Once upon a time, there was a young woman named Catalina Loango. She didn’t have any children, and she lived with her parents in Palenque.
Catalina Loango had the bad habit of waiting till late in the day to go fetch water from a stream called “Ciénaga de Palotá.” She in fact routinely left so late that other local women were already returning home from the stream by the time she was heading out to it.
In that stream, there was a moján, or water spirit, capable of enchanting humans. He could transform himself into whatever he wanted so as to trick his victims and take them away to his home deep in the water.
In his natural form, the moján was short and had shiny hair; his heels pointed forward and his toes backward. If the moján was a man, he would always steal away a woman to make her his companion.
There was only one way to escape the enchantment: the victim’s godmother had to call her name out loud three times at the door of Palenque’s church. But if she had eaten anything that the moján had offered, then the victim could never again escape from the enchantment.
One afternoon, Catalina went to the creek to fetch water with a gourd. Suddenly, a little fish appeared before her. She tried to catch it but couldn’t. In reality, the little fish was none other than the moján, who was trying to enchant Catalina in order to take her away as his female companion.
That afternoon, Catalina did not return home, not that day or any other day. She had eaten what the moján had offered her.
After many years, the people of Palenque had resigned themselves to what had happened. But then one day, Catalina’s father passed away.
At his burial, people could hear a funeral song coming from the hills behind Catalina’s home. Everyone was bewildered, and people in attendance said it must be Catalina Loango herself who was singing.
She was singing like this:
Oh, bye bye Maria Catalina Loango, eh, ele, ele, elelo . . .
Chimbumbe1, bye bye, chimbumbe, goodbye,
e, o, bye bye my father, goodbye my father,
who will never return; ele, ele, elelo . . .
Goodbye to the people of Loango, goodbye to those from Loango.
Ele ele elelo, chimbumbe.
As the Palenqueros listened to Catalina Loango’s funeral song, they went to look for her; when they found her, they grabbed her and brought her back home. And then they went and buried her father.
But when they returned from the burial, they found she was no longer in the house—the moján had come to carry her off.
A few months later, Catalina’s mother passed away. Catalina could be heard singing once again from afar:
Oh, bye bye my mother, goodbye, e, ele, ele, lo . . .
Chimbumbe, bye bye, chimbumbe, goodbye,
e, o, goodbye, chimbumbe; he has swallowed half of me.
Ele, ele, lo, María Loango.
This time around, everyone was ready, and so when they heard Catalina’s funeral song, they ran to grab her once again; this time, they locked her up in the church before going to bury her mother in the cemetery. But when they returned, Catalina was once again gone.
Eventually people gave up hope of ever seeing Catalina again. But then one day, they found a skeleton in the dried-up waterhole where she had disappeared. To this day, the Palenqueros maintain that these human remains must have been those of Catalina Loango.
1. Chimbumbe: Water spirit. ↩
Copyright © Bernardino Pérez Miranda. Translation copyright © Armin Schwegler. All rights reserved.