Beware of the mythical jungle man called Tata Duende

A sudden whirlwind of leaves and twigs followed by an eerie whistle sends a chill down your spine. An ugly little man wearing a big red hat tugs at your shirt. He politely asks you to show him your hands. You look down and notice he has backwards feet.

Never show the little man your hands…

This is the warning from our grandparents and elders. Beware the mythic spirit called Tata Duende who dwells in the jungles. Descriptions about the hideous spirit frightened us to not go into the jungles or play outdoors late at night. The warnings taught us what to do when and if we ever came in contact with the evil spirit, but most importantly, we learned how to avoid dangerous encounters.

A little bearded man with no thumbs, a big red hat and backwards feet are what some would describe as Tata Duende. Legend has it that no one can ever be sure if the spirit is coming or going because Tata Duende has backwards feet to confuse anyone who dares to follow it. Although, Tata Duende mostly appears in the form of a little man it is also known to deceive people by changing into small animals or even someone familiar, like a family member or a friend.

How do you know if you are in the presence of Tata Duende? Some say you just know, for one can feel it’s supernatural presence. Some also say that the spirit has strange powers and will appear following an eerie whistle. If the whistle sounds nearby then you are safe for the spirit is far away but if the whistle sounds as if it is far away then beware for Tata Duende is nearby. We were always reminded that if we ever encountered the little man to never show it your hands. It is said that Tata Duende lacks thumbs of his own and will request to see your hands. Don’t show the little man your hands because it will steal your thumbs. That’s right, Tata Duende is known to rip thumbs off.

Our grandparents and elders always took precautions and reminded us of how to avoid encounters with the mythic spirit. They would tell us that Tata Duende loves to eat and therefore a small offering of fruits, tamales or even bread would put the spirit in a good mood and it might even consider granting a wish. It is also said that Tata Duende protects the animals of the jungle and if anyone ever causes harm to the animals, then a frightful encounter may be imminent. The best way to avoid an encounter with the spirit is to not harm the animals and jungles.

Many stories and warnings about strange mythical creature that dwell in the jungles and waters of Belize have been told for many generations. Some stories of horrifying encounters filled our memories with creepy descriptions of Tata Duende and many other spine-chilling creatures. The warnings are not to be taken lightly and all the stories have one main underlying message, and that is to respect the animals and jungles. To this very day some say there have been actual encounters and sightings, but none of these mythic creatures have been proven or unproven to exist.

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Authors: Dismas and GrissyG Lizárraga,
Dismas and GrissyG are Artists and Animators born in Belize, now residing in California. Together they document and share their interpretation of the Belizean myths through a series of paintings titled Legends of Belize. To learn more about the fascinating and eerie myths of our culture we invite you to visit our website:


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