El Silbón of Los Llanos in South America

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El Silbón of Los Llanos in South America

You know what's creepy? Whistling. Maybe I've seen too many movies with a whistling stalker, or perhaps it's just the people I've met throughout my life, but there's a certain quality to the sound itself that, no matter what the tune is, is creepy. I'm not the only one who thinks so, too. In fact, there's an entire legend around it in South America.

An elderly man whistling against the backdrop of a clear blue sky.
Just imagine this man following you from the grocery store in broad daylight, whistling. See? Creepy.

Pronunciation & Spelling

El Silbón. It means "the whistler" in Spanish. The best way to learn how to pronounce a word is to listen to a native speaker say it. Thankfully, one of my go-to websites for this, Forvo.com, has a native speaker (ConchitaCastillo) who has graciously recorded herself saying the word. You can listen to the recording for the pronunciation of El Silbón right here: How to pronounce silbón.

As far as spelling goes, sometimes these sorts of legends are from regions with languages that have multiple Romanizations. This is not the case here, as the Spanish language is a Romance language. It's spelled "El Silbón," and that's the end of it (and the end of you if you ever meet the legend in person.)

El Silbón is also known as El Sin Fin, meaning "The Endless."

The Spanish Language in South America

If you're big into linguistics, you probably know that there are differences between Spanish spoken in South America vs. Spanish spoken in Spain. The Spanish language was first brought to South America in 1492 when Christopher Columbus made landfall in what is now the Bahamas in the Caribbean.

Portrait of the supposed Christopher Columbus.
Posthumous portrait of Columbus by Sebastiano del Piombo, 1519.
No one really knows what Christopher Columbus looked like, by the way. This is purported to be him, though.

Over the next three centuries, the Spanish Empire expanded across the Caribbean Islands, roughly half of South America, and most of Central America and North America. During that time, nearly 2 million Spaniards settled in the Americas. You'd think that would have resulted in a population explosion. However, you'd be wrong. The indigenous population dropped about 90% from disease, forced labor, slavery, and missionization. That's roughly 8 million indigenous people killed due to the "discovery of the New World" by Europeans.

There are over 1,000 known indigenous languages in the Americas, many of which have speakers in the millions (Quechuan languages, Arawak language, Aymara, Guaraní, Mayan languages, and Nahuatl.) Some of them, such as the Mayan, Olmec, Mixtec, Aztec, and Nahua, had their own written languages and records. Unsurprisingly, European colonists tried to obliterate non-Christian beliefs. So they burned most of the pre-Columbian written records and worked their best to stamp out indigenous languages, forcing the Spanish language onto indigenous peoples.

And now you know how the Spanish language came to be in South America. Europeans also brought smallpox, influenza, diphtheria, measles, yellow fever, chickenpox, cholera, Christianity, and the first genocide of the modern era.

Los Llanos Region of South America

South America's diverse climate accommodates all but the pickiest supernatural killing machines. Situated to the east of the Andes Mountains in Colombia and Venezuela, in the northwestern part of South America, is a vast tropical grassland called Los Llanos. Los Llanos simply means "The Plains" in Spanish.

Map showing the Los Llanos region spanning parts of Venezuela and Colombia.
Los Llanos isn't an area you can quickly look up on Google Maps, so here's one for reference.
Map of Los Llanos region by Terpsichores, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

It is in this area, Los Llanos, that you'll find giant anteaters, capybaras, giant armadillos, collared pecary (we have these in Arizona asjavelina), red howler monkeys, pumas, some of the largest jaguars in the world with an average weight of males over 220 pounds (100 kg), ocelots, crocodiles, giant anacondas, and even endangered giant otters.

All of those things can kill you, by the way. Even adult giant anteaters can kill jaguars. In addition to at least dozens of things that can kill humans, putting humans near the middle to bottom of the food chain, there's another creature out in the plains to be terrified of because Los Llanos is also home to El Silbón.

The Legend of El Silbón

An effigy of El Silbón with a story in Spanish of how he came into existence.
El Silbón. The Whistler.

They say he was born in Guanarito and a lost soul because he killed his father to eat his organs and his mother cursed him for his whole life. They say that when he is sitting, his shins still reach above your head. He is known for whistling in the summer when the savanna burns.

The legend of El Silbón begins with a spoiled brat of a boy whose parents catered to his every wish. One day, the boy demanded his father hunt a deer for him so he could eat his favorite meat. The father tried but could not find a deer and returned empty-handed. The boy killed his father, cut out his heart and liver, had his mother (unaware) cook them, and then ate them.

Boys will be boys.

The mother suspects something is off about the meat. She discovers the body of her husband and his missing organs and curses her son for all eternity. Having learned what happened, the boy's grandfather ordered that the boy be tied to a post and lashed. The grandfather condemned the boy to forever carry the bones of his father. The boy's wounds were cleaned with alcohol, and he was released, along with two rabid dogs who hunted him down. The dogs killed him, and the boy became a malevolent ghost known as El Silbón.

El Silbón sometimes sits in trees, lying in wait for passersby. Local legend says the boy is a giant now; some say as tall as 6 meters (20 feet.) He carries a sack with him, his father's bones, through the forest and plains. On rainy days, he hungers for vengeance and attacks those traveling alone, ripping their bones from their flesh and stashing them in his sack along with his father's remains. He has a characteristic whistle; if you hear it nearby, there is no danger, but if you hear the whistle far away, he is close, foretelling your death. It is said that the boy, because he was killed by rabid dogs, is afraid of the sound of a bark, and it's the only thing that can save you when you hear his whistle.

Variations on the Legend of El Silbón

The variations of the story of El Silbón center mostly around how the boy died. One version says the father discovered the boy with a prostitute, and the father killed her, then the son killed the father in revenge. Other versions claim that the father seduced or assaulted his daughter-in-law, and his son killed him for revenge. In yet other versions, the father murdered his daughter-in-law because she was promiscuous.

No matter the version, the stories converge on the grandfather cursing the son forever, torturing the boy with a whip, washing his wounds with alcohol (some versions say lemon juice and chili peppers), and releasing him to be hunted down by hungry, rabid dogs. Locals believe El Silbón prefers killing womanizers, cheaters, and drunks—but he will also kill innocents.

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