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Apothecary containers for Axungia hominis (human fat), 17th-18th centuries.

Sacamantecas ("Fat extractor" in Spanish) or mantequero[1] ("Fat seller/maker") is the Spanish name for a kind of bogeyman[2] or criminal[2] characterized by killing for human fat.


Julian Pitt-Rivers reports[3] in his study of Alcalá de la Sierra the belief that village children can be stolen by an outsider, disguised as a beggar or a trader, who is hired by a rich man whose ill child can only be cured with the blood of healthy babies. The practice of blood donation lent credence to the myth.

Gerald Brenan[1] describes the mantequero as a monster in human form who lives in deserted areas and feeds on manteca[4] ("[human] fat"). Upon capture, he shouts in a high pitch and, unless just fed, looks thin. Brenan found the myth alive during his stays in the Alpujarra (Andalusia): In 1927 or 1928, he had sublet his Yegen home to the British writer Dick Strachey, nephew of Lytton Strachey. One day, Strachey was walking on rough terrain where he saw three suspicious men. Fearing of bandoleros, he ran away, but the three Gipsies chased him and drew their knives shouting at him as a mantequero. The first impulse of the Gipsies was to kill the mantequero and use his blood for magical remedies. However the eldest Gipsy, a convict, judged safer to bring Strachey to the mayor. They offered to slit his throat themselves, but the British man claimed in his rudimentary Spanish to be a relative of king George V of England, convincing the mayor that he was not dealing with a monster.

A friend of Brenan found that in Torremolinos all the girls believed in mantequeros. In the urban version of the legend,[1] an old evil marquis needs baby blood transfusions to rejuvenate.

Real sacamantecas[edit]

Juan Díaz de Garayo.
  • Juan Díaz de Garayo (1821-1881) was a Spanish serial killer operating in Northern Spain. He was nicknamed el Sacamantecas, which became used to scare children into behaving.[5]
  • Brenan reports[1] that a family of Gipsies in the Sierra de Gádor was found in 1910. They stole babies to drink their warm blood. A folk healer (curandero) had told them that the blood would cure tuberculosis and keep them indefinitely alive. In the same year and the same region of Spain, Francisco Leóna and Julio Tonto Hernández kidnapped and killed a boy of seven years for his blood and fat to treat the tuberculosis of Francisco Ortega, a wealthy farmer who hired the men for that purpose.

Similar beliefs[edit]

Pishtacos in the Colonial era (top), 20th century (middle) and now (bottom). Peruvian retablo from Ayacucho.
  • The Peruvian tradition of the pishtaco has many similarities being understood as monsters or foreigners who collect human fat from their victims.
  • Urban legends about organ trafficking show similar fears in modern contexts.
  • Vampires in European folklore draw blood from humans.
A manticore in a 13th-century manuscript.

In popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Al Sur de Granada, pages 190-193, Gerald Brenan, 1997, Fábula - Tusquets Editores. Originally South from Granada, 1957
  2. ^ a b Sacamantecas in the Diccionario de la Real Academia Española
  3. ^ The People of the Sierra, J. A. Pitt-Rivers, page 205, 1954, Criterion Books, New York.
  4. ^ manteca in the DRAE
  5. ^ "Garayo "The Sacamentecas"".