The world of strange sightings and encounters can cover some vast territory, ranging from ghosts, to aliens, to fantastical creatures of all shapes and sizes. Yet among these there is one category that seems to hold its own unique brand of bizarreness and which really seems hard to adequately categorize; that of goblins, trolls, gnomes, and other beings taken straight out of a fairy tale. Reports such as these take this label of things such as gnomes quite literally, with descriptions of diminutive beings complete with little lederhosen clothing, beards, and wide brimmed pointed hats. There is a surprisingly large number of such encounters out there, and one region of the world where they seem to be particularly abundant is Central and South America, where not only do gnome sightings come in at a regular pace, but also tend to be rather frightening.
While the idea that there might actually be little gnomes complete with tall hats running around out there in the world might seem insane, such legends come to us from many regions of the world, and one area of our planet that takes such stories very seriously is Central and South America, where they are known as the Duendes, which are prominent in the folklore of Spain, Portugal, Mexico, Central and South America, and many Spanish speaking regions. In lore, these forest dwelling creatures are typically described as standing anywhere from around 18 inches up to 2 or 3 feet in height, and are most commonly depicted as wearing wide brimmed pointy hats and cloaked in animal skins. Some traditions describe them as having no thumbs, and they are often attributed with magical powers such as shape changing and invisibility. The stories of Duendes vary from region to region, but they are mostly said to be mischievous tricksters with a tendency to steal from people or play pranks, and they particularly enjoy tormenting young children, although they do apparently sometimes show a more benevolent side by helping travelers lost in the woods.
Although not traditionally said to be particularly evil per se, they are definitely seen as troublemakers, and it is typically not considered to be good luck to run into one. It is all interesting myth and folklore, but surely such creatures are purely the stuff of fairy tales and stories to keep children from misbehaving, right? After all, it would be absurd to think that such things actually exist. However, there have long been reports of encounters with these entities and people who insist that these curious creatures are not merely the stuff of legend, but quite real, and also, if these eyewitnesses are to be believed quite sinister as well. Stories of the Duendes terrorizing villagers and even killing pets and livestock abound, and these sorts of accounts have continued right up into modern times.
One of the most well-known Duende sightings by far happened in 2008 in the town of General Guemes, in the province of Salta, Argentina, a country steeped in stories of the creatures. The sighting was made by a group of teenagers who were hanging out one evening after a fishing trip when they saw a tiny man dressed in a wide, pointed hat emerge from the dark to do a strange sideways shuffle across the road. One of the teenagers, a Jose Alvarez, actually managed to capture the strange being on his cellphone camera, and said of the bizarre encounter:
We were chatting about our last fishing trip. It was one in the morning. I began to film a bit with my mobile phone while the others were chatting and joking. Suddenly we heard something — a weird noise as if someone was throwing stones.We looked to one side and saw that the grass was moving. To begin with, we thought it was a dog, but when we saw this gnome-like figure begin to emerge we were really afraid. This is no joke. We are still afraid to go out, just like everyone in the neighborhood is now. One of my friends was so scared after seeing that thing that we had to take him to the hospital.
The short video clip certainly shows a rather unsettling and creepy gnome-looking being doing a strange sideways walk, but it is very short and not particularly clear, leading many to say that it is likely a hoax. Other speculation has been that it is an actual human with dwarfism playing a prank on the boys or even that it is a genuine Duende. The odd sighting came amongst some other sightings of the creatures in the area at around the same time, and there have been commenters on various paranormal sites who have analyzed the video and come to the conclusion that whatever it is is not CGI. You can see the footage here and see what you think.
Interestingly, Argentina has been the source of quite a few rather frightening encounters with evil gnomes. In 2011 the area of Suncho Corral, Argentina experienced a wave of sightings and encounters with a Duende that seems by all accounts to have been quite malevolent. The creature in question was said to have the typical big, pointy hat, as well as large, elfin ears, and was blamed for a series of at least a dozen vicious, unprovoked attacks on children and the elderly walking alone at night, which the entity purportedly shoved, kicked, and punched. In some cases it was reported that the mystery creature actually knocked kids off of their bicycles, and some people were reportedly beaten into unconsciousness by the fierce gnome. The police were allegedly flooded by so many complaints from terrified residents that they actually declared a state of emergency and implored people not to go out at night.
