Thursday, December 27, 2012

Zozobra’s not the only big doll we burn: Meet El Kookooee


Official Logo of elkookooee.org
Back in August, one of my first blog posts described the burning of a fifty-foot marionette called Zozobra or Old Man Gloom in Santa Fe. It turns out that’s not the only big doll we burn in New Mexico.

Leslie Linthicum’s UpFront column in the Albuquerque Journal on October 28 reminded me of our similar treatment of El Kookooee. This fellow’s an out-and-out boogeyman, designed to frighten children (and some adults?) into behaving, whereas Zozobra simply burns up our troubles and problems of the last year.

El Kookooee has existed for centuries in the Latin American cultures, known variously as El Cucui, El Coco, Cocoman…and El Koo-koo-ee. In 1989 or 1990 (reports differ), famed New Mexico author, Rudolfo Anaya, proposed to a group of Chicano artists in Albuquerque that they construct a figure of the boogeyman and burn him at dusk as a way of doing away with both personal and communal fears.

Since that time, the Festival de Otoño (the Autumn Festival) in Albuquerque’s south valley ends with the symbolic burning of this “bulto of fears.” The first effigy of wood, paper, and metal was sixteen feet tall. He’s grown to around thirty feet, but remains a static figure (unlike Zozobra, which is animated).

Ms. Linthicum’s article (which I recommend you read) describes this year’s conflagration of El Kookooee. She points out that Zozobra is a “relatively modern martyr sacrificed to exorcise our collective worry and gloom.” El Cucui, in one incarnation or the other, is a much older phenomenon used to keep mischievous children in line.

Photo Credit: Alibi.com
There is one other major difference between the burnings of Zozobra and Kookooee: The auto-de-fé kicking off the Santa Fe Fiesta the first Thursday after Labor Day in Fort Marcy Park is a highly commercialized, tightly controlled, pay-per-view extravaganza, while El Coco’s death this past October 28 in Bravo State Park off Isleta Boulevard SW in Albuquerque was free and open to the public with the atmosphere of a neighborhood celebration. Take your pick.

Next Week: How men fold fitted sheets

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1 comment:

  1. Nice post, Don. I wasn't aware of El-koo-koo-ee. I'll have to check him out next year. Here's a link to Leslie Linthicum's article: http://www.abqjournal.com/main/2012/10/28/upfront/fear-not-el-kookooee.html.

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