Also available in Spanish.
Ten years ago, when I was in high school, my uncles from France and Syria came to Venezuela. My father had gone almost 40 years without seeing his brothers, and there were days of trips, stories, anecdotes and more trips. In the midst of everything we talked about during a trip to the Andes, one of the many sites we discovered together, I heard the legend of La Loca, or “the madwoman,” Luz Caraballo.
According to the version I heard, this story was of a woman with an unbalanced mind who lost her children lived during the times of Simón Bolívar, between 1810 and 1823, precisely in the region where my family and I visited. She lived near the forests and knew them better than anyone, to the point that she could help anyone who wanted to cross without getting lost. If I remember correctly, she helped Bolívar himself, and when his enemies, the Spaniards, wanted to find him, she led them the other way. She didn’t find rest when she died, however, so it’s said she appears in the region.
In looking for more about the legend, I learned that Luz Caraballo is the protagonist of Palabreo de la loca Luz Caraballo (“The Word of the Madwoman Luz Caraballo,” only in Spanish), a poem by Venezuelan author Andrés Eloy Blanco. It was included in his book “La juanbimbada,” published in 1959. This poem tells that Caraballo was a country woman with five children: a daughter who ended up in a seraglio, that is, a brothel; two sons who died; and two more who went after a man on horseback, after which she never saw them again. The latter has been interpreted as a conscription by the army.
These circumstances could certainly have driven many mad – especially women, since Venezuela has always been a macho country in many ways, and mental health is not taken seriously in any sense. If something in this story is true, it is easy for me to imagine that a woman could have lost her sanity and, while seeking help, wasn’t taken seriously. It’s not a very encouraging outlook, if I think about it – gloomy, even.
Eloy Blanco’s poem became so popular, along with the figure of Luz Caraballo, that there’s a monument for her in Apartaderos, a town in the state of Mérida in the Andean region, installed in 1967 by the sculptor Manuel de la Fuente, who ironically was Spanish. On the monument itself there’s a bronze plaque that contains the verses along with the image of the author.
We have all heard stories about people staying on this physical plane for different reasons. Sometimes it is due to violent deaths, trauma, or, as in the case of Loca Luz Caraballo, being attached to a specific place. I grew up seeing cases of abandoned and haunted houses on television, and there was almost always the case of a previous owner of the property who refused to leave the place even after death.
What was unusual was to find spirits that were linked or trapped in a natural place, so much so that I find it difficult to remember another besides Luz Caraballo. One would think that nature could give peace to the deceased, that it would purify any feelings or experiences that could tie them to the earthly world. It’s not always the case, though, at least not that of this woman, although she doesn’t seem to be an entity that wishes to harm others.
Alvio Alfonso Briceño wrote a book, Mi abuela la loca Luz Caraballo, in which he claims to be the grandson of Luz Caraballo. In the text, he shares some of her historical information, among which is her real name, María Blasa Rivas, born in 1885 in the town of Jajó, Trujillo state. According to Briceño, Rivas only had two children, a boy and a girl, who didn’t want to talk any more about their mother, to the point that the author himself only found out about the relationship in 2004, the year in which he published the book.
Briceño says that the reason for his grandmother’s mad walks is unknown, but she would get lost in the Andes and the townsfolk would help her return. At age 42, in 1927, she left her home for the last time, and was never seen again, dead or alive, no matter how much they searched for her. As a result of this, it began to be said that she became a lost soul, and many began to see her as a miraculous spirit to whom they would leave candles and flowers and ask for favors.
She could well have been a new popular saint, although, unlike José Gregorio Hernández, Luz Caraballo was a common woman, not someone famous or credited with a wide-scale impact. However, anyone could see associations and correspondences in the story of María Blasa Rivas, especially in the version I heard in 2010. If she’s a spirit of the roads, someone who knows how to move through the Andes, and if she really has granted favors to those who asked, it wouldn’t be surprising if we are faced with a nascent belief.
For those interested in establishing a relationship with a spirit that little is known about, partnering is fairly easy. You just have to carefully read the available material and let the ideas emerge. However, as Briceño’s book seems to be discontinued and I have not found a digital copy, I will limit myself to the poem by Eloy Blanco and what I have been able to read about María Blasa Rivas.
What kind of associations can someone like Loca Luz Caraballo have? The connection with travel and movement is undeniable, so I could ask for help in case of being lost, physically and metaphorically. She is someone who understands pain and loss, so she could help with healing and emotional catharsis, maybe even with traumatic situations. The love for her family would make her a guardian of the home, motherhood and children.
Reading her story, I feel like she was someone who had happiness despite everything, someone who kept going no matter what happened; she gives me the impression that she’s one of those comic grannies who seek to lighten the atmosphere and make everyone smile, because they know first-hand what pain is. Sense of direction, healing, family, motherhood, childhood, joy, and motivation seem to be elements that many need in these times.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro declared a nationwide quarantine in March this year, and each state has taken action in this regard. Since then, in the state of Zulia we cannot leave after 3:00 PM, something that changed recently so that supermarkets and some establishments could be open until 5:00 PM. However, being away from my family has been difficult, because the bridge we have to cross is closed at midday.
I grew up with almost 20 cousins from my maternal family, of which I am the third oldest, and three from my father’s. Besides that, I have had a lot of difficulties to continue doing what I like, but I have managed to find my way no matter what others say, just as Luz Caraballo did. Who knows? Maybe I can visit her monument one of these days, understanding a little better what it is to feel lost and misunderstood – not that I needed such an experience, that is.