Phantoms of the milpas
Long ago I directed a cultural field school for high school students in the Yucatan. The students and I stayed with villagers sleeping in nahs, traditional Maya houses, and taking our meals with the hosts. We learned that life in a Maya community revolves around the milpa, the agricultural field that provides sustenance and life. Making milpa, slash and burn farming a plot, carries with it historic and cultural obligations that are to the ancient Maya.
I asked a friend in the village Tinum for directions to his milpa, explaining that I would like to explore it with my students.
“Oh no,” he protested, “it would be dangerous to go there, very dangerous. There are serpents that kill and other dangers!”
“But,” our host finally relented, “you can come with me and the niño (his son) tomorrow morning.”
I had another request, “Could my students work in the field?”
He shrugged, “What’s the use, it’s too hard, but ok!”
In the field we discovered how excruciating work in the field was. Later we learned about the other danger: we learned about the Aluxe.
In Ireland they are called leprechauns, in Scandinavia trolls – they seem to have populated the globe.
That afternoon I learned something about Maya secrets – other dangers. Concealed within the Yucatan jungles are creatures of the night including the Aluxes – troll-like creatures that usually remain hidden from human-sight. But ready to dance with a child or spring a prank on a bothersome adult!
Although Aluxes mostly live apart from men, symbiotic relationships have evolved. Ordinarily they are fearful of humans and hide from us by turning themselves into little clay figurines that hide in small mounds on the fringes of cultivated fields. It is believed that they are descended from the ancient Maya.
Like most gnomes, leprechauns – name your favorite will-o-the-wisp – Aluxes are impish and responsible for many practical jokes and tricks. On the other hand they can be helpful. More than one lost wanderer has been led to safety by an Aluxe. Without revealing themselves and by sighs, they can direct the wanderer to the correct path. In olden times, they would notify an Indian family of a member who had been hanged (other misfortune?) by allowing them to be seen in a house and then fleeing.
There is much more to the lore of the Aluxe, one of the Yucatan’s special attraction that is seldom – if ever – seen by adults.