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The Cuco (Coco, coca, or cuca) is a mythical monster equivalent to the boogeyman found in many Hispanic and Lusophone countries.


According to the Real Academia Española the word coco derives from the Portuguese language, and referred a ghost with a pumpkin head


There is no general description of the Cuco but it is a commonly used figure of speech to represent an irrational or exaggerated fear.


The myth of the Coco originated in Portugal and Galicia. Traditionally, the coco, or its feminine counterpart "coca", is represented by a carved vegetable lantern made from a pumpkin with two eyes and a mouth, that is left in dark places with a light inside to scare people. The vegetable lantern is similar to the Jack o' lantern.

Coca the dragon is another representation of this scary being and is present in the folklore of Portugal and Galicia. The name of the "coconut" derived from "coco" and was given to the fruit by the sailors of Vasco da Gama because it reminded them of this mythical creature. The legend of the Cuco began to be spread to Latin America by the Portuguese and Spanish colonizers.

Purpose and belief

The legend of the Cuco is widely used by parents in Spain and Latin America in order to make their children go to sleep. Parents usually tell small kids that the Cuco will take them away if they don't fall asleep early. This method has been in use for decades now.

Regional names

  • The Coco method is very popular among parents from Dominican Republic to Argentina. In many countries, the character has different meanings: in Mexico, for example, parents prefer to call Coco the similar name Calaca, which also means skeleton there.
  • In Peru Cuco is used by parents in order to make their kids do something; for example: eat their food, go to sleep or do their chores.
  • In Brazil Cuco appears as a female, Cuca. Cuca appears as the villain in some children books by Monteiro Lobato. Artists illustrating these books depicted the Cuca as an anthropomorphic alligator.
  • In Northern New Mexico, where there is a large Hispanic population, El Cuco is referred to in its Spanglish name, the Coco Man. His image is construed with Brazil's sack man; he carries a bag to take naughty children around Christmas time, and demands repentance in the form of Catholic prayers.