"This Month’s Legend is about a serpent, one that exists in the lore of rural
Mexican and Mexican- American people allover this region. La Corúa, describedas a huge snake, lives in springs and water holes. It protects the water source, and when the snake dies the water dries up.
Despite its colossal form, the snake is said to be a rather passive reptile. Its sole function, according to what I have been able to learn, is to watch over our precious aqua. Some stories depict La Corúa as having long fangs, which it uses to clean the veins of water. Some folks will tell you that the snake has a cross on its forehead and a "smooth mouth." But if you kill it, as my friend's aunt told her she had done at one of the springs on Tucson's east side, the water will go away.
What we have here seem to be threads of an ancient belief in a water serpent-a belief held by the Aztecs and the Mayas, and, closer to home, by many of the native peoples of the American Southwest and Mexican Northwest. The word corúa is probably of Yaqui origin, and the "co" is the same snaky syllable that you find in the Aztec Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent. I don't have answers to questions about how La Corúa, who exists in the minds and memories of people of Mexican culture, got there. But I can tell you that the legend is not the only juncture at which water and snakes meet in the folklore of this region. “Corúa” is also the word used for a specific kind of irrigation device that pipes water over arroyos and other low places.
Moreover, Alicante is the name of the little black racer snake (also found in Spain). But here it refers to an above ground, masonry irrigation channel. "Corúa" is also the local name for a kind of boa constrictor.
Snake imagery is associated with wild water as well as the tame variety. A funnel cloud is called a culebra de agua (serpent of water). So are the long wisps of rain you can see trailing from clouds at the beginning of the rainy season. Floods can be measured in culebras - one flood that took away the back end of the old mission church at Caborca, Sonora, was described as involving una media culebra (a half-serpent) of water.
So, here in the border country of Southern Arizona, separated from the high
civilizations of Central Mexico by many miles and years, the ghost of the old water serpent lingers on. But, alas, the tale is drifting away-most young people would rather check out the latest computer games than listen to the old stories.
For them, water comes out of a household tap, not from springs and water holes. Nevertheless, this image of the huge snake "guarding" our most precious natural resource has stayed with me. For, in a sense, we are killing our corúas in many ways. We're dumping chemicals in our water supply, and pumping water faster
than we replace it. As I see portions of our desert turn into a golfer's green oasis, I remember what my friend Richard Morales told me after we found out what we could about the corúa legend. ”Jim, “he said, "you kill the corúas and you lose your water rights.”
“A Benevolent Snake, La Corúa guards are precious water supply.” Tucson Monthly, Griffith, Jim. May 1998, Pages 14-15.