El Silbón: The Deadly Whistler of the Grasslands

The “Terror of the Plain,” this emaciated, whistling devil is cursed to wander the South American countryside carrying the bones of his victims. Intimately tied to the cattle ranching history of Latin America, the myth of El Silbón remains an active albeit terrifying part of folklore. Featuring film director Juan Fernández Gebauer, this episode looks at why a murderous ghost became a symbol of Lla

AIRED: July 21, 2021 | 0:09:56

- A towering thin creature stalks the countryside

of the Llanos region in South America

carrying the bones of his victims in a sack

whistling all the way.

(shocking sound effect)

Vengeful and full of murderous intent,

if you hear his whistle, it's probably already too late.

This terror of the plane is El Silbon, or The Whistler.

And just wait until you hear why this one time human

became the monster he is now.

If you are unfortunate enough to see El Silbon,

you'll be looking at an emaciated figure

more than three meters tall with elongated limbs

and with an old sack slung over his back.

Also known as El Sin Fin, The Endless,

he's a malevolent ghost with a very real physical presence.

The result of being cursed by his grandfather

for killing his own father.

He roams the plains of the Los Llanos region,

a large area of tropical grasslands

bordered by the Andes in the north and west,

and the Amazon rainforest in the south.

Knowing that El Silbon is so connected to that landscape,

I wanted to learn more about this South American boogeyman

from someone who had actually been to the land he haunts.

So I contacted Argentinian film director

and monster enthusiast, Juan Fernandez Gebauer,

who worked on "Fantasmagorias."

A beautifully and eerily illustrated series

about the myths and legends of Latin America.

Hi, thank you so much for taking the time

to speak with me, Juan.

- Hello, Doc.

It's a pleasure to be in your show.

I really like the concept.

- Thank you.

So what do you know about this monster?

I know you spent some time traveling in Colombia.

- El Silbon is a kind of ghost or specter from the area,

and he's the sullen pain of a young man

who murdered his father.

Cursed by this action, he wanders the plains

carrying his father's bones in a sack

and throwing this gloomy whistles into the air,

which is where his name comes from.

There is a phrase I like a lot that is,

each era vomits the monsters it needs.

Since the first time I heard the legend of The Silbon,

many, many more times, and each narrator

adapts it a little bit to what they need.

They are those who say that it was rude spoiled boy.

He's supposed to have killed his father

because he wanted to eat deer,

but his father wasn't able to hunt it.

So the boy killed him.

The version I heard says that the father

has discovered the boy with a woman.

The family didn't like prostitute.

Very angry, the father killed her.

The son, who was madly in love,

killed his father in revenge.

- So the reasons why El Silbon

is reported to have killed his father vary

to benefit the period and the storyteller.

I've also read versions where El Silbon's father

seduced or assaulted his daughter-in-law,

triggering his son's homicidal rage.

And in other stories, the young man's father

murdered his wife not because she was a prostitute,

but because she was rumored to be promiscuous.

Regardless of why the young man killed his father,

all of the stories end one way.

- Everyone agrees that after seeing the killing,

the grandfather of the boy cursed him forever

and he tortured him with a whip

and then cleaned his wounds with (speaks foreign language).

Then he released him to hungry rabid dogs.

Since then, El Silbon has been roaming the roads

and carrying his father's remains in this sack.

And murdering drunk people, party-goers,

womanizers and whistling always his melody.

- El Silbon doesn't just wander around aimlessly.

He hunts for womanizers and cheaters,

perhaps because of the role his murderous father

and the woman he loved played in his fate.

And he also looks for drunks,

which might be because of the alcohol

his grandfather drenched his wounds with before his death.

But no one is safe.

The occasional innocent victim may fall into his path.

You won't always hear the rattling of his victims bones

from his sack as he approaches,

but you'll always hear the rise and fall

of his haunting whistle.

In this Venezuelan story,

we learn just how cruel El Silbon can be.

One night, a rancher was hosting a party.

