The Sihuanaba, La Siguanaba, Cigua or Cegua is a supernatural character from Central American folklore. It is a shape-changing spirit that typically takes the form of an attractive, long haired woman seen from behind. She lures men away into danger before revealing her face to be that of a horse or, alternatively, a skull.
The Siguanaba and its variants may have been brought to Latin America from Spain during the Colonial Period, used by the colonists as a means of exercising control over the indigenous and mestizo population.
When encountered, she is a beautiful woman who is either naked or dressed in flimsy white; she usually appears bathing in a public water tank, river, or other water source, although she may also be found washing clothing. She likes to lure lone men out late on dark, moonless nights, without letting them see her face at first. She tempts such men away from their planned routes to lose them in deep canyons.
In Guatemala, the Siguanaba appears as a beautiful, seductive woman with very long hair. She will not reveal her face until the last moment, when it is revealed as either the face of a horse or, alternatively, a human skull. If her victim (usually an unfaithful man) does not die of fear then he is driven mad by the sight. From afar the Siguanaba can imitate the appearance of a man's girlfriend in order to lead him astray.
When appearing to children, the Siguanaba will take on the appearance of the child's mother in order to lure her victim into her grasp; once touched by the Siguanaba the child is driven mad and she will lead her victim into the wilderness to leave the child lost and insane.
Traditional methods are said to ward off the Siguanaba. In the border regions between Guatemala and El Salvador, those who see the Siguanaba make the sign of the cross upon her or bite their machete, while simultaneously banishing both the evil spirit and the fear that grips the victim.
The word siguanaba or sihuanaba has its origin in the indigenous languages of Mesoamerica. Various words have been suggested as its source. In parts of Mexico the Siguanaba is known as macihuatli, a Nahuatl word that can be broken down to two elements; cihuatl (meaning "woman") and matlatl (meaning "net"). This "net-woman" encompasses the figurative idea of a woman capturing men in her metaphorical net of attraction.
Likewise, cigua or cegua, names for the spirit in Honduras and Costa Rica, also have their origin in the Nahuatl word cihuatl, simply meaning "woman". Guatemalan historian and folklorist Adrián Recinos gave two possible origins for the word siguanaba. In one of the 20+ languages of Guatemala, he claimed ciguanaba meant "naked woman" but he failed to identify the exact language of origin. In another source he claimed that its origin is the Nahuatl ciuanauac or ciguanauac, meaning "concubine".
In Guatemala, the word siguanaba has been linked to siwan, a K'iche' Maya word meaning a cliff or deep ravine, and Guatemalan folk etymology gives this as the origin of the word, although scholars such as Recinos and Roberto Paz y Paz disagree.
In Guatemala the Sihuanaba is known as La Siguanaba; she is known as Cigua in Honduras, Ciguanaba in El Salvador and as Cegua in Costa Rica. Although the name varies from place to place, the appearance and actions of the Sihuanaba remain unchanged.
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The Salvadoran legend of La Siguanaba says that the woman, originally called Sihuehuet (beautiful woman), was a peasant girl that ascended to queen using her charms (and a witch's brew) to lure into marriage Tlaloc's son, Yeisun, who was a Nahuatl prince. After marriage, when her husband went to war, she had affairs with other men, and Cipitio was the child of this relationship. Sihuehuet was a bad mother, neglecting her son, leaving him alone to meet her lovers. To inherit the throne she concocted a plot to use another magic potion to poison Yeisun during a festival, and so claim the throne for her lover.
But the plan worked too well. Yeisun was converted in a savage giant monster with two heads, who ravaged the attendants to the palace's feast. The guard struggled and defeated the creature, ending Yeisun's life. When Tlaloc found out about this, he sought the help of the almighty god, Teotl whom condemned and cursed Sihuehuet: She would be called Sihuanaba ("hideous woman"); she would be beautiful at first sight, but she would turn into a horrible abomination after luring her victims to isolated gorges. She was forced to wander the countryside, appearing to men who travelled alone at night. She is supposed to be seen at night in the rivers of El Salvador, washing clothes and always looking for her son, Cipitio, who was also cursed by Teotl to remain a boy for eternity.
In Guatemala, the Siguanaba is said to be encountered washing her hair with a golden bowl and combing her hair with a golden comb. She is said to wander the streets of Guatemala City, luring away men who are in love. In Guatemala, the legend is more common in Guatemala City, Antigua Guatemala (the old colonial capital) and the eastern departments of the country. The most common variant in these areas is that where the spirit has the face of a horse. In Guatemala the Siguanaba is often said to appear to men who are unfaithful in order to punish them.
A Kaqchikel Maya version of the Siguanaba from San Juan Comalapa describes her as a woman with enormous glowing eyes and a hoof for a hand. She wears a glittering dress and has very long hair and haunts the local rubbish dump, frightening disobedient children and drunken husbands.
On the Guatemalan side of Lake Güija, in Jutiapa Department, the Siguanaba is able to take on many forms but the most common is that of a slim, beautiful woman with long hair who bathes herself on the banks of the Ostúa River, although she may also appear by other water sources or simply by lonely roadsides. To lustful men she appears just as a beautiful woman, while to lovestruck men she takes the form of the object of the man's affections. A tale from San Juan La Isla relates how a man went to meet his wife who was returning on horseback from El Salvador, and after accompanying her for a while his "wife" flung herself from her mount and revealed herself to be the Siguanaba. In this same region, the Siguanaba is said to appear on moonlit nights to horseriders on lonely roads, asking to ride pillion. After riding with her victim for a short while, she reveals her fingernails as fearsome claws and her face as that of a horse, causing the rider to die of terror. Those lucky few that manage to flee find themselves lost in the wilderness.
In Costa Rica, the Cegua is largely a rural apparition. As well as repeating the typical actions of the Sihauanaba in its nocturnal bathing habits, the Cegua also appears mounted among herds of horses, sowing panic.
Other spellings are: Cihuanaba, Sihuanaba, Ciguanaba, Ciguapa.
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