula, used to take part in different celebrations. In Portugal one still survives in Monção and she fights in some sort of medieval tournament with saint George during the Corpus Christi celebrations. She is called "Santa Coca" (Saint Coca) or "Coca rabixa" (Tailed Coca) and if she defeats Saint George, by scaring the horse, there will be a bad year for the crops and famine, if the horse and Saint George win by cutting off one of her ears with earring and her tongue, the crops will be fertile.[29][30] Oddly enough the people cheer for Saint Coca. In Galicia there are still two dragon cocas, one in Betanzos the other in Redondela.[31] The legend says that the dragon arrived from the sea and was devouring the young women and was killed in combat by the young men of the city. In Monção, the legend says, she lives in rio Minho; in Redondela she lives in the Ria of Vigo[32] The dragon shared the same name that was given in Portuguese and Spanish to the Cog, and although used mainly for trade it was also a war vessel common in medieval warfare and piracy raids to coastal villages.[33][34]

The oldest reference to Coca is in the book Livro 3 de Doações de D. Afonso III from the year 1274, where it is referred to as a big fish that appears on the shore:[35]

"And if by chance any whale or sperm whale or mermaid or coca or dolphin or Musaranha or other large fish that resembles some of these die in Sesimbra or Silves or elsewhere...[]"

In Catalonia the "Cuca fera de Tortosa" was first documented in 1457. It is a zoomorphic figure, looks like a tortoise with a horned spine, it has dragon claws and a dragon head.[36][37] The legend says she had to dine every night on three cats and three children. The legend of the Coca can be compared to the one of Peluda or Tarrasque.

In Brazil the Coco appears as a female alligator called Cuca. Cuca appears as the villain in some children's books by Monteiro Lobato. Artists illustrating these books depicted the Cuca as an anthropomorphic alligator. She is an allusion to Coca, a dragon from the folklore of Portugal and Galicia.


In Portuguese, the skull-like carved vegetable lanterns are called "coco" or "coca".
Bronze Celtiberian fibula representing a warrior carrying a severed head [38]
A galaico-lusitanian 'severed head' from castro culture
The sailors of Vasco da Gama called the fruit of the Polynesian palm tree, "coco". The word "coconut" is derived from their naming.

Traditionally in Portugal, however, the coco is represented by an iron pan with holes, to represent a face, with a light in the inside or by a carved vegetable lantern made from a pumpkin with two eyes and a mouth, that is left in dark places with a light inside to scare people.[39] In the Beiras, heads carved on pumpkins, called "coca", would be carried, by the village boys, stuck on top of wooden stakes.

"The same name [Coca] is given to the pumpkin perforated with the shape of a face, with a candle burning in the inside - this gives the idea of a skull on fire - that the boys on many lands of our Beira carry stuck on a stick."[40]

An analogous custom was first mentioned by Diodorus Siculus (XIII.56.5;57.3), in which Iberian warriors, after the battle of Selinunte, in 469 BC, would hang the heads of the enemies on their spears.[41] According to Rafael López Loureiro, this carving representation would be a milenar tradition from the Celtiberian region that spread all over the Iberian Peninsula.[42][43]

"The autumnal and childish custom of emptying pumpkins and carving on its bark, eyes, nose and mouth looking for a sombre expression, far from being a tradition imported by a recent Americanizing cultural mimicry, is a cultural trait in ancient Iberian Peninsula."[44]

This representation would be related to the Celtic cult of the severed heads in the Iberian peninsula.[45][46] According to João de Barros, the name of the "coconut" derived from "coco" and was given to the fruit by the sailors of Vasco da Gama, c.1498, because it reminded them of this mythical creature.[47][48]

"This bark from which the pome receives its vegetable nourishment , which is through its stem, has an acute way, which wants to resemble a nose placed between two round eyes, from where it throws the sprout, when it wants to be born; by reason of such figure, it was called by our [men] coco, name imposed by the women on anything they want to put fear to the children, this name thus remained, as no one knows another."[49]

Rafael Bluteau (1712), defines that the coco and coca were thought to look like skulls, in Portugal:

"Coco or Coca. We make use of these words to frighten children, because the inner shell of the Coco has on its outside surface three holes giving it the appearance of a skull"[50]

In the first half of the twentieth century the coca was an integral part of festivities like All Souls' Day and the ritual begging of Pão-por-Deus:

"In this same city of Coimbra, where we find ourselves today, it is customary for groups of children to walk on the streets, on the 31st October and 1st and 2nd November, at nightfall, with a hollow pumpkin with holes that were cut out pretending to be eyes, nose and mouth, as if it was a skull, and with a stump of candle lit from within, to give it a more macabre look."[51]
"In Coimbra the begging mentions «Bolinhos, bolinhós» and the group brings an emptied pumpkin with two holes representing the eyes of a personage and a candle lit in the inside [...] another example of the use of the pumpkin or gourd as a human representation, is in the masks of the muffled boys during the communal stripping of the maize in Santo Tirso de Prazins (Guimarães), which after, they carry hoisted on a stick and with a candle in the inside, and leave them stuck on any deserted place to put fear to who is passing by."[52]

