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The buxom ghost ‘La Fantasma Pechona,’ Argentina’s vengeful femme-fatale

Written By: herbrunbridge - Mar• 31•14
La Pechona on a cigar box, circa 1920

La Pechona on a cigar box, circa 1920

Argentina’s most famous ghost (fantasma) isn’t talked about much in public, but she’s feared everywhere in that South American nation. She is the ghost most likely to cause a marriage to fail. The act of merely mentioning her name is said to be fraught with the prospect of connubial disaster. She’s also the reason Argentine women won’t shower in the dark if there’s a mirror in the bathroom. But more on that later. The ghost known today as La Pechona  lived during the 1500s. Her real name has been hidden for centuries, but she was a high-ranking young woman of the Querandí tribe, credited with forcing Spanish noble Pedro de Mendoza to flee tribal territory. Mendoza’s sudden departure was  prodded by his wife, angry that the well-endowed young woman known only as La Pechona had stolen the affections of her husband. Señora Mendoza, in a threat seconded by the Catholic church, swore to him that her extraordinarily wealthy father would see to it that their marriage was annulled and Mendoza’s fortune-by-marriage would be taken away. Financially, he would be ruined.

The original La Pechona story, known by Argentines of all ages and walks of life, tells that Mendoza was  so possessed by the young Querandí woman’s massive and erect breasts that he could think of little else. He couldn’t have her formally, as he was married and she was Querandí  royalty. To kidnap or rape her would cause a battle that would cost the Spanish many lives in a mosquito-infested and unfamiliar terrain.  He was a man tortured and possessed, seeing her at gatherings where Querandí and Spanish would meet, trade, and discuss potential alliances. Away from his wife’s estate, he wooed La Pechona, an act encouraged by her father as a means of gaining favor and wealth from the Spanish. After succeeding in his quest, he habitually spent weeks away from the estate, ensconced in a small inn in Querandí territory.

Mendoza’s wife determined something was amiss and sent spies to the territory. There, they discovered Mendoza and La Pechona together. It is said that upon seeing La Pechona for the first time, they were awe-struck by her beauty and physical attributes. Both spies confessed to falling in love with her themselves. Contemporary documents, translated from the Spanish, state “that her breasts broke a hundred hearts and launched a thousand raiding parties.”

Under duress from both his wife and from his diplomatic superiors, he was forced to return to his estate, several hundred miles away from Querandí territory. Spanish officials, finally deciding that he had “gone native,” determined that he was of little use while under the spell of the princess with the unavoidable breasts. He was sent home and died the death of an alcoholic sometime after. La Pechona, it was said, died of a broken heart, awaiting Mendoza’s return until her death.

The princess’s true name has been lost to time, but her ghost remains. She is La Pechona, the woman of large breasts, who causes men to wander from their wives once they are possessed. She is vengeful toward all married women, and revels in her victories as she separates wives from the physical affections of their husbands.

The two rocks on the 'Pechonaguas' falls on the left are said to represent the breasts of La Pechona

The two rocks on the ‘Pechonaguas’ falls on the left are said to represent the breasts of La Pechona, as seen from the Brazilian side of Iguazu (Iguacu) Falls

There is, though, a conflicting tale that describes her origins. This other legend holds that she was a water nymph from Iguazú, spurned by a man who married a rival. From the Brazilian side of the falls, visitors today can see two massive rocks that are split apart and surrounded by streams of gushing water. They are called the “Pechonaguas,” and are said to be La Pechona’s breasts, eternally alive in the waters and reminding respectful viewers of her unrequited love and vengeful spirit. At the confluence of the three countries of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, she’s feared and respected. In Paraguay, she is known as La Lechera, as the whitewater foaming around and between her breasts is reminiscent of milk.

Argentines are reluctant to discuss her as it is thought that she brings bad luck to romantic relationships. Seeing her image is said to bring ill fortune as well. Like Medusa, she possesses those that look at her, and turns their connubial hearts to stone. She continues to engender fear among married women, as it is believed that she walks the streets of every Argentine city and village, embodied in young, well-endowed women. If a man catches her eye, he is believed to be lost to his wife forever.