Also from Argentina comes a spooky account from a family in the town of Santa Fe in 2011. The couple noticed that their young son Benjamin had begun to behave strangely, with the toddler often seen playing and talking to himself at nap time as if with an imaginary friend. One day in January of 2011, the child’s mother, Silvia, noticed Benjamin acting weirdly in the hallway and talking to himself as if someone were there. Silvia claimed that she had decided to videotape the behavior out of curiosity, and that was when something very bizarre reportedly happened. She noticed a shadowy, skinny humanoid creature with grey skin run across the room behind the boy as if trying to avoid being detected as she filmed.
Silvia claimed that whatever it was exuded an unbearable stench and produced some sort of electrical interference with the camera, which can actually be seen in the footage. Besides this startling encounter, the family claimed that there seemed to be more than one of the creatures inhabiting their home, and that their son continued to frequently play and talk with them for several years after the video was taken, with Silvia saying:
They don’t appear to be hostile, but the stench is unbearable and they emit a bloodcurdling scream at night.
The footage, which you can see here, finally came to light in 2014, when the family claimed that they were tired of keeping their experience a secret and wanted outside opinions on what they had captured on video. Of course debate immediately ensued as to what it showed, and although the figure is quite clear there have been many who have found signs that point to it as perhaps being a hoax, such as the fact that its shadow seems unnaturally distinct, even when a table leg it passes casts a fainter shadow, and that it does not move as would be expected of a small creature of that kind. One commenter on the footage named James Nelson has analyzed it and given his opinion of the footage thus:
The shadow of the creature is a single, strong, distinct shadow that remains clear and distinct even as the shadow comes close to the table leg, which has no discernible shadow at all. Plus, it looks like CG motion, not natural motion: Small, light creatures don’t move like that – its just the physics of the situation (mass/weight increases with the cube of the height). It’s running with the gate of a full-sized human.
One of the most bizarre cases of all in recent years of Duendes is a 2016 account from Nicaragua in which a woman made the incredibly odd and dramatic claim that she was kidnapped by the creatures and kept captive for 5 days and 6 nights. The woman, known only as Jasmina, claims that she was out playing near her home in Monte Oscuro, Nicaragua, when a group of the menacing little entities appeared and lured her up a hill, where they abducted her and put her in the cave. According to the report, her family sought advice from a local witch and were finally able to locate her. The original report says that 15 years earlier another girl had been kinapped by the creatures and held captive in the very same cave. Apparently these gnomes or goblins are a serious problem in the area, with one local saying:
Currently there are many of these creatures living in San Silvestre and in Peor Dicho, in Monte Oscuro and in La Gualapa. There are a lot that live in San Silvestre and around it, they stay away from the church and they also exist in other areas nearby. In San Jose they live in another hill there, and they communicate from hill to hill.
Another country that has had a good number of reports of mysterious gnome-like creatures is Mexico, where Duende lore is also quite prominent. One such account was given by a Jazmin R., who recounted an encounter that her mother had had in Michoacan, Mexico. According to the report, the mother and a friend had decided to sneak into a large abandoned house at the corner of a street, and she describes what happened next as follows:
They opened the door an while she was telling me this story, she had goosebumps all over her arms. As they were walking around, they hear a noise and instantly turn. They see a small little human about half a foot in height. They screamed and it startled the little creature, so the creature screamed as well. She said that it had a high pitched scream just like one of Santa’s elf’s would be, but just scarier. It started running really fast around the whole room. They’re eyes followed the Gnome as it made at least three laps around the room until they didn’t see it anymore. It just vanished. After processing what had just happened, they ran out of the house and never ever returned. They were too scared to even walk by the house to get to school. They never told anyone. They thought that no one would believe them. She says that she will never forget the terrified face on that small creature. She will never forget the screams of pure horror that came from both her and that Gnome.
