Deeper into the wilds the man presses on. The soft dirt shows the dainty prints of a barefooted child. One that’s frightened and alone, judging by the wails of pain and fear filling the man’s ears. He tries to follow the footsteps, but the cries grow softer. He gives up looking at the ground and follows his ears. Moonlight and the dense foliage of the Dominican Republic mountains make his search difficult, but his determination never wavers. He has already strayed far from his companions, but the tale of his bravery and this daring rescue of a lost innocent will be the perfect souvenir of his vacation.
He reaches an opening in the undergrowth. The mouth of a cave is before him. Here the foot prints circle back and around in a confusing jumble, each print crisscrossing the next. He spins within the clearing looking for the child who from the nearness of the sound, must be within his grasp.
A tiny woman kneels in the brush besides the cave opening, her face is turned away, but he can tell she is the crying child. Long glossy hair flows down her spine as slowly she rises. Now the man can see she is naked and only her hair keeps her bluish skin concealed.
He shakes his head. A trick of the moonlight, he tells himself. Exhaustion from the long hike up the mountain are causing his eyes to play tricks on him. Still turned away from his view, she inches closer to him. She is speaking in a range of inhuman chirps and squalls he can’t understand. He tries to sooth her with his words, and he removes his jacket. An offering to the woman who is clearly too modest to turn around and reveal herself to him. That’s when he sees her feet, her small childlike feet. They pointing backwards, heading toward him. He sweeps his eyes upward again, taking in the back of her knees and the curve of her buttocks. Shocked and horrified at her disfigurement he screams, but it’s too late, La Ciguapa turns her face to him and he is transfixed by her unearthly beauty. Once he glances into her black, soulless eyes, he is enchanted. When she kisses him, she will steal his life-force. Or she will eat him. Either way, he’s a dead man!
The origins of this legend are mixed. Some say La Ciguapa is fairly old, and based on the myths of the Taino people. Others say it’s a more recent myth and it came over during the Spanish colonization with the African slaves. It’s not a very well-known myth outside of Latin American and it has few variants and almost no English versions. There is one Colombian version where she is one-legged and they call her La Patasola. Not every version features her with blue toned skin, but that’s my favorite part, so my version has it. The dark flowing hair and backward facing feet are constant characteristics, as are her nocturnal wanderings.
Her inability to speak in anything but howls or clicks and her seductive beauty often cause people to compare La Ciguapa with a siren. Some of the stories say she was in fact born a mermaid, but because of her curiosity about humans and an ill-fated love affair with a dashing sea captain, she lost her fins. Some versions say she twisted her own feet backwards in a desperate attempt to remake her mermaid tail. Other versions say that upon leaving the water La Ciguapa’s tail turns into backwards feet so that she may trick any humans who are trying to follow her back to her magical homeland. The man in my story almost stood a chance of capturing La Ciguapa, but he was missing the two most important items, a full moon and a black and white polydactyl dog.
La Ciguapa is not always a bloodthirsty succubus, some stories say she is a shy creature, feeding only on bird and small prey, harmless unless threatened by men. She is also known for being a trickster. She loves to steal food, mostly butter and raw meats. And she shows a fascination for braiding the manes and tails of horses.
Backward facing feet is a rare, but real medical condition. It is possible that in an isolated population, the condition appeared and was turned into myth as a way of rationalizing it.