(I’ve been thinking of taking the Little Lolo stories into some interesting places–the Tio and the Grandfather used to scare the crap out of me with the Coco Man since I was a little kid. And until I was 12 I was so afraid of their old basement and the furnace and the dark, dank basement I slept in that I can only imagine how the Uncle was scared when he was a kid.)
According to Wikipedia:
Traditionally, the coco, or its feminine counterpart “coca”, is represented 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. The vegetable lantern is similar to the Jack o’ lantern. Coca the dragon is another representation of this scary being and is present in the folklore of Portugal and Galicia. The name of the “coconut” derived from “coco” and was given to the fruit by the sailors of Vasco da Gama because it reminded them of this mythical creature.
The legend of the Cuco began to be spread to Latin America by the Portuguese and Spanish colonizers.
There is no general description of the Cuco, as far as facial or body descriptions.
The legend of the Cuco is widely used by parents in Spain and Latin America in order to make their children go to sleep. Parents usually tell small kids that the Cuco will take them away if they don’t fall asleep early. This method has been in use for decades now.
The Coco method is very popular among parents from Dominican Republic to Argentina. In many countries, the character has different meanings: in Mexico, for example, parents prefer to call Coco the similar name “Calaca”, which also means skeleton there.
Dominican Salsa-Merengue musician and singer Cuco Valoy makes several humorous references to the myth in some of his songs (¡ahi viene el cuco, mama!).
Puerto Rican musician Angel Peña’s nickname is “Cuco”, an allusion to the legendary myth.
In Peru “Cuco” is used by parents in order to make their kids do something; for example: eat their food, go to sleep or do their chores.
In Brazil Cuco appears as a female, ‘Cuca’. Cuca appears as the villain in some children books by Monteiro Lobato. Artists illustrating these books depicted the Cuca as an anthropomorphic alligator.
In Northern New Mexico, where there is a large Hispanic population, El Cuco is referred to in its Spanglish name, the Coco Man. His image is construed with Brazil’s sack man; he carries a bag to take naughty children around Christmas time, and demands repentance in the form of Catholic prayers.
The Bogeyman (or boogeyman) could be considered an English equivalent of the Coco, since both monsters attack children who misbehave.
The following is a popular lullaby (with the “Rock-a-bye Baby” rythm) mentioning the Coco:
Duérmete mi niño, duérmete ya…
Por que viene el coco y te comerá
(Sleep my child, sleep now…Or else comes the coco to eat you)
The cucuy or el cucuy (pronounce it coo-COO-ee) is the boogeyman of Latin American cultures. He is a frightening character believed in by some children and even by some adults. He has no specific appearance, but rather is the subject of an irrational fear.
Like the bogeyman, he may hide in a closet or under the bed, or he may come out of the dark to terrorize a child. His name may be whispered to a child by parents to frighten the child into staying close by and behaving well. “Portate bien o te lleva el cucuy,” a parent may say. “Behave, or the cucuy will get you.” Social sciences professor Manuel Medrano said that according to popular legend, cucuy is a small humanoid with glowing red eyes that hides in closets or under the bed.
The cucuy is known by different names to different people in Latin America, and even among Latinos in the USA. Other names include coco, cocu, cuco, chucho and chamuco.
According to anthropology professor Tony Zavaleta:
- One of my earliest recollections, being a little kid…is hearing the ladies raising kids always say “uy” (pronounced “oo-ee”), That sound would alert the child of danger; it would alert them to the dark side. There was something out there that could get you.
The Latin American legend remains a strong part of border folklore. According to Professor Medrano:
- These creatures develop a permanence by word of mouth, from generation to generation, usually from the grandmother to the grandchild. It’s got an appeal not only because it is mysterious, but also because it is a good way of maintaining a child’s discipline.