David Fitzsimmons, Arizona Daily Star

The next few blogs will deal with some of the mythical animals said to inhabit our region: not imaginary critters like the sand trout, but creatures “unknown to science” in whose existence some folks firmly believe.

We’ll start with the oldest of these shadowy beasts: La Corúa. Now corúa is the Sonoran word for boa constrictor. The word itself has Indian roots — “co” means snake in the Uto-Aztecan language family. In fact coruas are sometimes kept in buildings as mousers.

But the Corúa is something else. As it was explained to me, it’s the big snake that lives in springs and bodies of water, and if you kill the Corúa the water will dry up.

I have heard it described as having a cross on its forehead and a round mouth, without teeth. I have also been told by another informant that it has fangs which it uses to “clean the veins of water.” One lady told me that when she was young she saw the Corúa lying on a branch above a pool. It looked as though it was covered with jewels.

Opinion seems to coalesce, however, around the idea that the Corúa in some way protects the body of water in which it lives, and if you kill the Corúa, the pool or spring will dry up. What we seem to have here is a very faint echo of the Aztec deities Quetzalcoatl and Tlaloc. One was a feathered serpent in charge of wind and rain; the other was equipped with large eyes and fangs and was associated with still waters.

The Corúa stories I have heard from Mexicans and Mexican-Americans don’t seem to be directly derived from any known regional Native American belief. There is a Tohono O’odham legend about a monster called the ñebhig that lived in a lake and thrashed all the water out of its dwelling place in its death throes; we’ll get to that later, during the cold weather. But there was only one of it, and it doesn’t really sound like our Corúa. By the same token, many Native peoples in our region have water serpent beliefs, but none of them are strongly reminiscent of la Corúa, with its passive response to the destruction of its habitat.

So the Corúa will have to remain as it is — shadowy and enigmatic, living only in the memories of a generation now passing away. But till those people are all gone, it will be a real part of this region.