Sunday, April 16, 2017

Talking mountains, hidden treasures (Following folktales around the world 21. - Peru)

Today I continue new blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook! Tíz évvel ezelőtt perui mesékkel kedztem hivatásos mesemondói pályafutásomat. Nosztalgikus volt ismét elmerülni bennük.

Ten years ago I began my professional career with Peruvian tales. It was very nostalgic to return to them.

Mitos, leyendas, y cuentos peruanos
José María Arguedas, Francisco Izquierdo Ríos
Siruela, 2009.

This classic collection has gone through various editions since its first in 1947. It contains 65 tales, organized by genre and geography: Myths, legends, and folktales from the Coastal, Mountain, and Rainforest regions of Peru. It is the result of a national folklore collection campaign in the early 1900s when they mailed questionnaires out to all town and village teachers, who in turn had their students collect and record local stories, and submit them. The volume therefore is diverse, intriguing, and exciting; it has pretty much everything from indigenous myths to Catholic saints, from international folktale types to monster lore. The book comes with extensive notes on the local words, flora and fauna, and symbols embedded in the stories. It is a classic in its own field, and very much worth reading.


One of my favorite stories was that of The three bulls, in which the fertile pastures of a mountain were protected by three terrible bulls - one orange-red, one black, one white. People decided to hunt them down, and chased them separately until they disappeared; later they found gold mines where the red one had gone, silver where the white, and coal where the black.
Talking about mines, I loved the legends featuring the Mother of Salt, an old hag who protects rock salt mines (places, lakes, mountains, etc. in Peruvian lore have "mothers", guardian spirits - who are not always female, by the way, and not always human). In the stories she either begs for food, or cooks for a traveler - and then seasons it by sneezing generous amounts of snot on it. If people are disgusted, she gets offended, and moves the salt mines far away.
I also found the legend of two neighboring mountains, Huatuscalla és Ccaser, very intriguing. People were building a road across the former, carving and torturing it; the locals claim to have overheard the two peaks talking at night, Huatuscalla complaining about the damage. Eventually they agreed that it would transfer all its riches to its neighbor for safekeeping before the humans found them. Two doors appeared in the mountainsides, then a giant bridge; warriors in red carried all treasures over to Ccaser, and disappeared. Huatuscalla has been angry and volatile ever since.
Huatuscalla (picture from here)
There was a charming story about the birth of dragonflies (or as locally called, Little Horses of the Devil), where a mysterious trickster kept spreading fake news and rumors until a village got a sorcerer to turn him into an insect. As a punishment, he now has to appear as the harbinger of good news. I was also entertained by the legend where two neighboring towns swapped guardian saints (Saint Anne and Saint Isidorus), but they kept returning home, because Isidorus was always colt and Anne thought her new home was unhealthy.
My archaeologist heart especially liked the legend of Narihuala, which claimed that when the locals got news about the arrival of Pizarro, they got so scared they buried themselves alive with all their treasures - this is how legend explains rich ancient burials full of gold and silver.


There were several familiar mythical creatures in these tales. I found sirens, fairies, dwarves, and even a Basilisk that killed off an entire village. I was partial to the Amazonian water-people called yacuruna, whose riverbed houses had roofs made of sand, vipers for beams, and turtles for chairs. Also of local flavor was the pishtaco, who, similar to Bolivian stories, kills people for their grease and blood at night. Those of you who watch Supernatural probably remember this one (interpreted by Dean Winchester as "fish taco").
There were multiple legends about my favorite Peruvian "dragon", the llama-headed Amarú. In one story there were two of them, one white and one black, and their fights over a river caused floods and earthquakes (reminiscent of the two dragons of Merlin).
Find more funny potoos here
The Legend of the Aymaman was the Peruvian version of Hansel and Gretel, where an evil stepmother made her husband take the two children, a boy and a girl, to the jungle and abandon them. Instead of a witch, however, they encountered a fairy, who turned them into birds so that they could live in the enchanted forest forever. Their call (aymaman) is to their deceased mother. It had to be a beginner fairy, too, because the bird, also known as the potoo, is one of the funniest-looking creatures in existence.
And of course there is no book without tricksters! This time it was carachupa, the armadillo (of course), who tricked Tiger by making him believe that the end of the world was near. I have seen this reading-from-a-leaf trick from the Mouse Deer in Indonesia before...

Where to next?


  1. Always so very interesting!

    @dSavannahCreate from

  2. Okay, remind me never to let a salt mother cook for me as that would be way too gross!! Also, I think the fairy was a little drunk when she created those birds as they are so ugly they're cute. Great read as always.

    Pamela @ Highlands Days of Fun

  3. Love that the kids were turned into that cute (?) bird by a beginner fairy. Funny!

    Emily | My Life In Ecuador

  4. I had no idea that there were so many legends related to animals. Truly interesting.

  5. There many many stories still to research from the teachers archive in Museo de la Cultura Peruana.