According to my elders, in the mid-20th century, my paternal grandfather spent a night in an abandoned Chicle (natural gum) camp located near where the borders of the states of Yucatán, Campeche, and Quintana Roo come together. In the early hours of the morning, he was jolted awake by loud, angry thumps on the door, so aggressive that he didn’t dare come close to see who it was. It was just the thumping—no other sounds, no voices. Just as they’d started, they stopped, but that unsettling encounter left my grandfather unable to fall back asleep.
The Yucatecan jungle, and the entire Peninsula for that matter, is home to many magical and incredible beings. One of the most feared is the Sinsimito. It’s a creature of enormous size, great strength, and aggressive temperament, sowing fear among those who venture into the wilderness.
As if that weren’t enough, it steals livestock, kidnaps women, and cannot be harmed by either arrows or bullets. According to tradition, it dwells in caves and lives a solitary life, although there’s a version where it moves in groups near the coast, around the Chicxulub Puerto area.
Of considerable height and muscular build, its body is covered in dark hair, its face is hideous, and it has feet that are turned backward. This means that when it walks, its trail indicates a direction opposite to the one it’s actually taking. That’s why, if you see enormous footprints in the jungle, you’d be better off following them: if you go in the opposite direction, you’ll actually be getting closer to it.
Despite its bad reputation, it is considered a guardian of nature and apparently understands the Maya language. But don’t try to talk to it. If you happen to encounter it, the best thing to do is to dance extravagantly to make it laugh uncontrollably and lose its balance, as the deformity of its arms and legs makes it hard for it to stand up, which will give you a chance to escape. Another way to evade it is to jump into a cenote or a lagoon, as the Sinsimito fears water.
The legend’s origin is uncertain, but like all ancient tales, there might be a sort of moral to it. The Sinsimito was a man who turned to sorcery to separate himself from the world, until he became a monster. Thus, its backward feet and wild appearance are a metaphor for its escape from society: it would be regressing to a primitive human stage.
The stories about this being reach as far as Guatemala and Honduras, where it’s known as Sisimite. And of course, it’s impossible not to notice its resemblance to the Californian Sasquatch and the Himalayan Yeti, which could be considered its cousins.
We never found out what frightened my grandfather that night in the woods. Could it have been the Sinsimito or some other unknown being? Who knows, but legends have their origins…
By Alberto Chuc
I like to travel through books and in the real world, activities that I combine whenever I can.
Illustrations by José de Santiago Torices Montero from the book “El Gran Libro de las Leyendas Mayas” by Dante Editorial for use in Yucatán Today.
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