The Chupacabra becomes a recurring legend
San Juan (Puerto Rico) Star
6 May 1996,
by Robert Friedman
WASHINGTON -- The goatsucker is on the go -- with new alleged victims
reported in other Caribbean countries, Mexico, Central America and Dade
County, Florida. Once strictly del pais, the chupacabras, as the supposed
vampire-like killer of barnyard animals is known in Spanish, has recently
been spotted in the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Miami.
The monster -- reptilian body, oval head, bulging red eyes, fanged
teeth and long, darting tongue -- has allegedly pulled off one of the more
grisly animal slaughters of late: the one-night massacre of 69 goats,
chickens, geese and ducks in the heavily Hispanic Sweetwater neighborhood
of South Miami. Miami police and the local zoologist say that the killer
was a large dog -- but Sweetwater residents insist that the deed was done by
the blood-sucking beast first spotted in the central mountains of
Puerto Rico .
Whatever, the chupacabras phenomenon seems quick becoming part of
Hispanic -- and possibly international -- bestial lore. The goatsucker
already has been tagged the Bigfoot of the Caribbean by stateside journalists.
The monster made its network TV debut last week via "Unsolved Mysteries."
It was the talk of the popular Miami-based gabfest, "El Show de Cristina,"
which is transmitted throughout Latin America. That show featured
Canovanas Mayor Jose "Chemo" Soto, known to townsfolk as "Chemo Jones"
for his weekly chupacabra hunts through the surrounding hills, using a
caged goat for bait. Soto offered this grim warning: "Whatever it is,
it's highly intelligent. Today it is attacking animals, tomorrow it may
be attacking people."
Tee shirt sales are said to be booming, a video game reportedly is in
the works, songs are sung to Ol' Red Eyes over South Florida radio stations
(such as "Chupacabra-fragalisticexpialidotious," as in the song of a similar
name from "Mary Poppins.") The beast is on the Internet, courtesy of some
Puerto Rican students at Princeton University, who give tongue-in-cheek
updates daily on the goatsucker's doings.
So, what have we here? Among other things, a recurring legend,
especially prevalent in Latin America, according to anthropologists,
Hispanic historians, and others. "There are a certain number of these
legends of bloodsucking animals in South and Latin America," said Richard
Grinker, an anthropology professor at George Washington University. "They
are usually analyzed as anti-capitalist, an unconscious means of rebellion
by country people who believe that capitalism is sucking dry the earth and
their entire being. Fellow anthropologist Paul Brodwin acknowledged that
blood-sucking legends pre-date quasi-Marxist analyses, but said the legends
often get reinterpreted "according to social circumstances."
Take, for instance, the legend of the Loup Garou, which Brodwin has
studied in the Haitian countryside. This sometime human-sometime animal
being is related to the French werewolf legend, said Brodwin. But with a
difference. The Loup Garou sucks the blood of its human victims.[???]
The Haitian legend has been analyzed as a "collective fantasy," said the
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor, of an unconscious suspicion
and fear the poorer-than-poor have of their neighbors.
Marvette Perez,curator of Hispanic history at the Smithsonian Institution's American History
Museum, sees deja vu once more in the chupacabras tales. Perez,
a native of Arecibo, recalled the similarities between the chupacabras
and both the Moca vampire and the garadiablo of island lore. A couple
of decade ago, the Moca monster was sucking blood of assorted animals
around that small mountain town, while the garadiablo was a devilish
looking creepy crawly from the lagoon seen in local swamplands. "This
seems to be a very Caribbean phenomenon, especially of the Spanish-
speaking islands," said Perez. "It's part of our folklore. It's inter-
esting that the chupacabras has not been found on the English-speaking
islands, but has migrated only in places where people speak Spanish.
Pedro Vidal, professor of Spanish and Latin American Studies at
American University, remembers hearing childhood tales in his native
Venezuela of a beast sucking the blood not only of animals, but also of
little children. Vidal, who has done research on vampires, noted that
the hemispheric roots of such entities go way back, to the Mayans, who
worshipped a "vampire figure deity long before the idea of Dracula."
Bram Stoker's novel of the blood-thirsty count became a big hit in
Victorian England in an age of anxiety over a syphilis epidemic, said
Vidal. Now, another sexually transmitted epidemic has unsettled the populace.
Puerto Rico, he noted, is among the areas in the hemisphere
hardest hit by AIDS. It is entirely possible, he said, that the
commotion over the chupacabras could be linked to the AIDS fear.
Unbeknownst to many, there is a real live goatsucker in captivity
in the Washington, D.C. zoo. In fact, ornithologists know all about
goatsuckers -- which is the name given to a family of nocturnal birds.
They are described as soft-feathered with long, pointed wings, short,
weak legs and feet, a very small bill, but a wide, gaping mouth, and
whose eyes reflect light at night. Some goatsuckers of note are night
jars, whippoorwills and the Australian frog mouth, which is on display
at the D.C. zoo. Could they be...? Most unlikely, said Bob Hoage of
National Zoo. The winged Goatsuckers feed almost exclusively on
insects, he noted.
The Goatsucker tag comes from the Latin word, Caprimulgus. The
birds are often found in the Mediterranean in places where goats graze.
In a strange twist, bird-watcher-columnist Don Wilson reports in the
Orlando Sun Sentinel that "the harmless whippoorwill was once viewed
as a sinister creature. Superstitious country folk once believed the
birds sucked the milk from goats' udders, causing them to dry up."