The rituals in the Catholic religious order of Our Lady of Cabeza, a Black Madonna, in Portugal include the offering of heads of wax to the Lady, praying the Hail Mary while keeping a small statue of Our Lady on top of the head, and the pilgrims praying with their own heads inside a hole made on the wall of the chapel.[53] The Chapel of Our Lady of the Heads (Nossa Senhora das Cabeças) placed 50 m (164 ft) NW of the ruins of the Roman era temple of Our Lady of the Heads (Orjais, Covilhã) evidences a continuity in the use of a sacred space that changed from a pagan worship cult area to a Christian one and continued to be a place of worship for centuries after. According to Pedro Carvalho the pre-Roman findings and the unusual location of the ruins inside an 8th-century BC hillfort suggest it was the place of a pre-Roman cult.[54][55][56][57]

Hooded cloak[edit]

The Farricoco in the procession "Ecce Homo" on Maundy Thursday, in Braga, Portugal

In Portugal, coca is a name for the hooded cloak and it was also the name of the traditional hooded black wedding gown still in use at the beginning of the 20th century.[58] In Portimão during the holy week celebrations, in the procissão dos Passos (sp: Procesión de los Pasos), a procession organized by the Catholic brotherhoods, the herald, a man dressed with a black hooded cloak that covered his face and had three holes for the eyes and mouth, led the procession and announced the death of Christ. This man was either named coca, farnicoco, (farricunco, farricoco from Latin far, farris[59] and coco) or death. The name coca was given to the cloak and to the man who wore the cloak.[60]

In 1498, the Portuguese King Manuel I gave permission to the Catholic brotherhood of the Misericórdia to collect the bones and remains from the gallows of those that had been condemned to death and put them in a grave every year on All Saints' Day.[61] The brotherhood in a procession, known as Procissão dos Ossos, were followed by the farricocos, who carried the tombs and collected the bones.[62][63][64][65]


Os cocos, giant representation of the coco and coca of Ribadeo. The tradition dates back to the 19th century.

In Ribadeo two giant figures represent "el coco y la coca" that dance at the sound of drummers and Galician bagpipe players.[66][67]

In literature and arts[edit]

In the last chapter of the work of Miguel de Cervantes, the epitaph of Don Quijote identifies him as the scarecrow and el coco.[68]

Tuvo a todo el mundo en poco,
fue el espantajo y el coco
del mundo, en tal coyuntura,
que acreditó su ventura
morir cuerdo y vivir loco

Que Viene el Coco, a painting that depicts a cloaked, menacing figure, was painted by Goya in 1799.[69]

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Year's Work in Modern Languages Study pg 175
  2. ^ "Coco". Diccionario de la lengua española. Real Academia Española. Retrieved 26 December 2012.
  3. ^ A Portuguese-English dictionary pg 164
  4. ^ The concise dictionary of English etymology pg 91
  5. ^ A dictionary of the Portuguese and English languages, in two parts
  6. ^ Morris Student Plus
  7. ^ Diccionario etimológico vasco-español-francés
  8. ^ Dicionario de Dicionarios. Corpus lexicográfico da lingua galega
  9. ^ Cf. Meyer-Lübke, Wilhelm (1911). Romanisches etymologisches wörterbuch. Heidelberg: Carl Winter's Universitätsbuchhandlung. p. 183. , s.v. crūca
  10. ^ Dicionario de Dicionarios
  11. ^ Dicionario de Dicionarios. Corpus lexicográfico da lingua galega
  12. ^ Lexicon Cornu-Britannicum pg73
  13. ^ Lexicon comparativum linguarum Indogermanicarum pg599
  14. ^ Dictionnaire français-breton pg178
  15. ^ Compendium of Irish Grammar pg 150
  16. ^ Los Dioses de la Hispania Céltica pg57
  17. ^ Religión, lengua y cultura prerromanas de Hispania pg370
  18. ^ Indogermanica et Caucasica pg 321-322
  19. ^ Diccionario da lingua portugueza: composto, Volume 1 pg 400-401
  20. ^ Collecção de proverbios, adagios, rifãos, anexins sentenças moraes e idiotismos da lengoa Portugueza.pg40
  21. ^ A Dictionary of the Portuguese and English Languages, in Two Parts
  22. ^ Dicionário Priberam
  23. ^ Manfred Sandmann. Expériences et critiques: essais de linguistique générale et de philologie romane pg110
  24. ^ Chicano folklore Pg 57
  25. ^ [1]
  27. ^ Aproximación antropológica a Castilla y León
  28. ^ leite de Vasconcelos,José. Revista Lusitana. Vol X
  29. ^ the feast of santiago in Galicia 1956. JSTOR Folklore, vol68, n 4
  30. ^ Festa da Coca anima Monção. Correio da manhã
  31. ^ A coca de Betanzos
  32. ^ Festival, comedy and tragedy: the Greek origins of theatre pg 380
  33. ^ La coca en el intercambio mercante Atlántico-Mediterráneo
  34. ^ Visbyresan 2011 med koggen Tvekamp av Elbogen. Fotevikens museum
  35. ^ d'Azevedo, Pedro. Revista Lusitana.Miscelânia. Volume IV Antiga Casa Bertrand, 1896
  36. ^ Actes del Novè Col·loqui Internacional de Llengua i Literatura Catalanes
  37. ^ Forms of tradition in contemporary Spain
  38. ^ El Cantábrico en la Edad del Hierro. Medioambiente, economía, territorio y sociedad pg402
  39. ^ Figueiredo, Cândido. Pequeno Dicionário da Língua Portuguesa. Livraria Bertrand. Lisboa 1940
  40. ^ Beira Alta - Assembleia Distrital de Viseu, Junta de Província da Beira Alta, Arquivo Provincial (Beira Alta, Portugal), Junta Distrital de Viseu, Arquivo Distrital (Viseu, Portugal) - Beira Alta (Portugal) - 1946. Pg 296[dead link]
  41. ^ La creencia en la ultratumba en la Hispania romana a través de sus monumentos pg 4
  42. ^ Samaín: A Festa das Caliveras
  43. ^ O Samaín é una tradizón moi estendida pola Península Ibérica
  44. ^ Pasado y presente de los estudios Celtas. Las calaveras de ánimas en la Península Ibérica pg 449
  45. ^ As caveiras de colondros e o tempo de Samaín pg 6
  46. ^ Las «cabezas cortadas» en la Península Ibérica
  47. ^ La tribuna del idioma. pg 481
  48. ^ Portuguese Vocables in Asiatic Languages pgs 109-111
  49. ^ Barros, João de. Da Ásia de João de Barros e de Diogo do Couto: dos feitos que os portugueses fizeram no descobrimento dos mares e terras do Oriente. Década Terceira. Lisboa: Na Régia Officina Typografica, 1777-1788 (Biblioteca Nacional Digital)
  50. ^ Dalgado, Sebastião. Glossário luso-asiático, Volume 1 pg 291
  51. ^ Manuel de Paiva Boléo, Universidade de Coimbra. Instituto de Estudos Românicos. Revista portuguesa de filologia - Volume 12 - Página 745 - 1963 -