A man planned on going but his friends warned him

it was dangerous to walk through the plains alone

on a dark night like this one.

But the man insisted he could protect himself

and set off for the celebration on his horse.

The horse ran fast, but upon crossing the stream,

it stopped abruptly.

The man heard a whistled scale in the distance

as he tried to calm his horse.

The whistling was getting closer.

The horse spooked and threw the man off.

Suddenly, the whistling faded

as if the whistler were going away.

But when the man turned, he saw a figure

with painfully thin elongated limbs so tall

he could not see its face.

The figure hit the man with a stick.

And even with his machete,

the man could not reach the creature to defend himself.

The monster beat the man to the ground

and walked away laughing.

The man managed to find his horse

and endured a painful ride to the party.

Those celebrating asked what had happened

and when he told them, they all crossed themselves.

The owner of the ranch told him he had come upon El Silbon,

and he was a lucky one.

Most of El Silbon's victims do not survive.

El Silbon clearly likes to toy with his prey.

There's that unusual and creepy characteristic

of his whistle.

When you hear it close by, that's a sign

you are actually safe.

The further away the whistle sounds,

the closer to you El Silbon really is.

He is particularly violent with drunks.

Sucking out the alcohol from a hole in their stomachs

before removing their bones

from the same opening he drank from.

And taking the bones is the worst part.

Without them, his victims cannot rest peacefully in death

as they become part of El Silbon's doomed existence.

If you hear El Silbon outside your door at night

and fail to do anything to drive him away,

or if you don't stop to listen to his whistling,

a member of your household will die.

A sure-fire way to drive away his lost soul is with a dog

since he hates the animals that tore him apart.

This is such a unique and interesting monster.

What possibly do you think could have inspired it?

- What I found out with elderly people from the area

is that the legend of El Silbon one is probably based

in a person called Joaquin Flores,

who probably committed a crime

similar to this one around 1850.

And since an event of this nature is rare,

the people took more advantage of the murder

and this story echoed so that similar events

wouldn't happen again.

- Originally, the land of the Llanos

was populated by nomadic indigenous groups like the Guahibo.

By the 19th century, when tales of El Silbon took root,

many of the lands occupants were cattle ranchers.

Livestock was introduced to the Llanos region

by the Spanish colonizers in 1548.

And the cattle population rose to an estimated 4.5 million

by the beginning of the 19th century.

This likely explains El Silbon's distinctive hat.

The style commonly worn by ranchers of the region.

As the cattle population boomed,

tensions rose against the Spanish occupiers

in the Llanos region and surrounding areas.

The llaneros, a name that appears during this century

to refer to all people who worked the ranches,

joined the revolutionary forces of Simon Bolivar in 1818.

As skilled horsemen and fighters,

they helped deal the crucial blow to the Spanish crown

in the battle of Boyaca.

Following the deaths in the Venezuelan War of Independence

and the continued war time devastation

to crops and livestock, by 1823,

only 256,000 cattle remained.

So monumental changes occurred when the Spanish

introduced cattle to the Llanos,

and when the ranchers of those cattle

contributed to the independence of the area

from Spanish rule.

This complex history is reflected in the appearance

of the region's most famous monster, El Silbon.

And the legend and impact continues.

Since 1974, an annual Venezuelan music festival

celebrates El Silbon and Llanero folklore.

He has a statue and a Venezuelan theme park,

his own horror movies,

and was even referenced in a 2003 speech

by former Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez

El Silbon has left his impact on popular culture,

but that doesn't mean this monster

has lost his influence in the Llanos.

- Even young people who sometimes laugh about it

or makes jokes about the appearance of El Silbon,

when you ask them seriously, they say they fear him.

That they can hear this whistle at night in the town.

I believe the thing, the legends,

and the tradition of our culture

is a way to preserve an identity.

I think it's important to understand what's cursed us,

why it's in the shadow, what it's (indistinct).

- Today the myth of El Silbon is an active part

of the folklore of the Llanos.

Continuing a tradition hundreds of years old.


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