Myths and Legends

Indigenous Legends from Nayarit

Nayarit is a state on the Pacific coast of Mexico, bordering the states of Sinaloa, Durango, Zacatecas and Jalisco. Its territory encompasses pristine beaches, high mountains and lowland tropical forests. For many years the Huichol, Cora, Tepehuan and Mexicanero peoples have called this land their home. The roots of these peoples run deep in Nayarit and their cultures’ legends have endured well into modern times. Here are three.

1. The Warriors and the Princess

Many centuries before the arrival of the Spanish, a King named Trigomil ruled over several small settlements in the Matatipac Valley. This King exercised his government with great care and was known throughout the land as a noble and just ruler. He had a very beautiful daughter with big black eyes, which matched her long straight hair. Her beauty was such that from distant kingdoms they came to meet her and many asked for her hand. Even the mighty emperor of the Aztecs knew her name: Mololoa.

Mololoa knew the motives of the people who visited her and so she asked her father to allow her to choose her own suitor. King Trigomil agreed. Time passed, and one day the princess met a young man named Tépetl. Tépetl was a skilled warrior of noble aspect and sharp intelligence. Together with Princess Mololoa, he spent every afternoon talking and sharing his dreams and feelings. After a short period of time Mololoa was falling in love with Tépetl and thought that he could be “the one.”

One day, a portly warrior with a strong presence came to King Trigomil. His name was Sanganguey. Eager to see the beautiful woman and prompted by the desire of marriage, the stout warrior requested to see the princess. The king granted his request. When Princess Mololoa heard of the warrior’s motives, she explained that she could not return his feelings and therefore, she was not going to receive the gifts that he offered. Sanganguey replied to the princess that even against her will, she would be his wife, even if he had to kill to make it happen. She was silent and remembered what was said about Sanganguey: He was hated in many towns for being cruel and disrespectful of the will of the people and he was feared because he supposedly had supernatural powers. Princess Mololoa asked the warrior to please leave her be.

Soon after, word spread throughout the Matatipac Valley Kingdom that Princess Mololoa and Tépetl were to be married. Hearing this, Sanganguey exploded in rage and swore that he would prevent the wedding. He shouted that the princess would be his and that he would kill Tépetl. The rage was so great and his screams so loud that they made the earth itself tremble. One morning, with the first light of day, Sanganguey entered the princess’s bedroom and abducted her. Upon learning of this, Tépetl immediately went out to find his beloved and defeat the terrible Sanganguey. He searched many places and for many days until he found them. Tépetl caught up with Mololoa and Sanganguey and a battle ensued between the two warriors.

Princess Mololoa managed to break free and fled into the forest. She ran until she could run no more. The princess climbed to the top of a huge rock and sat down, sad and afraid to see from a distance the fight that her beloved was fighting. Sanganguey and Tépetl fought tirelessly and with extraordinary zeal. Both were great warriors and they put all of their energy into the fight, because they knew that the princess would be their prize in the end.

Sanganguey’s fury was so great that he spewed smoke from his eyes and fire from his mouth. Tépetl skillfully dodged the smoke and fire and started to throw small stones at his attacker. After a short while, the great warrior Sanganguey was covered completely by the small stones. The fire that came out of Sanganguey’s mouth melted the stones and he was imprisoned in a great compact mountain. The entire Matatipac Valley was covered with smoke and ashes that Sanganguey spewed from his prison hill. Meanwhile, Tépetl was looking for Princess Mololoa, but the ash rain was so intense that it impeded his visibility, so he quelled the fire, throwing a huge rock into Sanganguey’s mouth.

That stone is now the one that divides the Sanganguey Volcano in two. Tépetl spent days searching for Princess Mololoa. He built a small platform of stones and from the top of it he observed the entire valley in search of the princess. Sanganguey, still imprisoned in his volcano threw out a great breath of fire to try to kill Tépetl. Sanganguey’s fire melted Tépetl into that rock lookout he made for himself. Today that former pile of rocks on which the young man stood to look for the princess is known as the Cerro de San Juan.

And what of the princess? When observing this tragedy, she began to cry. Her tears first formed a thin trickle of water, but as she never stopped crying little by little, she transformed herself into a river of crystalline waters that crossed the entire Matatipac Valley, until ending in the mighty waters of the Santiago River. Today, the indigenous inhabitants of the Matatipac Valley see daily the rival warriors, turned into the Sanganguey Volcano and Cerro de San Juan, and the beautiful Princess Mololoa, who is still crying, transformed into a river that now bears her name.

