Venezuela and Colombia have a lot in common – they are neighbors, after all. Colors of their flags, arepas, the Orinoco River, and more. But it’s less known that they also share a ghost: La Leyenda del Silbón, or the Legend of the Whistler.
On the plains (llanos) where Colombia and Venezuela meet, lives a tall, thin man called El Silbón who haunts the night carrying a bag of bones. Not just any bones, but those of his father.
Called El Silbón due to the whistling sound that he makes in warning, the Legend of the Whistler is one of the more gruesome of Latin American myths and legends.
The Legend of the Whistler
Although the reasons for killing the father differ, the most common story begins with the father promising the young man a deer heart to eat. Unfortunately for him, he had no luck in the hunt. The son, spoiled and angry that he didn’t get what he wanted, killed his father in a rage.
Still, he took back his father’s organs to be cooked, but the mother discovered what he had done. His family then whipped him, doused his open wounds with pepper, and set the dog on him.
But his punishment did not end there. As a lost soul, this Colombian and Venezuelan ghost continues to roam the llano. Nightly he stops on the doorsteps of local homes to open his bag and count the bones.
If you hear him counting and don’t stop to listen, you will have bad luck, and someone in your household may even die.
Even his whistling is deceptive: when it sounds close, it’s actually far away. But worse – when it sounds far away, it’s actually right by you.
El Silbón, as the ghost of a young man, appears to miss his drinking days, as he is known to target drunk men on their way back from partying.
He doesn’t just scare the drunks: he grabs them and uses their belly buttons as a straw, sucking out the alcohol in their stomachs. Not a great way to end a night. Not surprisingly, in folklore ghosts that prey on drunk men are common and served as a way to curb this behavior.
Variations in the Myth
As with many myths, there are variations. In Colombian folklore, he can also be called El Silbador. There, some say he is the lost soul of a womanizer who died alone; others claim that instead of drunks, he targets pregnant woman. His whistle can also predict death – if it’s high-pitched, a woman will die, and if it’s low-pitched, a man.
This is one of Venezuela’s most prominent ghost stories. Beyond El Silbón, Venezuela also has El Ánima Sola (the Lonely Soul), who scares people into lighting religious votive candles; La Sayona, a ghostly woman who punishes unfaithful men; and, of course, the La Llorona legend, which is present throughout Latin America.
The Legend of the Whistler is said to date back to the 19th century. Is it based on fact? I sure hope not.