Stories of La Llorona and El Cucuy found in 4,000 year old rock art

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Editor’s correction: Perez is not a graduate from the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Gary Perez, native american studies researcher and recent UTSA graduate, gives a presentation about La Llorona and El Cucuy Sept. 17 in the Victory Center. He addressed colonial contribution to the myths and also spoke on the western commercialization of Native American symbolism. Both El Cucuy and La Llorona have become famous in native american culture as stoires of fear and tragedy while Perez proves the origins of both tales stray far from their modern telling. Noah Alcala Bach

Researcher Gary Perez said it is time for the legends to end.

By Asia Andrews

The discovery of rock art from 4,295 years ago in caves near Comstock was at first seen as an artistic mural that told a story but later determined to be accurate geographic and astronomical records, a researcher said Sept. 18 in the Victory Center.

Gary Perez, a recent graduate of the University of Texas at San Antonio, said that according to the painting and the math, the sunrise in the painting takes place at Twin Buttes in San Angelo at 7:37 a.m. every morning at winter solstice.

Perez, a member of the Native American Church, spoke to about 50 people who attended an event for Raza Heritage Month.

Perez was adopted and later found out that his Native American DNA led back to the region where the rock art was first painted.

He was a professional and scientific diver for 15 years and spent five to six years at SeaWorld helping build its diving department.

He has also submitted an abstract paper to the Society for American Archaeology, and he and his colleagues have been invited to speak at their conference next year.

Perez, along with a team of scientists, partnered with the Witte Museum to decipher the cave paintings.

“I think the primary reason for painting it, it is a permanent record of their geographical, astronomical, mathematical palace,” he said.

The painting itself features a combination of many other rock art paintings coming together into one holistic document of thousands of years of prior observations.

“If that painting was 2,000 years old and it holds geographic imagery, astronomy, and time, then you had to have collected the data previous to those 2,000 years in order to come up with that 4,295 year thing that we’re discussing,” he said.

Perez also pointed out several landmarks and their significance.

For example, Perez identified a landmark in the painting called Dawn Mountain and described the arc of the sun as it emerges from the Underworld, then rises over Dawn Mountain.

“Using the research that we’ve been doing, exploring the caves and all the different places there that we have found geographically and geologically, we’ve learned that that arc may very well be this arc right here in the cave called Kickapoo Caverns,” he said.

Those caverns are the caves used in the book “El Cucuy!” by Joe Hayes.

“Cucuy in his book is associated with a sunset and a cave on a mountain,” he said.

The tale of El Cucuy is that of a father who is cursed to seek out children by hiding in closets after he accidentally killed his own in a fire when he locked them in a closet and forgot about them.

“Six months after the sunrise at Twin Buttes in San Angelo at winter solstice, if you are standing on the other side of the buttes, you’ll see the sunset right down the middle of those buttes perfectly,” he said.

That is the sunset in the story, according to Hayes’ book.

Language is a big factor in the different versions of El Cucuy and La Llorona, the woman who discovered peyote in an enduring legend.

“What I am about to tell you, it doesn’t fit people who are afraid of La Llorona in California or Arizona or in New Mexico. This, what I am going to do, is strictly for this region,” Perez said. “Native culture is not one size fits all: it doesn’t work that way.”


La Llorona found peyote while lost in the desert, after allegedly drowning her three children in a river.

As she was stumbling through the desert, dehydrated and starving, she heard the plants speak to her, instructing her to eat them so she will be better and to take as much as she can back home with her.

The story goes that La Llorona is still alive today.

“After she lay down in the desert, she left an imprint of her face, her profile,” he said.

Her profile matches with the outline of the Nueces River seen in the rock art.

“When I was asked to do this, this holistic presentation, I was kind of nervous about it because I really don’t dwell in the realm of shamanism,” Perez said.

When he was 6 years old, his grandmother introduced him to holistic medicine after a traumatic childhood event.

“Shamanism to me was simply a desperate attempt to predict an unpredictable future once the Spanish arrived in Mexico,” he said.

Throughout his speech, Perez stressed that people should not continue to tell the stories of La Llorona and El Cucuy.

“Sadly, when tragedy like colonialism takes place, they remove your culture heroes and replace them with something that they want you to pay attention to,” he said. “If you continue to tell these stories and frighten your children with it, all you’re doing is spreading the colonialism.”

To schedule a tour of the rock art, contact the Witte Museum at 210-357-1900 or the online website at


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