2. The Mythical Origins of a Turquoise Lake

In pre-Hispanic times there was once a wealthy city-state called Michiztlán in what is now the central part of the Mexican state of Nayarit. It became a rich little kingdom through trade with the Pacific coast and with the larger empires of the Aztecs and the Tarascans. A great king and queen ruled Michiztlán and lived in an opulent palace with many servants. They had one child, a daughter, a beautiful young woman named Tepozilama. As she was the only royal offspring, the king and queen guarded her with extreme care.
One day Tepozilama went for a walk in the company of her ladies-in-waiting, when suddenly they saw a wounded deer. As they approached to help the deer the strong voice of a young man called out to them, to which Tepozilama replied:

“Who are you and what are you doing here?”

The young warrior responded, “I am Pintontli.”

It was love at first sight between the princess and the young warrior Pintontli. Even though Pintontli was from a rival kingdom to the south, the two vowed to put all political differences aside and promised to see each other as often as possible

A few weeks later, during an important festival in the city of Michiztlan, Princess Tepozilama left the kingdom to see Pintontli. The young woman’s father, realizing her absence, questioned her ladies-in-waiting and made them tell him the whereabouts of the princess. The king, with his personal guards, went in search of Tepozilama to the place where the ladies had indicated: a hidden corner in a sort of no man’s land between the rival kingdoms. It was there where the king and his guards found Tepozilama, in the company of Pintontli.

When she approached her father, the princess said: “My father, I know that my sin is very great, but I am in love and I humbly ask your permission for me to marry him.”

The king replied: “My daughter will never be in love with one of my worst enemies.” He then turned to his guards and said, “Take her away, tie her up and don’t feed her.” So, they lashed her to a tree and did the same with Pintontli.

Thus, Tepozilama and Pintontli remained tied within sight of one another, so close but yet so far. They cried for days and nights at their misfortune, until their tears formed the enormous and beautiful turquoise-colored lake known today as the Laguna de Santa María del Oro.

3. The Siguanaba

This story of the Siguanaba is more urban legend or campfire tale told with a modern twist but has deep indigenous roots studied by anthropologists and folklorists. The latter-day story goes something like this:

A couple of decades ago, two men who had an old friendship and were even compadres, worked from an early age on a plot of land they owned jointly on the outskirts of the town of Rosamorada. As is common in this type of work, the workday usually extends until late at night. Both seeing that the darkness had crept up on them, they decided to end their day of work and begin the journey back home. They boarded a van and followed the route that they followed every day. However, one of them – the one in the passenger seat – had the need to go to the bathroom, so he asked his compadre to stop on the side of the road.

The road lacked lighting at night, with the moon providing the only illumination. With the very dim light of the moon, the man got out of the vehicle and walked away a little. While he stood there relieving himself, he observed off in the distance, through some trees, on the edge of a small lake, a woman standing with her back to him. Why was a woman out in the middle of nowhere after dark? How did she get there? The man started calling the woman warning her of the danger for being so close to the water. He was afraid she would fall in and drown and that no one would be able to rescue her in the darkness. There was no response from the woman.

The man wanted to help, so he walked through the lightly wooded area to get to her. Just then, when he was a few meters away, the woman turned around and he, horrified, discovered that attached to that beautiful female figure was hiding a horrible and devilish horse face. He did not manage to do anything other than run. When he hurried to his compadre who was waiting for him in the van, he asked him to start the vehicle and leave immediately. His friend asked him the reason for the haste but he only insisted that they leave.

After feeling safe and upon arriving home, the man related his experience and since then they agreed never to stop on the road again at night because he feared seeing the horse-headed Siguanaba.

The name Siguanaba may come from combining a word from a dead and unknown indigenous language cigua, meaning “spirit,” with the Nahuatl word for woman, cihuatl. Some folklorists believe that Siguanaba is a corruption of the combination of two Nahuatl words, cihuatl, “woman,” and matlatl, meaning “net.” So, Siguanaba was once cihuatlmatlatl, or “net woman,” referring to the female spirit acting as a snare to entrap unsuspecting men. There are older legends found among both the Aztecs and the Maya of a beautiful young woman dressed in white or completely naked, usually appearing near water or by dry creek beds, always with her head turned away. In the older legends, when the Siguanaba turned her head to face the unsuspecting victim, the head was a horrible skull, and not a horse head. This would make sense as horses were introduced by the Spanish and didn’t exist in the ancient Mexican civilizations. In some legends the Siguanaba may appear to a child disguised as his or her mother, only to lure the child into the woods to leave him or her there confused and lost. In many versions of the story, both modern and ancient, the Siguanaba is bathing, swimming or otherwise associated with water. This is not to be confused with La Llorona. For the story of the Llorona, please see Mexico Unexplained episode Number Two.

The Mexican state of Nayarit is home to many indigenous legends that may date back thousands of years. The three presented here are only a sample of the magic and the mystery.


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