When one thinks of faerie beings – fairies, goblins, and the like – it is easy to relate them to Celtic myths, or to imagine what they have looked like since Victorian times in late 19th century England. We always imagine them as mischievous, sometimes cruel entities, who are not really interested in working with humans. There are very similar underground creatures in the Trujillo state, here in Venezuela. It is said that the momoyes (“mo-mo-yes,” the plural form) lived on the surface when the mountains did not exist. When the mountains appeared, the momoyes decided to live underground, but they did not separate themselves from the world that was their home for that reason.
According to legends, momoyes are elf-like creatures that have inhabited the Andean area since pre-Columbian times, especially in the Boconó Municipality. They live mainly in lakes and rivers. They are also known as mamóes, mumúes, or water spirits. They are usually described as foot-and-a-half tall little men (there are not many references to women) with long beards, straw hats, and indigenous clothing, along with ornaments made of feathers, leaves, flowers, and walking sticks.
As for character, many claim they are mischievous and friendly, but they take great care of the environment and retaliate against those who leave waste, pollute, destroy the nature in their path, or take something without asking their permission. There are stories of a momoy (“mo-mo-ee,” the singular form) who threw a can back at its owner when he left it in a lagoon. Another lives in the Páramo de la Culata, in the state of Mérida, who hits campers, especially if they do not respect nature. One is even said to have caused heavy rains in April and May of 2011 when he was captured until he was released, although many claim it is impossible to capture one of these creatures.
They are moderately similar to the faerie beings of Celtic folklore, as they like to hide things and play pranks on travelers, enjoy whistling, singing, and dancing, and they have been known to take away black-haired women. It is known that there are some “médicos,” witches who have won their favor and alliance, and these are the only ones capable of undoing their spells when they hex or punish someone. They are also proud, for they disappear if humans ignore their signals, unable to bear being overlooked.
To be honest, I had no idea about these friends of men. They appear to be powerful allies of Pagan Witches, but they also carry with them an important lesson about the duality of nature, especially water, an element to which they are so closely related. Perhaps we can even say that they are the elementals of water in the Venezuelan context – something I will keep in mind when drawing the circle this summer solstice.
It’s easy to imagine the guardians of nature as benevolent, friendly and generous beings, eager to work with humans, perhaps because we do not believe ourselves capable of dealing with the consequences of our actions, or perhaps because of simple laziness, believing that it is not our responsibility. However, momoyes show us that we would be wrong in both cases.
Although friendly, these guardians do not hesitate to defend their territory, defend what is rightfully theirs, and demand their sovereignty to be respected. The Andes are their land and they are the first to defend it, to teach humans that they are not just little men with tender faces. Just like water, momoyes are volatile and can change in a second depending on our actions.
Many times we have allowed ourselves to be invaded, altered, violated, and manipulated by others, becoming an object, a thing, ready to fulfill others’ whims. It’s easy to bow one’s head and nod, agreeing with the oppressor, when many times it takes a storm to do justice. Many have rocked the world, but for the first time in a long while there’s a fair cause involved.
Amid racism, homophobia, discrimination and hatred in all its forms, many have risen up. We can say that the momoyes of the planet have arisen, that their spirit is making itself felt, and like a brave tide they make their desire be heard: justice. I am a faithful believer that water is the healing element par excellence. Everything it nourishes, cures, and cleanses, but the ocean is not always calm, it is not always peaceful. Sometimes it takes a tidal wave to kill weeds, and I think we are witnessing it.
I was in Trujillo and Mérida years ago, and I have always felt an atmosphere of peace and tranquility. Had I known the legend before, I would have interacted with these guardians, but I know that this mystical air that’s breathed throughout the Andean territory is their work. Although fierce when they should be, and if I’m correct, the momoyes are calm and want mortals to fall in love with nature as much as they do, and not only with outer nature, but with ours, our inner nature.