Monday, August 17, 2009

Señor Mendoza and the Devil's Cave

Señor Mendoza disappeared without warning, in the middle of the night, from his home in the village of Cabanaconde.

His family, including son-in-law Rogelio, a teacher at the local secondary school, searched for him throughout the town and the surrounding fields. But their searches were fruitless: after two days and two nights, Señor Mendoza was still missing.

A call was made to inform Señor Mendoza's daughter, who lives in Spain. The daughter, fearing for her father's life, went to consult a local curandero. The curandero did the required rituals, and then told her:

Your father is not dead. He is in the same place where they have been looking for him. They should send the night praying, and scattering holy water, and in the morning they should look again in the same place.

This message from the Spanish curandero was communicated to the searchers back in Cabanaconde, who did as had been instructed.

The next morning, they went out early to search again, on a pathway through the chacras up towards a place called Puqio. There, about forty-five minutes from the village, they found Señor Mendoza huddled under a big rock, below an opening in the mountainside which locals know as the Devil's Cave.

"At first we thought the devil had taken him", says Rogelio. "Now we think maybe he just wandered off in a coma. The place we found him was below the devil's cave, well below. And he he'd walked quite a long way to reach the path, from where he had been on the mountainside. That's where we found his glasses and his blanket".

"But it's true that where we found him, the devil is marked in the rocks of the hillside above. In the morning when we went up there, you could see the form of the devil, plain as day".

Maybe Señor Mendoza had just been absent-mindedly sleep walking. But somehow he survived on the barren hillside, without food or water, for three days and three freezing nights

What is true is that when they brought him back to the village, his wife showed her relief by scolding him: "What were you thinking?", she asked. "Why did you wander off like that and lose yourself in the wilderness?"

The old man looked at her strangely. "But why do you ask?", he said, "when it was you who took me there".

Señor Mendoza insisted that his wife had led him into the wilderness. When he had tried to walk back, she had blocked his path and wouldn't let him leave.

After that, for about a month, the señor kept getting up in the middle of the night and trying to leave the house. His wife, his daughter and son-in-law had to watch out for him, and restrain him when he tried to wander off.

This continued until the family contacted a local curandero. After ascertaining the reasons for the old man's restlessness, the curandero took him back up to the place where he had been found. The curandero performed a ceremony called a pago a la tierra, involving an appropriate mix of plant and animal offerings to the earth. After that, the señor was cured, and he once again slept soundly at night time.

"The curandero said he had left part of his soul out on the moutainside", says Rogelio. "We had to go out there and bring it back".


terence said...


How do you explain these things?

There's a part of me that thinks (or, more accurately, idly day-dreams), that our ancestors' belief in the super-natural isn't just a collection of mistaken attempts to explain the natural world. But that, once, such things really existed, unexplainable by rational thought, because reason itself, if clung to strongly enough, and if drawing upon a sufficient reservoir of shared belief, is sufficient to vanquish these things.

Of course, there's also a part of my that thinks the above explanation is utter, utter nonsense.

Simon Bidwell said...

Thanks for the comment, Terence. I have to grapple with those questions as part of my "ethnographic research report".

What you are suggesting sounds a bit like what this guy is saying (haven't read it, just come across the reviews).

terence said...

Jo and I were talking about this post again last night. Puzzling over the Solomon Islands supernatural.

On a vaguely related topic you might enjoy this: