Cuban Witches, Broomsticks and Moths


Tatagua. Foto:

I believe fear is behind most of our emotions. That’s why some people say that emotions are bad. Behind them is the worst thing in people: fear.

The list of fears is endless. There are so many that sometimes we’re not aware of their existence, nor could we even comprehend them all or give them names.

Last night I was visiting at the home of one of my co-workers. We had some coffee with cinnamon and suddenly — like out of a Hitchcock film — we heard a piercing scream. The woman of the house had discovered a “bruja” in her bedroom.

In any country in the world, the word “bruja” (witch) makes most people think of the adventures of Harry Potter or those hapless (or dangerous) women who were burned at the stake in the Middle Ages.

But in Cuba, almost everybody knows that a “bruja” is a moth, with no other colors than those of the earth, too big to be looked at calmly by those who are ill at ease with creepy crawlers of the night.

For those who are from cultures closer to the African earth, the name of this moth is “tatagua.” So who named them witches? I imagine that their name is related to the story of why — for many people, especially those older than me — this moth is a bad omen, a harbinger of death.

For me it was a little difficult to believe that at this point in time someone could become terrified to the extent of locking themselves in another room over of an ill-famed insect. But that was the least of it; the hysteria immediately erupted into the swinging of a broom in an attempt to kill the bug. The woman of the house merely stood there on the other side of the door yelling “Kill it! Kills it!” while her husband scrambled around after the dark winged creature.

I don’t know what made him freeze when he heard me beg him to stop, not to kill it.

I asked him for the broom with which he was trying to murder the “tatagua.” Then, after turning off some lights and opening the door, I was able to convince the moth — which by then had landed on the broom’s bristles — to let me take it out to the street.

Magic? Yes. I imagine that the poor “bruja” perceived the risk it was running (to make matters worse, the house cat had been eyeing its flight while licking its whiskers) and decided to pay attention to human language. It flew off into the night as I prayed that it won’t go into another home with people still filled with so many fears, like in the Middle Ages.