Sunday, April 30, 2017

Gods and emeralds (Following folktales around the world 23. - Colombia)

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!

Mitos y leyendas indígenas de Colombia
Javier Ocampo López
P&J, 2013.

A collection of a wide range of myths from the indigenous peoples of Colombia. It contains more than 50 stories (sometimes multiple in one chapter), although we do not get a full re-telling of all of them; some are merely mentioned or summarized. On the plus side, the myths are also explained and contextualized by the author, and they come with footnotes, sources, and direct quotes from medieval chronicles. The author/collector also relates them to similar stories outside of South America.


My favorite story in the book was the Salt Merchant, whose wares were washed away by a downpour, and the Chibcha god Bochica helped him "reclaim the salt from the water" by teaching them how to evaporate seawater.
There was a beautiful Muzo myth about the origin of Colombia's famous emeralds. In it, the ancestress of humanity, Fura, cheated on her husband Tena with a stranger with blue eyes and a blonde beard. As revenge, Tena killed her and her lover, and then himself. Husband and wife turned into rocks divided by a river; the painful tears of Fura became the first emeralds, and also the first blue Muzo butterflies.
There was a similarly beautiful legend about the birth of the Victoria Regia flower, from a girl who loved the Moon so much she jumped into the river to reach its reflection.
I found many fascinating figures among the gods and heroes of the indigenous peoples. My favorite was probably the Chibcha Huitaca, the "rebel goddess," who preached a life of delights and pleasures to people - until the civilizing male god, Bochica, turned her into an owl. Another intriguing one was The Son of Thunder, a powerful sorcerer from Paeces mythology, who defeated enemy warriors by summoning snakes and throwing them around their necks. I really enjoyed the idea of the Chibcha Nencatacoa, god of revelry and dancing, because he has been transferred over to Christian tradition as Dancind St. Pascual - on his feast day, people light a bonfire, and if the flames leap high, they believe the god/saint is dancing with them.
Of course there is no book of Colombian legends without the legend of El Dorado, which was featured in detail. There were many other stories from the era of colonization as well; some were bloodier than others. The legend of the Chibcha women was memorable, because they managed to drug Spanish soldiers and get away. There was also Gaitana, female chief of the Yalcones, who, after the Spanish burned her son alive, led a long and bloody resistance against them, taking thousands of people into battle (she reminded me of Boudicca).


I was reminded of Romeo and Juliet by the legend of Pacanchique and Azay, where a chief tried to steal the bride of a young warrior away. The groom and his father gave the girl a potion that made her appear dead; then they stole her body and revived her. While the plan worked, sadly the story still did not have a happy ending...
There were multiple flood myths in the collection. A Muisca tradition blamed the god Chibchacum for the diluge, and he was forced by Bochica to, like Atlas, carry the world on his shoulder as punishment (when he gets tired and shifts to the other shoulder, earthquakes happen). In another myth from the Orinonco, the only human couple that survived the flood recreated people from the fruits of the moriche palm ("the tree of life").
There was also a fascinating legend about the Son of the Sun, the prophet Goranchacha, who was foretold to be born from a virgin girl impregnated by the rays of the sun. Two daughters of a chief went up to the mountain every day to lie naked before the rising sun, until one of them got pregnant... Apart from the obvious Christian comparison, I was also reminded of the myth of Danae, and the Italian folktale Daughter of the Sun.

Where to next?


  1. Nice to hear the story of the emeralds. I have an emerald ring from Colombia and when I went to have it appraised the jeweler said it looked 'phony'. I informed him that it was likely he was used to seeing color-enhanced emeralds, not natural Colombian ones. He shut up and gave me a nice appraisal.

  2. This is such an interesting theme and it is interesting how similiar the stories are (I just finished sharing stories of the stars in the A-Z challenge and in some cases they are quite similar even though separated by continents).

  3. So excited to do see this. I am working on curriculum for an English class in a small school in Columbia and using folktales, theirs an some from English speaking countries as a platform!!!