How La Pechona destroys marriages in today’s Argentina remains the stuff of dinner conversations and bar talk. Virgins are her prime pursuit and through them, she rains destruction. As the story goes, an adolescent woman, or one who has not yet borne a child, becomes a carrier, in much the same way that a carrier of a virus may not be infected with the symptoms herself.  La Pechona chooses her by suddenly appearing behind her while she’s looking in the mirror. It is said that she must be a full-breasted young woman engaged in the act of examining her breasts in front of a mirror in a semi-darkened room. It is then that the otherwise transparent ghost of La Pechona will appear. When she is recognized, her female carrier becomes engaged as a weapon against men. If not doing so already, the young woman will begin wearing clothes that emphasize the size and shape of her breasts.

A man becomes infected by the ghost La Pechona when he looks at a woman that has been possessed. If she catches his eye and winks at him, he is a slave to La Pechona forever. The form the disease takes is life-changing and irreparable. From that day forward, he will be compelled to seek out women with large breasts. It matters little whether a man is happily married or in love. A common complaint from women whose men have been thus possessed is that their men have what is known as a “roving eye.” When such a man engages a well-endowed woman in conversation, the woman will sometimes point to her eyes and say “my eyes are here, not there,” indicating her breasts.

There is yet another twist, according to legend. If a woman is possessed while ignorant of the pregnancy she’s undergoing, each man she affects, until the day of her giving birth, will form an addiction to breast milk taken directly from the source, through a woman’s nipples.

As a rule, women do not know they’ve been possessed by La Pechona. The wink they give to men is barely recognizable.  Some men do, however, recognize that they’ve been possessed. Their world has turned upside-down and they may seek a folk remedy for it or attempt to exorcise La Pechona through prayer, confession, and penance.  An Argentine priest, when interviewed for this story, first asserted that the deity is all powerful. He maintained that La Pechona is a powerful demoness that is not easily conquered. When asked for the number of individuals that he was aware of that had been possessed or conquered by La Pechona, he shrugged his shoulders, threw up his hands, and refused to discuss the matter further. “She even affects men of the cloth,” he said in closing.

La Pechona’s not the only female ghost in the world that people fear mentioning. Krasue, Thailand’s famous cannibalistic ghost with trailing entrails, is so feared that her name is never spoken. In Hispanic countries, man-destroying females are commonly part of age-old lore, a notable one being the beautiful La Petenera, of flamenco fame in Spain, “la perdition de los hombres,” who leads non-Jewish men to their destruction.

The intricacies of La Pechona’s true story have been lost to history, but remain strongly in legend. By the 1920’s, she had become, historically speaking, an iconic nationalistic figure in the struggle to form an independent Argentina. Her image appeared on posters, often displayed alongside those depicting Argentine heroes. In the early part of the 20th century, a Cuban cigar manufacturer sold its product to the Argentine market in a cigar box that bore what was imagined to be La Pechona’s likeness, with one breast half uncovered, the other protruding adjacent to her left arm. Braids discreetly cover what would have been an exposed right nipple. Cigars are a telling reference point, since they are fundamentally a product enjoyed by men. Comparatively few women smoke cigars. But shortly after the popular cigars were introduced, pundits began noting that Argentine marriages were falling apart at a disastrous rate, due, they concluded, to large breasted women that were possessed by the ghost depicted on the cigar box. Sales of the cigar subsequently plummeted, but rose again when La Pechona’s image was replaced with that of a tobacco field.

Sibellino's abstract rendition of La Pechona can be found today in the Museo de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Sibellino’s abstract rendition of La Pechona can be found today in the Museo de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires, Argentina

At least one noted Argentine artist in recent history has been brave enough  to capture her image, although in abstract form. Antonio Silvestre Sibellino made a sketch which he entitled “La Pechona Fantasma.” It’s displayed on the second floor of the Museo de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires. Museum curators refuse to use the artist’s original title, however, instead referring to is as “Sin título.”

That’s one form of proof that the legend remains a powerful one in Argentina, where seeing the name printed on a wall next to an abstract rendition of her likeness was reason enough to re-title the sketch.

If legends are to be believed, this innate fear of being compromised may be the reason that many Argentine men will alternately look at, then away from a young woman displaying prominent cleavage, especially when escorting wives or girlfriends on the streets. The power of this legend is underscored when today the visitor to Argentina surreptitiously watches a couple walking hand in hand as a well-built young woman approaches them. The female will almost invariably watch her man’s eyes as a woman who could possibly be possessed by La Pechona nears, then passes. She’s wary of her man being caught by La Pechona, the ghost that never leaves those whose eyes she captures.

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