It is not unusual to find a politician who has seen a ghost – most palaces, presidential residences like the White House in Washington, and many older state and local government buildings are said to be haunted. There are a few politicians who claim to have Bigfoot encounters – former president and famous hunter Theodore Roosevelt claimed to have had one. When it comes to elves, the place one would expect to hear about politicians meeting the little folk would be Iceland, where the huldufólk or “hidden people” and their lands are protected by real laws which require road builders to divert their paths around these lands. However, no politicians are known to have revealed photos of elves … until now. In the surprisingly elfin country of Mexico, none other than the president himself recently unveiled a photo, which he claimed was taken just a few days before, of what he said was an elf … specifically, a mythical Mayan elf known as an “aluxe.” Is it true? More importantly, which political party does it support?
“I share two photos of our supervision of the Mayan Train works: one, taken by an engineer three days ago, apparently from an aluxe; another, by Diego Prieto of a splendid pre-Hispanic sculpture in Ek Balam. Everything is mystical.” (from the Twitter feed of Andrés Manuel López Obrador)
Andrés Manuel López Obrador (popularly known by his initials AMLO) has been president of Mexico since December 1, 2018. The 69-year-old leader knows his constituents and apparently knows his country's mythical beings. On February 25th, he posted two photos (view them here) along with an explanation that each is a representation of a mythical elf or sprite of the Mayan culture known as an aluxe (also alux, Chanekeh or Chaneque). López Obrador has an indigenous heritage and has long proclaimed to be a protector of his country’s Mayan culture. In a way, he is apparently taking a page from Iceland’s rules for elves – the photo of the alleged aluxe was taken by an engineer working on the Yucatan peninsula to build the Maya Train - a tourist train which is one of the president’s favorite projects.
“Treated with respect and some offerings, they can be very helpful. Scorned, and they get revenge.”
Yucatán Magazine reported on the president’s tweet and included some helpful information for those not familiar with the aluxe. Like most other elves, sprites, gremlins and the like, the aluxe can be both good and bad. Said to be knee-high to the average person and usually dressed like the average Maya person, those descriptions are tough to verify because the aluxe is usually invisible. They are thought to live primarily in forests, caves, fields, under or around rocks and other spots off the beaten human path. However, human intervention in their areas is what makes the aluxe visible. That is where their good or bad attributes are determined.
“It is also said in folklore that it is not good to call them out loud since you could inadvertently summon an unfriendly alux.”
For those modern Mexicans who believe in the aluxe, the president’s posting of its alleged photo on Twitter is a cause for concern. They point out that President López Obrador should have asked the aluxe for permission to use its photo while offering some sort of bribe, as this Twitter commenter described.
“You need to ask permission and offer tobacco, wine, water, and honey, following the ritual of our ancestors and the culture of our original peoples.”
Tobacco and booze … that seems to be the common elfin bribe or offering around the world. According to Yucatán Magazine, farmers know the aluxe well and are most likely to make deals with them. For example, corn or maize farmers build a little house on their property for the aluxe. Then, for the next seven years, it will live there and help the corn grow, bring rain, and protect the field at night from animals or human thieves. At the end of seven years, the farmer must close the windows and doors of the little house and lock the sprite inside because it is now a ‘bad’ aluxe that will run wild and play tricks on the locals. As in Iceland, little houses or kahtal alux ("houses of the alux") are often seen along roads. That is also associated with the legends that the aluxe are friends of travelers – leave an offering and the aluxe will protect the traveler from thieves and bring them good luck.
“The same tradition was followed in 1980 when a bridge between Cancun Airport and the hotel zone was being constructed. The project was constantly undermined — bent steel rods, bad cement — by unseen forces until desperate workers asked for the help of a Mayan priest. They were told to build a small shelter under the bridge so the aluxes could stand guard. The strategy worked, and the bridge was completed without further delay. The temple, a highway curiosity to most, remained until 2022 when the road was reconfigured.”
While the elves in Iceland are protected by law from road builders, engineers in Mexico must remember to pay off the aluxe on their own … as some found out while building a bridge in 1980. There is also a popular aluxe story involving Elton John – the rock star’s stage collapsed at Chichén Itzá in 2010 and many blamed this on concert organizers failing to get permission from the aluxes to hold a concert on sacred ground. Would Sir Elton singing “Tiny Dancer” and dedicating it to the little elves have helped?
That brings us back to President López Obrador, his Maya Train project and the photo of the alleged aluxe he posted, along with a photo of a pre-Hispanic sculpture of one in Ek Balam. Did he get permission from an aluxe to post its photograph in order to honor his Maya culture and protect his construction project? Even if he did, it looks like the president made an even greater faux pas.
“However, social media users were quick to point out that the photo the President had shared was actually taken in 2021 in Indonesia, when a man in the city of Singkawang snapped a series of photos of what local media described as a “demonic figure” with a hairy body like a monkey.”
Can President López Obrador plead ignorance and say someone tricked him into using a fake photo of an alleged aluxe? Probably not, since he is supposed to know his culture and its mythical beings. Some commenters think he should have noticed that what looked like hair and glowing eyes on a shadowy thing perched on a tree branch was actually part of the tree and two well-placed stars making the glowing eyes. (Take a look again – now do you see it?)
To play it safe, Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador needs to cover all of his bases – he should apologize to his constituents, his political party and to the aluxe. Even with all that, there is no doubt the photos and the story will be used by any and all of the candidates who run against him in the next presidential election.