Another such report listed on the National Cryptid Society website comes from Tampico Tamaulipas Mexico, where the witness claims that in 2003 he had been out with his little brother and cousin playing basketball at around dusk a few blocks from his grandmother’s house. As they played, the witness went to catch a ball that had bounced off of the hoop to keep it from rolling out into the street, and that was when he noticed a bizarre creature lurking in the growing shadows of dusk. The witnesses describes the surreal encounter thus:
It was like a little person no bigger than 2 feet, it had the face of an old man with a fairly large nose [and] old ragged clothes that looked like they were handmade and a hat something like a garden gnome would wear, one of those pointy hats but it wasn’t straight up it hanged down to the side.
It was crouched down almost like in hiding and when I got too close to it that’s when it stood up looked at me and ran away from me believe me my first thought was not to chase it. I was scared stiff but my cousin and little brother saw it too and ran. When it ran it was headed for the other side of the court. I couldn’t believe the speed of it for this thing; to be so small it made it to the other side in mere seconds almost a blink of an eye.
It ran behind the post and it was gone. I snapped out of it and I started to run home as well. As I ran past that same post this thing ran behind I turned to look to see if it was there but it was gone. When I got home my little brother and cousin had already told the adults there what had happened and they told us that these creatures are called Duendes.
Also from Mexico is a creepy report sent in by a poster on the Darkness Prevails website, in which the witness describes a chilling encounter with a Duende in 2017. The witness claims that he had been at a party with six friends and they had been chatting in the backyard of the home as the party wound down and people began to leave. He says that as he stared off at another house he noticed something move through the shadows which he at first took to be a cat but would soon find was something quite altogether more bizarre. The witness describes the next terrifying events thus:
It looked like a dwarf but really short and skinny. I yelled at my friends and we all just stared at it. Thats when one of my friends started running towards it and told us to catch it.
We all started running towards it and it ran we were all chasing it catching up to it quickly. We were all jumping over each other trying to catch it. Until finally my best friend caught it by its legs we were really up close and thats when I saw it.
It had no hair and a very veiny head really pale to, but I saw its all black eyes and its mouth well I thought it was a mouth. It….had stitches…like its mouth had been stitched shut. It sent shivers down my spine and my friend still held it in his right hand by the foot. Thats when its mouth opened stitches looking like toothpaste when it opened.
And it bit my friend in his chest.he let go of it and it ran off under some fences. My friend was groaning holding his chest. He wasn’t bleeding a lot but whatever it was left him a huge cut that will probably turn into a scar.
Yet another gnome account comes from Guanajuato, Mexico and was related by a witness named Gabriel L., who reported on the ThoughtCo. website of some eerie encounters his family had had with Duendes. The gnomes in this case were described as being poor and dirty looking miniature hairy old men dressed in ragged, ripped clothes, and who seemed to enjoy stealing things and causing trouble. The older sister of the witness often had her food stolen from her by the creatures at the kitchen table, and they were known to hide things and bang on the walls at night. The sister seemed to be particularly targeted by the gnomes, and they apparently often appeared to her only to run away, as if playing hide n’ seek.
Such reports are hard to reconcile with anything we know about our natural world. So bizarre are these accounts that they do not seem to really fit into any particular category of Forteana either. With their wizened old man features, clothing and eccentric pointy hats they don’t seem as if they could possibly be really classified as cryptids. Are these ghosts, spirits, or demons of some sort? Are they multi-dimensional beings or visitors from some goblin universe? Are they trickster spirits or shadow people of some sort, or even aliens? Or are they just the product of mere folklore, over active imaginations, hoaxes, and fakery? It is really hard to say for sure, but such truly weird tales blur the lines between fairy tales and reality and certainly do capture the imagination nevertheless.