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In History: María Lionza from Venezuela

July 30, 2009
Maria Lionza

Maria Lionza

I came across a central figure of a Venezuela indigenous religion (a mix of African and Catholic religions– similar to Santería) called María Lionza, in a fictional book that I just finished that takes place in Venezuela called The Disappearance of Irene Dos Santos (by Margaret Mascarenhas). María Lionza is known as the mestiza goddess of nature, love, peace and harmony. Across all society lines, she has a cult following in Venezuela, including a statue of her in the capital of Caracas.

According to legend, María Lionza was born in 1502 in the region of Yaracuy. Her name is derived from María de la Onza, which means Mary of the Jaguar.  She is also referred to as La Reina (“The Queen”) by some of her followers. There is no record of María’s actual existence, but she is recognized by all governments (dictatorships and democratic), as a patron saint of Venezuela.

The blog Venezuelan Indian says that María Lionza became a cult figure in Venezuelan culture in the late 1940s, where it was “a time when writers and artists were looking back to Venezuela’s indigenous past in response to a spate of archaeological finds from the late 1930s and there was a conscious attempt to link La Reina to this rediscovered past.” The blog also includes a story about María Lionza:

Yara, or María Lionza as she was known afterwards, was an indigenous princess. She was the daughter of Yaracuy, the chief of the Nivar tribe, the granddaughter of Chief Chilua and the great-granddaughter of Chief Yare, all great warriors and leaders.

The birth of María Lionza must have occurred around the year 1535 in the state that today is named after her father.

The shaman of the village had predicted before Yara was born that if a girl was born with strange, watery-green eyes, she would have to sacrificed and offered to the Master of the Waters, the Great Anaconda, because if not it would lead to the ruin and extinction of the Nivar tribe.

However, her father was unable to sacrifice her and so he hid the little girl in a mountain cave, with 22 warriors to watch over her and stop her from leaving.

She was also forbidden from looking at her image reflected in water.

But one day, her guards were mysteriously put to sleep and the beautiful young girl left the cave and walked to a lagoon, where she looked into the water and saw her reflection for the first time.

Captivated by her own image, she was unable to move, but her presence awakened the Master of the Waters, the Great Anaconda, who emerged from the depths, fell in love with the girl, and drew closer to take her away.

When she resisted its advances the anaconda swallowed the girl, but immediately he began to swell up, forcing the water out of the lagoon, flooding the village and drowning the tribe.

Finally, the anaconda burst and María Lionza was set free, becoming the owner of the lagoon, the river and the waters, the protecter of the fish and later of all the plants and animals.

The statue of Maria Lionza in the capital of Caracas by Alejandro Colina which was placed on the Francisco Fajardo Freeway in Caracas in 1953 by the dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez. This statue is showing Maria Lionza in Amazonian battle form, riding a huge tapir, and holding a human pelvis in her hands.

The statue of Maria Lionza in the capital of Caracas by Alejandro Colina which was placed on the Francisco Fajardo Freeway in Caracas in 1953 by the dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez. This statue is showing Maria Lionza in Amazonian battle form, riding a huge tapir, and holding a human pelvis in her hands.

In 2004, the famous statue of María Lionza in Caracas, Venezuela suddenly cracked at the waist, falling backward and leaving the goddess staring into the sky, arms outstretched. It made the international news and had many people superstitious as to what had happened.

Myth, legend, or truth, the figure of María Lionza lives on in Venezuelan folklore as a strong and powerful woman. Below is a video and the lyrics translated in English* of a song about her, called “María Lionza” by Central American musician, Rubén Blades (from Panama).

In the mountains of Sorte in Yaracuy
en Venezuela vive una diosa a living goddess in Venezuela
en la montaña de Sorte por Yaracuy vive una diosa in the mountains of Sorte in Yaracuy living goddess
una noble reina de gran belleza y de gran bondad a noble queen of great beauty and of great kindness
amada por la naturaleza e iluminada de caridad beloved and enlightened by the nature of charity

Y sus paredes son hechas de vientos And its walls are made of wind
y su techo hecho de estrellas and its roof made of stars
la luna, el sol, el cielo y la montaña su compañeros the moon, sun, sky and mountains their peers
los ríos, quebradas y flores su mensajeros rivers, streams and flowers its messengers

O salve reina Maria Lionza Or save queen Maria Lionza
por Venezuela va con su onza y cuidando está Venezuela takes her to Oz and is caring
y va velando a su tierra entera desde el Guajiro hasta Cumaná and will ensure your whole earth from the Guajiro to Cumaná
cuida el destino de los latinos vivir unidos y en libertad cares for the fate of Latinos live together in freedom and

En la montaña de Sorte por Yaracuy In the mountains of Sorte in Yaracuy
en Venezuela! in Venezuela!

Maria Lionza hazme un milagrito y un ramo e flores te vo a llevar Maria Lionza milagrito make me a flower and a branch and bring you to vo
Maria Lionza hazme un milagrito y un ramo e flores te vo a llevar Maria Lionza milagrito make me a flower and a branch and bring you to vo
un ramo e flores, de flores blancas cual la pureza de tu bondad flowers and a bouquet of white flowers which the purity of your kindness

Maria Lionza hazme un milagrito y un ramo e flores te vo a llevar Maria Lionza milagrito make me a flower and a branch and bring you to vo
a toda la gente halla en los cerritos que hay en caracas protégela all the people found in Cerritos that protect them in caracas

Maria Lionza hazme un milagrito y un ramo e flores te vo a llevar Maria Lionza milagrito make me a flower and a branch and bring you to vo
Doña Maria cueste lo que cueste a la autopista del este lo voy a llevar Dona Maria, whatever the cost to the highway from the east I will bring

Maria Lionza hazme un milagrito y un ramo e flores te vo a llevar Maria Lionza milagrito make me a flower and a branch and bring you to vo
y va cuidando a su Venezuela desde el Guajiro hasta Cumaná care of her and goes from Venezuela to Cumaná Guajiro

Maria Lionza hazme un milagrito y un ramo e flores te vo a llevar Maria Lionza milagrito make me a flower and a branch and bring you to vo
Maria Lionza hazme un milagrito y un ramo e flores te vo a llevar Maria Lionza milagrito make me a flower and a branch and bring you to vo
fue por el río Guanaguanare que Coromoto la vio brillar was on the river saw the Coromoto Guanaguanare that shine

Maria Lionza hazme un milagrito y un ramo e flores te vo a llevar Maria Lionza milagrito make me a flower and a branch and bring you to vo
ella es la reina que el pueblo adora ella es la diosa mas popular she is the queen who loves the people she is the goddess most popular

Maria Lionza hazme un milagrito y un ramo e flores te vo a llevar Maria Lionza milagrito make me a flower and a branch and bring you to vo
flores para tu altar Doña Maria te vo a llevar flowers for your altar Dona Maria vo te bring

Maria Lionza hazme un milagrito y un ramo e flores te vo a llevar Maria Lionza milagrito make me a flower and a branch and bring you to vo
con tabaco y aguardiente la ceremonia ya va a empezar with snuff and spirits and the ceremony will begin

Maria Lionza hazme un milagrito y un ramo e flores te vo a llevar Maria Lionza milagrito make me a flower and a branch and bring you to vo
nos despedimos con un saludo de Puerto Rico y de Panamá we bid farewell with a greeting from Puerto Rico and Panama

*This was automatically translated using Google Language Tools—I apologize for any mistakes in the translation.

One Comment
  1. Serenity permalink
    October 15, 2009 9:06 am

    I smell Olmec influence…..

Comments are closed.

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