Kate Crowley / Nica 68 / ENV

It’s meet-your-counterpart day but as my counterpart has not yet arrived, I am learning about my future site from my fellow PCVs’ counterparts. Unexpectedly, all
anyone has to offer about Diriá is its high per capita of brujas. All my language professor told me was that it had a nice park! All this brujeria wasn’t in my site packet.

The sister pueblos of Diriá and Diriomo both straddle the carretera, Diriá to the north, and Diriomo to the south. More or less, that is. After living in Diriá for a year, sometimes a coin flip is still as good as my guess when it comes to
deciding what comarcas belong to which municipalities. Both pueblos are named after Diriagen, an indomitable leader of the indigenous Nahautl
people. Despite being overwhelmingly Catholic, the area retains a strong connection to pre-Columbian traditions and beliefs.

At times, the references to these old beliefs are tongue-in-cheek: each pueblo has at least one bar with a bruja-related name. But more often than not, people in these pueblos are unironic in their beliefs. While I have never heard a witch walking the streets hawking her potions or seen a front-door sign stating Hay Maldiciones, I’ve heard many second- and third-hand stories of witches. The most prevalent belief I discovered was that of the micas. Micas are witches that have the power to turn themselves into animals, most often monkeys. Online research tells me the legend of the micas is also known as La Mona, Mona Bruja, or Mico Brujo.

Micas turn into monkeys in order to take surprise revenge on their enemies. In some versions of the legend, micas are usually taking revenge on their ex-lovers. Who’s going to expect that innocent looking monkey to be his ex-girlfriend? Jokes on you, señor (she never liked that mustache anyway).

Pre-Columbian legends of the Nahual people described shamans with the powers to turn into different animals, sometimes with sinister motives. The arrival of Europeans in Mesoamerica brought the concept of medieval witches, and the blending of the legends produced the female micas known today around Central America. I’ve always been fascinated by the subtle ways misogyny makes itself known in culture, and witches are a dramatic example. I find it quite interesting
that before European arrival, the idea of magical people doing sinister deeds was not gendered, something to remember when we think about everyday instances of misogyny here in Nicaragua and get tempted to stereotype cultures.

Halfway through my service I have unfortunately not learned to cast any curses, which is quite a disappointment as someone who has always aspired to be Hermione Granger. I did however go to a witch’s house once—she had an absurd amount of animals in her tiny backyard (horse, cows, goats, pigs, turkeys, cats, dogs), and was generous enough to gift me a few sacos of poop for my compost. Crossing my fingers for enchanted ayote.