Tata Duende (Nukux Tat)


12'' x 12''


I went into the jungle of Central America wide-eyed, clueless, and pretty naïve.

I left the jungle, machete in hand, 8-month-old, half-Mayan son on my back, and a newfound respect for the jungle and its inhabitants, both tangible and mystical. In C.A., in bush country, the line between the two is hazy. Best not to scorn any of it.

I learned how to protect myself and my infant son from the dangers of the jungle, which included: barba amarilla (fer-de-lance, pit viper), scorpions, spiders, jaguars (you never see them…they can follow you for miles, undetected), biting insects and stinging plants, mal de ojo (evil eye), Sisimite (Sasquatch-like), and Tata Duende, or Nukux Tat, as the Mayans call these creatures of the high bush country in Belize. Tata is Mayan for “grandfather” or “old,” and Duende is Spanish for “goblin.”

People who have seen Tata Duende say that they are about 3ft tall, without thumbs, backward-pointing feet, and a distinct whistle. I was warned to be very cautious when alone—to hide my thumbs if one appeared (Duende will think you are like them and let you go). Backwards feet? So they can sneak up behind their unsuspecting victims (if you’re following their tracks). They can change into a small animal, but then, so can the brujos, regular looking people with supernatural powers.

I’ve chosen to depict Tata Duende in the style of the Mayan Dresden Codex, the oldest book written in the Americas (and brilliantly illustrated).