El Sombrerón: A Guatemalan Folk Legend


With Halloween just around the corner, it is appropriate that this week’s blog deals with the distinctively Guatemalan horror tale of  El Sombrerón, or the man in the large hat. He is said to be a type of goblin or ghost that travels with a pack of mules in the evening and delights in braiding the hair of young women. Below is the tale as it appears in this article from The Examiner:

In a local village near Antigua there lived a young lady, the daughter of the woman who owned the store. She was a very pretty girl, with long hair and brown eyes. One night when there was a full moon, she was sitting outside, admiring the evening sky. Suddenly a short character with a big hat and a guitar approached her. He began to sing her a song, but at that moment her parents overheard and made her get inside the house. From that day she was not able to sleep because he either appeared in the house or sang to her from the street.

Night after night he repeated this visit; he played the guitar well and with the sweetest of the voices he sang love songs until one night, the foolish girl allowed him to braid her hair, which was his intention all along.… to lay his hands on her long silky hair and tangle his tiny fingers in it to make the tightest and most beautiful braids. If she was foolish enough to let him, she would be cursed forever and she would become his “bride”.

After she has the first braid done, he will leave her …but not entirely. He will come back and throw tiny pebbles and dirt in her food, so she cannot eat it, until she becomes so thin from lack of food, and so distressed from her broken heart, she will die. If she survives, she will become an old maid: a woman cursed to spend the rest of her days alone…and never know any other love but the one from his songs.

This tale is quite intriguing, but what does it mean in terms of Guatemalan culture? Well, if you recall from last week’s blog, Guatemala scores very high in collectivism, uncertainty avoidance, and power distance according to Hofstede’s Value Dimensions. The story has elements that reflect all three of these.

When the girl wanders off in the night, she is exhibiting individualist behavior by putting her desires over those of her family. Similarly, she is not obeying her parents’ orders to stay away from the man, thus challenging the family’s hierarchy.  Finally, it would be unusual for a young woman to visit a strange man in the evening especially without her parents’ permission. This disregard for the social customs would not sit well in Guatemala with its uncertainty avoidance score of 101.

There are also some indications of the culture’s high context orientation. Although not obvious to readers from outside the country, the idea of long hair and hair braiding has significance to Guatemalans with roots back to the culture of the Mayans.  This aspect of the story delivers a great deal of meaning to those within the society without relying on dialogue.

This tale communicates to young women the danger of disregarding the standards of society. If a young lady wants to experience love and a happy marriage, she should not fall for the tricks of men who call her off into the night without going through the proper channels to establish a relationship. By bypassing the family, this man was clearly trouble, and the girl in the story found out the hard way.


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