Of the spirits which haunt the mountains and valleys of Alta Verapaz, there are none quite so odd as Laj K’ek (the black ones). These malignant imps are half human and half bovine: they are black, about two feet tall, and have the hooves and haunches of cattle, but the torsos and faces of men. They wail in the nighttime, or jump out suddenly at the unwary traveler and scare him to death.
Practically all rural K’ekchi Mayans believe firmly in the existence of Laj K’ek, and most of them know a story of someone who has actually encountered it. It appears most frequently to drunks and children; but there are even North American missionaries who claim to have had run-ins with Laj K’ek.
It is assumed by K’ekchis that owners of cattle – particularly non-K’ekchi owners of cattle – fornicate with their cows as a matter of course; and that the issue of these unnatural unions are born nine months later as Laj K’ek. If the “father” of the imp is alert and is present to grab Laj K’ek the moment it is born, he can imprison it in his house and train it for use in divination or for taking vengeance upon his enemies. However if the “father” isn’t present at the birth, then Laj K’ek runs wild and haunts the woodlands and cornfields at night.
Ladinos in Alta Verapaz explain that the legend of Laj K’ek – which contains such obviously post-conquest motifs as cows and the appearance of Negroes – was invented by the early Spanish planters to impress the K’ekchis with their putative supernatural powers in possessing cattle and having Negro slaves to do their bidding, to discourage thievery.
Whatever the origins of the legend of Laj K’ek, it is a living reality to the K’ekchis. To this day, whenever a chicken is stolen, or money is lost, or infidelity is suspected, the victim will apply to the nearest non-K’ekchi cattle owner and confidentially ask to borrow his “little animal” to divine for the information he wants. And if the non-Indian denies that he has such an animal, the K’ekchi is just more convinced than ever that Laj K’ek exists and its “father” is lying about it.
And to this day, non-Indian owners of cattle are relatively safe from thieves; because who would dare to steal from the father of Laj K’ek?.
Bob Makransky’s Astrology Corner © 2001