“That story you’re asking about happened here; almost all of us know it,” says Ismael, a taxi driver from Yaxcabá. “There was a tunnel starting at the house that went very far, all the way to Mérida; that’s where they brought the store’s merchandise from, in mule caravans.” The story our friend is telling is the legend of the Wáay Kot, a tale that combines magic, wonder, and real historical events.
The legend says that in Yaxcabá, back in the mid-19th century, there was a thriving merchant whose store was visited by clients from nearby and distant communities, as he always had everything in stock. Such was the flow of shoppers that the shelves emptied quickly, but they were fully stocked the next day. The weird thing is that no one was ever seen bringing merchandise, which started to make people suspicious.
The locals began to keep an eye on the store. One night, they discovered the secret: in the backyard, they saw a man transforming into a huge bird, and then taking flight with an entourage of doves; soon they were all lost in the darkness. The next morning, the merchandise was lying on the floor. It was the Wáay Kot, the witch bird.
This is where the main part of the legend ends; from here on, there are a number of variants that go in unforeseeable ways. In one, the Wáay Kot would fly to British Honduras for the merchandise; in another, it stole the goods from neighboring towns. In one more, it would attack anyone who mistreated a Maya; in yet another, the merchandise was transported by mules through very long sacbés (Maya roads), or tunnels, as Ismael narrated above. The Wáay Kot’s identity is also uncertain. In some versions, it was the merchant; in others, the son of an employee at the store who was dedicated to witchcraft.
Then there is the – shall we say- true story: the store existed in the building that still stands, known as Casa del Wáay Kot or Casa de las Mil Columnas (House of the Thousand Columns); despite its popularity, it’s closed, and in semi-abandonment. The merchant was also real; his name was Claudio Padilla, and he was a rather remarkable resident of Yaxcabá: the town library is named after him, and his tombstone can be seen in the church. Legend has it that he threw his riches into a cenote to avoid having them looted during the Caste War.
The façades and buildings of the town of Yaxcabá, somewhat off the tourist routes, reveal a prosperous past and foretell a promising future. Some of its most outstanding constructions are the church of San Francisco de Asís (the only one in the region with three towers on its façade), a charming chapel (Ermita) nearby, a cenote next to the municipal palace, the aforementioned Casa del Wáay Kot, an archaeological zone (Yaxunah), and a herbal industry that attracts patients from all over Yucatán (and beyond).
As for the Wáay Kot, the witch bird, we can conclude that he was a respected supernatural being in the community, until one day he disappeared and was never seen again. However, the rumor persists that on the darkest nights, a mysterious wingbeat can be heard flapping above…
Yaxcabá: Carretera libre Mérida – Chichén Itzá, Km 110 (18 km from Libre Unión).
Casa del Wáay Kot: Calle 20 x Calle 21 Diagonal, Yaxcabá.
Biblioteca municipal Claudio Padilla: Palacio Municipal, frente al parque principal. Se pueden consultar libros de historia local y regional, y exhibe piezas mayas encontradas en el pueblo.
Claudio Padilla Local Library: Palacio Municipal, in front of the main park. You can consult books on local and regional history, and it exhibits Maya artifacts found in town.
By Alberto Chuc
I like to travel through books and in the real world, activities that I combine whenever I can.
Photography by Yucatán Today for use in Yucatán Today.
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