If you have been coming to Cancun for many years, you may have heard local people saying “it must have been the alux” when they cannot find something. They are joking but you may have wondered what an alux is and what on earth it has to do with a missing pen, spilled milk, an upturned chair and so on! Well, you are about to find out. Ireland has leprechauns, Cornwall has pixies and the Yucatán has its own spirits of legend and lore, they are the aluxes, the mischievous nocturnal guardians of the milpas or corn fields.
In Mayan folklore, aluxes are variously described as child-like figures dressed in white or as little men with cigars, guns and a dog at their heel. They look after a farmer’s land and play pranks on those who try and steal the harvest. They reputedly tip sleeping thieves out of their hammocks to wake them up, throw stones at them, make them lose their way and sometimes even catch a fever.
In return for their protection, the farmer must make offerings to appease them and when land changes hands, the new owner must organize a ceremony conducted by a Mayan hmen or priest, during which he introduces himself to the spirits and asks them to watch over his crops.
The Maya believe that if you hear rustling in the bushes at night, suddenly trip up or realize that you have lost something –cigarettes often go missing – you may have had a close encounter with an alux. They say that the sounds of shots and dogs barking in the distance, as faint as if it were coming from underground is also a sign that the aluxes are out hunting.
Archaeologists have unearthed clay figurines at area archaeological sites that they believe may be linked to the mythology of the alux. Mayan folk tales also tell of priests who could bring the clay aluxes to life by burning copal incense in one of the figurines for nine days and nine nights without rest.
The House of the Alux
As you take the road from Cancún airport towards town, you may have noticed a tiny stone temple under the bridge to your right. The story goes that in the early days of Cancún, engineers had to build the bridge several times because it kept mysteriously collapsing. One day, a construction worker remarked that the alux watching over the plot of land was angry and that the engineers should consult a Mayan priest or hmen.
The hmen agreed to perform a ceremony to appease the capricious spirit and said that if the engineers really wanted to get on the right side of the alux, they should build him a house. The house was duly built and presumably the alux was happy because the bridge building went smoothly after that.
A true Cancún pioneer story or urban legend, it shows that ancient beliefs endure in the Yucatán Peninsula.