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Discover the beautiful story of the worry dolls from Guatemala

The beautiful story of the worry dolls

Guatemala is a country with very ancient and diverse traditions, where more than 20 different ethnic groups converge. One of the most significant is the culture and legacy of the Mayan people, who lived in a vast territory that today spans across southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador.

Among the many customs and traditions of the Mayans, perhaps the least known outside Central America is the legend of the worry dolls.

What are the worry dolls?

Also known as “trouble dolls”, they are a type of amulet in the form of tiny dolls that can vary from 1.5 to 10 centimeters in length, always handmade. They are dressed in cotton, wool or other colorful textiles, such as aguayo cloth, very typical in Guatemala.

They usually have an internal structure of wire or wood and vegetable threads to give them some structure. The details of the face are made with sewing threads. In some regions they are also made with baked clay. If you travel through Guatemala or southern Mexico, you can find them in fairs and popular markets. In Spanish they are called “muñecas quitapenas” or “chamulas”.

How to use the trouble dolls

With such a descriptive name, it is easy to discover the purpose of the trouble dolls. According to the Mayan belief, when one cannot sleep, tormented by the worries of life, or when one has nightmares, the dolls are in charge of relieving the person’s sleep, allowing him/her to rest peacefully. Originally these figurines were intended to solve the nighttime anxieties of children, but today they are also common in the lives of adults.

To benefit from their spiritual power, we should talk to them in private before going to bed and tell them our problems, sorrows or sadness. Then we say that we want to be happy and give them a kiss, to finally place them under our pillow. During the whole night the dolls will look for a way to solve or calm our sorrows.

They are usually collected in boxes or cloth bags in groups of 5 or 6, to be used alternately on different days of the week. This way the dolls are not overloaded, giving them the chance to rest for a few days. They can also be caressed after a night’s sleep, so that the sorrows they carry with them do not hurt.

A tradition with a psychological background

The worry doll is a beautiful tradition that contributes to the psychological development of children as well as adults. After all, it is a habit that we should all work to achieve every day: to unload the worries of the mind in order to have a good night of sleep.

There is even a children’s tale called “Silly Billy” (“Ramón Preocupón”, in Spanish), written by Anthony Browne, which has brought this legend into millions of homes around the world. The main character of the book is a little boy who manages to overcome his worries thanks to the Guatemalan “quitapesares” dolls given to him by his grandmother.

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