El Coco, which is also known under the names Cuco, Cuca, Cucuy is a mythical dragon or a ghost monster that is said to appear in many different shapes. However, there is no description of the beast which could be used for all the places where it seems. The Coco originates from Portugal and Spanish Galicia, where it is known as Coco, and appears as a monster with a pumpkin head, two eyes, and a mouth. In medieval times in the same area, this creature used to transform into a female dragon that used to take part in different celebrations. In Portugal, El Coco has remained popular until today.
Myths and Legends
If parents tend singing lullabies or telling rhymes to children to warn them that if they don’t sleep, El Coco will come and take them away. Latin America also has a version of El Coco. However, its folklore is usually quite different and commonly mixed with native beliefs, and due to the cultural contacts, sometimes it is more related to the boogeyman of the United States.
Among Mexican-American people, El Cucuy is presented as an evil monster that hides under children’s beds at night to either kidnap or eats the child that does not obey his/her parents and goes to sleep in time. However, the Spanish American boogeyman is not portrayed as the invisible or hairy monster like the one in Spain. According to the social science professor Manuel Medrano, the famous legend describes El Cucuy as a small humanoid with glowing red eyes that hides in the closet or under the bed.
Brazil has its version of the El Coco. In their folklore, there is a similar character called Cuca and is depicted as a female humanoid alligator, or as an old lady with a sack. There is even a famous lullaby that is sung by most parents to their children that says that the Cuca will come to collect them and make soap or soup out of them if they do not sleep, just like in Spain. The Cuca is also recognized as a character of Monteiro Lobato’s Sitio do Picapau Amarelo (“Yellow Woodpecker’s Site”), an acclaimed and creative series of short novels that are written for children containing a large number of famous characters from the Brazilian folklore.
Historical Records of the Beast
Coco and the tradition connected to it come from ancient times. The story of Coco was first described by Diodorus Siculus (XIII.56.5; 57.3). In his story, he talked of the Iberian warriors, who hang the heads of their enemies on their spears. This tradition probably created the idea of putting heads on sticks as an offering for the beast. The example recorded by Diodorus was the battle of Selinunte, which took place in 469 BC, but similar situations happened during many ancient battles in the Iberian Peninsula. According to some researchers, the idea of hanging heads on spears is connected with the Celtiberian culture.
Before the 15th century, when it was called Coco for the first time, the monster probably had other names. It is believed that the name comes from the word “coconut” which was given to the fruit by the sailors of Vasco da Gama, but that’s not necessarily the truth. There is a description of the monster with the use of the name Coca in the book called Livro 3 de Doações de D. Afonso III from the year 1274. The same dragon that in medieval times was named Cog was a widespread motif in medieval warfare and piracy decor. It is presented as a decoration, showing the dragon in both genders. In Catalonia, Coco is recognized as a zoomorphic figure, which is very similar to a turtle with a dragon head.
The Fight of Saint George and Santa Coca
In the municipality of Monção, which is near the border with Spanish Galicia, Coco is considered as the dragon that fought with Saint George. The feast called Corpus Christi is celebrated on Holy Thursday, including a fight between George and Santa Coca (Coco). If Coco scares Saint George’s horse and defeats him, that means a prognosis for a lousy year for the crops. However, if the horse doesn’t react to Coco and Saint George wins the fight by cutting off one of the Coco’s ears and her tongue, the crops will be okay.
In Galicia in Spain, it is said that there are two dragons, one in Betanzos and the second in Redondela in the Ria de Vigo. According to legend, the dragon arrived from the Ocean and was devouring young women, until he was killed by a group of young men from the cities nearby.
The Romantic Presentation of the Dragon
The dragon is known as Coco, also appears in the famous book Don Quijote by Cervantes. The oldest and most well-known poem connected with Coco was written in the 17th century by Juan Caxes. In local Portuguese records exists a lullaby by Leite de Vasconcelos (1858 – 1941), whose lyrics tell the Coco to go to the top of the roof. There are many versions of the same lullaby, but there are some cases when the name is changed to “papão negro” (black eater):
El Coco is also very popular from the romantic paintings by the Spanish painter Francisco Jose de Goya, who painted a picture Que Viene el Coco (Here comes the Coco) in 1799. It portrays a monster of a shadowed humanoid. This famous work became an inspiration for hundreds of artists in Spain and Portugal who created a considerable number of poems, songs, paintings, etc. from the 17th century until now.
The legend of Coco in the 21st century
Even nowadays, parents in Latin America tend to scare their children by telling them that if they misbehave, Coco will come and take them away. Parents also sing lullabies or say rhymes related to Coco, which warn children that they must obey their parents if they don’t want Coco to eat them. After centuries, what remains as a reason why people are afraid of Coco is not its appearance, but the legend that it is a child eater and a kidnapper.
Coco is so famous that it is impossible to mention all the festivals and events where it appears these days. Coco is also recognized as a common motif in modern popular culture. For instance, the American guitarist John Lowery composed a track inspired by Coco in 2014, and the American comedian George Lopez mentioned the monster in his two specials. The producers of the TV series Grimm decided to dedicate an episode to Coco in 2013.