    Nesta mesma cidade de Coimbra, onde hoje nos encontramos, é costume andarem grupos de crianças pelas ruas, nos dias 31 de Outubro e 1 e 2 de Novembro, ao cair da noite, com uma abóbora oca e com buracos recortados a fazer de olhos, nariz e boca, como se fosse uma caveira, e com um coto de vela aceso por dentro, para lhe dar um ar mais macabro.

  52. ^ Renato Almeida, Jorge Dias. Estudos e ensaios folclóricos em homenagem a Renato Almeida. Ministério das Relações Exteriores, Seção de Publicações, 1960

    Em Coimbra o peditório menciona «Bolinhos, bolinhós», e o grupo traz uma abóbora esvaziada com dois buracos a figurarem os olhos de um personagem e uma vela acesa dentro[...]outro exemplo da utilização da abóbora ou cabaço como figuração humana, nas máscaras dos embuçados das esfolhadas de Santo Tirso de Prazins (Guimaräes), que depois, estes passeiam, alçadas num pau e com uma vela dentro, e deixam espetados em qualquer sitio mais ermo, para meterem medo a quem passa.

  53. ^ Enciclopédia das Festas Populares e Religiosas de Portugal - Volume 1, pg448
  55. ^ Um tesouro esquecido em Orjais
  56. ^ Castro de Orjais e ruínas de uma construção junto à Capela de Nossa Senhora das Cabeças
  57. ^ Civilização romana a descoberto na Senhora das Cabeças
  59. ^ Corpus lexicográfico da lingua galega
  60. ^ J. António Guerreiro Gascon. Festas e costumes de Monchique
  61. ^ Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Santarém
  62. ^ Novo diccionario portatil das linguas portugueza e ingleza pg 202
  63. ^ Novo Diccionario da lingua Portugueza
  64. ^ História Breve das Misericórdias Portuguesas pg 45
  65. ^ Novo diccionario portatil das linguas portugueza e ingleza
  66. ^ Xigantes e Cabezudos en Galicia
  67. ^ Armesto, Victoria. Galicia feudal, Volume 1
  68. ^ Don Quixote/Volume 2/Chapter LXXIV
  69. ^ The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  70. ^ El cucuy has roots deep in border folklore
  71. ^ Juan Ignacio García Garzón (26 April 2013). "CRÍTICA DE TEATRO - Cabaret con fantasmas ¡AY, CARMELA! MUSICAL". ABC. Retrieved 15 August 2013. 

    A subrayar un par de licencias cronológicas: la habanera "Yo te diré" fue compuesta en 1945 (letra de Enrique Llovet y música de Jorge Halpern) para la película de Antonio Román "Los últimos de Filipinas", por lo que no pudo ser cantada durante la Guerra Civil, igual que la graciosa rumba "Que viene el coco, mamá", deliciosamente interpretada por Inma Cuesta, que pertenece a la revista de 1948 "¡A la Habana me voy!", de Antonio y Manuel Paso, con música de Francisco Alonso y Daniel Montorio.