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La Quitapenas: A Mayan Tradition

Photo by: Leena

What is a Mayan Quitapenas?

Do you know what you are even buying? This is important for you to know. La Quitapenas is a Mayan Tradition represented in an object.

Every year many travelers who come to Mexico and Guatemala rush to buy the quitapenas dolls, eager for a souvenir that does not require much expense. They do not bother to analyze the true meaning of this Mayan legend.

What began as a legend has become an industry where many artisans participate. They devote themselves to making these dolls using small pieces of wood, wire, or cardboard as a base and dressing them in silk, wool, or even fabric scraps. They have a better-shaped head and come with colorful materials from the country’s regions.

The main distribution point is the handicraft markets. 

The legend of the Quitapenas: Speel your grief, put it under your pillow, sleep tranquil, and in a few days, your suffering will be gone.

The Mayan legend says that their gods gathered to form the world, and their attempt to create humanity did not bear fruit. “The first men built them out of stone, but hard as they were, they could not move,” says the sacred book of that culture, the Popol Vuh. “In the second attempt, they tried it with mud, but with the first rain, the beings fell apart.” 

And as the saying goes, the third time was the charm. The Mayan story says that their gods exclaimed: “May they be made of corn!” and so it was that Ixmucané, the goddess of that grain, appeared to create the Mayan men and women. 

Now that same goddess has given rise to a new legend. This one comes from tiny dolls called “muñecas quitapenas.” They are sold more as souvenirs and used as a “hook,” the curious myth that if someone worries, tell one of these dolls, and place it under your pillow. She, in return, will take care of your worry, preventing it from taking away your sleep. Some retailers claim they will also solve the problem, making them an amulet.

The concept of such a small toy having magical power and alleviating grief has been very successful, especially with tourists who like the small size of these toys and the fact that they can have extraordinary power. Their relatively low price also attracts them. Hence, they are sold mainly in places frequented by tourists.

Little by little, the fame of the quitapenas dolls has spread to other Latin American countries since it has extraordinary coincidences with dolls from different cultures.


The famous quitapenas dolls is a Mayan tradition that goes beyond being a simple souvenir. Since, in their essence, they contain history and, of course, a legend since the first times they were magical or religious objects, not toys. 

Although these dolls are used for commercial purposes nowadays, it is essential to know their origin, so it is important to know the culture of the places we visit.