The Colorful History of Alebrijes in Mexican Culture

Alebrijes are not spiritual guides as portrayed in the Pixar film,“Coco.” Here’s the real story behind the colorful creatures.

Alebrijes are not actually something Mexicans believe in. Them being spiritual guides in the afterlife was just Pixar taking creative liberties with a very popular type of folk art in Mexico.

Alebrijes have different elements from different animals such as dragon bodies, bat wings, wolf teeth, deer antlers, fish fins, and dog eyes. They’re also painted with vibrant colors and feature detailed patterns. They come in different shapes, sizes, and have faces that exhibit a range of emotions. So you’ll never find two that are exactly alike. But, they’re still nothing more than art.

As the story goes, alebrijes date back to the 1930s, when paper mache crafter Pedro Linares Lopez had a nightmare, in which colorful mythical creatures followed him around the forest. And they all seemed to be chanting the same word, “alebrije.” Linares didn’t know if these creatures were friendly or threatening. But the chanting was enough to wake him up. He then started recreating the nightmarish creatures out of paper mache.

They eventually caught the attention of a prominent gallery owner who marketed his colorful eccentric pieces, which led famous artists like Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo to become fans.

They have since been celebrated in Mexico and are sometimes used during El Día de los Muertos as decorations.