Should you find yourself near Santa Marta, Colombia, in December, you might encounter a most unusual festival. This celebration features horse parades and rides, an accordion music contest, workshops, sport events and…
a best alligator man contest.
Yes, a best alligator man contest.
In fact, once inside the town of Plato, you won’t have to look hard to find Alligator Man Park, which contains statues dedicated to – you might have guessed it – the Alligator Man, known locally as El Hombre Caimán.
How popular is the Alligator Man?
Well, he’s got his own song (see below), not to mention his own park, festival, statues and costume contests.
So, who is this half man, half gator?
Well, that depends on who you ask. There’s a romantic version, and a slightly more ribald version.
Here’s the naughty one:
Once upon a time, there was a fisherman who enjoyed nothing more than watching the local ladies go swimming in the Magdalena River.
Not surprisingly, the women were not too fond of his amorous gazes; there was nothing subtle about the way he devoured them with his eyes…
Repulsed by his lecherous stares, they would yell at him when they spotted him lurking in the reeds.
That did nothing to deter our lusty hero. However, he needed a disguise, so he could get closer…
Now, understand this: this was a time when Colombia, like the rest of the Caribbean, was filled with magic. Combining the influences of West African religion, indigenous practices and Catholic trappings, new forms of faith and magic blossomed across the region.
The fisherman didn’t have to travel too far to find a Brujo, a witch.
The Brujo gave the fisherman two potions – a red one that would transform him into an alligator, and a white one that would transform him back into a man.
What could possibly go wrong?
According to plan, the fisherman would go down to the riverbank, where the Brujo waited with the potions. After being anointed with the red potion, he would go swimming in alligator form and feast his eyes on the naked women, who were apparently less troubled by reptiles than horny fishermen.
Oddly enough, these acts of animalistic voyeurism were also enough to sate the fisherman’s sexual appetite, since he never did anything to physically violate the women; he was content to watch.
When he had finished with his viewing pleasures, he would return to the riverbank, and the Brujo would apply the white potion.
One day, however, the Brujo had to leave in a hurry. He gave the task of transforming the fisherman back into human form to a friend.
That poor soul was expecting the fisherman, not an alligator. In shock, he dropped the vial, spilling its contents in the process. The white elixir was swallowed up by the marshes, all save one drop.
One drop, which splattered on the alligator’s head…
Transforming his upper torso back into human form, leaving everything else in the shape of an alligator.
Thus, was born El Hombre Caimán, the Alligator Man.
Now, one would think that the Brujo could fix this situation, but unfortunately, whatever business called him away literally called him away. The fisherman’s mother went looking for the magician, only to find that he had died, leaving her son in his miserable state.
Not even the girls of the Magdalena River could bear the site of the monstrous Alligator Man; they stopped bathing in the Magdalena, leaving him despondent.
His mother, his only remaining friend, tried to cheer him up by bringing him his favorite foods: cheese, yucca, and rum soaked bread. But alas, alligator man shall not live by bread alone. In time, his mother passed away, and having no reason to go on, El Hombre Caimán cast himself onto the waters to be washed out to sea.
Did he make it? Not quite, according to the fishermen at the mouth of the Magdalena, on the Caribbean, which is where the city of Plato is situated. They still keep watch for El Hombre Caimán, swimming around the marshy waters, keeping his eyes out for the ladies.
And to this day, once a year, they celebrate this tragic creature by throwing a fiesta for him on the Feast Day of St. Sebastian.
Now, there is a more benign version of this story, one which ends just as tragically; it’s a story of forbidden love, and the lengths people will go to pursue it.
It’s a downer.
If I’m going to party in the name of the Alligator Man, I want cheese, yucca and rum soaked bread, not tear soaked rice (if you find the other version, the rice bit will make sense).
So what’s the takeaway, the moral of our story? Is it a cautionary tale of about voyeurism, one that might be apropos in the age of Internet Pornography?
Naw, that’s too obvious. Maybe all we need to know is: There goes the alligator… (Se Va El Caimán!)