La Pechona on a cigar box, circa 1920
Argentina’s most famous ghost (fantasma) isn’t talked about much, but she’s feared everywhere. She is the ghost most likely to cause a marriage to fail, and mentioning her name is said to be flirting with 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. Like many legendary ghosts, as one story goes, she was a real woman at one time, living during the 1500s, a high-ranking young woman of the Querandí tribe, credited with making Spanish noble Pedro de Mendoza flee her land, prodded by Mendoza’s wife, who 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.
The story tells the tale of Mendoza, a man so possessed by seeing a young woman’s large, heavy, and erect breasts that he could think of little else. He couldn’t have her, as she was Querandí royalty, and to kidnap or rape her would cause a battle that the Spanish were sure to lose do to the numbers of their adversaries. He saw her at every gathering where Querandí and Spanish would meet, and it drove him crazy with passion and away from his wife. As the story goes, La Pechona’s barely covered breasts caused Mendoza to depart in order to save his failing marriage, and what is now the Buenos Aires area of Argentina to remain indigenous for a little while longer. The princess’ name has been lost to time, but her ghost is named La Pechona, the woman of large breasts who causes men to wander from their wives once they are possessed.
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
But that’s not the only tale describing her origins. Another legend held 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, known in Paraguay as La Lechera, as the whitewater foaming around and between her breasts is reminiscent of milk.
Not only do Argentines not want to discuss her, they don’t want to see her picture, either. Like Pandora, she possesses those that look at her. Ignoring her visage wasn’t always the case. In the 1920s, a Cuban cigar manufacturer sold its product to the Argentine market in a cigar box that bore what was imagined to be her likeness. Cigars are a telling reference point, since they are fundamentally a “male” product. Comparatively few women smoke cigars. But in the 1920s, Argentine marriages began to fail, a victim of husbands seeking large breasted women. Perhaps a closer female figure would be La Petenera of flamenco fame in Spain, the beautiful Jewess, “la perdition de los hombres,” who leads non-Jewish men to their destruction. But we’re getting ahead of the story a bit. We should really be discussing how possession by La Pechona works.
To begin, 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 two actions need to occur for a woman to be possessed. She must be a full-breasted young woman engaged in the act of examining her breasts in front of a mirror. Secondly, if this occurs in a darkened room with a mirror, the otherwise transparent ghost will appear. When she does, her female carrier becomes engaged as a weapon against men. Typically, she will wear clothes that emphasize the size and shape of her breasts. In one fairly well-known cigar box image, she sits with one breast half uncovered, the other protruding adjacent to her left arm. Braids discreetly cover what would have been an exposed right nipple.
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 doesn’t matter whether he’s 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.
Women do not know they’ve been possessed by Pechona. The wink they give to men is barely recognizable. Some men do know 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 then said that La Pechona is a powerful demoness (his words) that is not easily conquered. When asked for the number of individuals that he was aware of that had been disposed of La Pechona, he shrugged his shoulders, threw up his hands, and said nothing.
La Pechona’s not the only ghost in the world that people fear mentioning. Krasue, Thailand famous cannibalistic ghost with trailing entrails, is so feared that her name is never spoken. While La Pechona is not as malevolent as Krasue, she’s a more serious threat than Jose Guadalupe Posada’s Catrina, a skeleton woman with a large hat and a serious presence on Mexico’s Day of the Dead. Catrina is a caricature. La Pechona’s the real deal.
La Pechona’s true story has been lost to history. Nothing is known of her true name, position, family, life, or death. But she is credited for driving away the Spanish due to her hypnotic appeal. Mendoza couldn’t resist it, and his wife forced him to leave Argentina because of it.
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 has attempted to capture her, 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, although museum curators refuse to use the artist’s title, 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 rendidtion of her likeness was reason enough to re-title the sketch.
If legends are to be believed, this may be the reason that many Argentine men will alternately look at, then away from a young woman proudly displaying her cleavage, especially when escorting wives or girlfriends on the streets. The power of this legend is underscored if one surreptitiously watches a couple walking hand in hand as a well-built young woman passes them. The female of the couple will almost invariably watch her man’s eyes as a woman who could be possessed by La Pechtona approaches then passes. She doesn’t want her man to be caught by La Pechona, the ghost that never leaves those she possesses.