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Atacaman Myths

The Suri And The Toad

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           One hot day, the Suri —who was very thirsty—, went to the stream to have a drink. When he got to the bank he didn't see the toad sitting there and stepped on him.
           —Ow! Look where you're going! Just because I'm small doesn't mean you can walk all over me! Are you looking for a fight? —asked the toad, clearly in pain.
           —Alright, if you want a fight I'll give you a fight —replied the Suri.
           The toad gathered his army, made up of Andean rabbits, cats, snakes and with the fox acting as general. When they were all ready, they went to the meeting place with the Suri. They were surprised to see that the Suri only had three clay pots with him.
           The fox shouted and gave the signal to charge. Cats, snakes and Andean rabbits launched themselves on the Suri. They were sure that the battle was already won.
           But when they were only a few meters from the Suri he took the lids off the clay pots and hundreds of horseflies flew out over the animals. The poor animals threw themselves on the ground to avoid the stings of the horseflies.
           Then, from a distance the voice of the fox could be heard, ordering the animals to take to the water. 
      The Suri had won the battle.

      Source: Gómez Parra, Domingo, Cuentos de nuestra tierra, Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas,
      Universidad de Antofagasta, 1994.


        The Shepherdess, The Condor And The Hummingbird



                 The shepherdess was knitting when a condor disguised as a young man approached. He invited her to go for a walk and she joined him. However as they walked, his arms turned little by little into wings and he grabbed her and flew away over the mountains with her, leaving her in a cave. The condor wished to marry the girl, but she was sad; she missed her family and friends and was hungry because she refused to eat the raw meat that the condor brought her. One day the condor was away and a hummingbird appeared and said to the girl
                 —I will take you back to your village if you give me your green necklace in exchange.
                 So the girl gave him the necklace and she returned to her village. When she told her family what had happened, they decided to hide her, certain that the condor would look everywhere for her. Sure enough,
            the bird showed up and the father of the girl scalded his face and neck with boiling water. The condor was angry with the hummingbird and ate him, but as he was so small, he came out the other end. Ever since, the hummingbird has had a green collar and the condor has had a bald head and neck from the boiling water.

            Source: Gómez Parra, Domingo, Cuentos de nuestra tierra, Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas, Universidad de Antofagasta, 1994.



                 Many years ago, the animals organized a banquet in the sky. The fox wanted to join in the celebration very much and asked the condor to take him on his back.
                 —Close your eyes and don't open them until we arrive at the sky—said the condor, taking off.
                 The fox did as the condor asked and kept his eyes closed until they arrived at the sky. The fox was amazed at the quantity of food at the banquet. He concentrated on eating without stopping, particularly the corn, quinoa, beans and squash.
                 When the fox wanted to go back to earth, the condor had already left so the only way left for him to return was to make a rope out of dried grass and climb down it. On the way down, he saw some birds and laughed at their parrot beaks. The parrots were offended and cut the rope with their sharp beaks. The fox fell to the earth and on landing his stomach burst open. All the food he had eaten in the sky spilled out on to the earth, and that's how the quinoa, corn, and other foods he had eaten in the sky came to grow on earth.

            Source: Lehnert, Roberto. Mitos y creencias del mundo atacameño. Antofagasta, 2000.


            The Yakana




                 The Andeans view the galaxy of the Milky Way as a river where different animals can be seen, formed by the dark spaces between the stars. They see a llama called Yakana who is feeding her calf. To the right, near the middle, just below the Southern Cross they see Yutu, or the constellation of the Tinamou*. Next they see Hanpatu or the Constellation of the toad. And finally, Machacuay, the name given to the Serpent. To the left of the llama they see Atoq or the fox, then again, Yutu, the Tinamou.
                 They say the Yakana would stroll in the middle of the river which runs in the centre of the sky and at midnight descend to earth to drink water from the sea, when no-one could see him. If he didn't drink this water, the whole world would flood. Also, if any human was fortunate enough to be visited by the Yakana during the night, they would receive abundant wool of many colours. Then the person would be able to go to the village and exchange the wool for llamas and then they could have two or three thousand animals.

            Source: Francisco de Avila, Dioses y hombres de Huarochorí, 1598.


            The Armadillo In Love



                 They say that the fox and the armadillo were in love with a beautiful princess. To conquer her, the fox ran behind her, but some dogs caught him and made him run away. The armadillo, though, got to the princess by digging tunnels underground. Whilst the girl was sleeping he made her pregnant and she had a child who recognized the armadillo as his father. The king, before giving the hand of his daughter the princess in marriage required that he carry out successfully a series of challenges. So he could do the challenges successfully, the armadillo asked his friends the toad and the wind for help. They gave him a set of enchanted Andean pipes which made beautiful melodies. Victorious the armadillo completed the challenges and was able to marry the princess.

            Source: Lehnert, Roberto. Mitos y creencias del mundo atacameño. Antofagasta, 2000.

              Treasures Of The Cerro Quimal



                   The Atacemeñans say that in the Cerro Quimal, near the Atacama Salt Lake is where part of the treasure of Atahualpa can be found. The latter is the last sovereign of the Incas who, whilst being pursued by the Spanish Conquistador Francisco Pizarro, promised to deliver much gold in exchange for his freedom. From every corner of Tawantinsuyu (the Inca empire) they started to transfer gold to pay the ransom and save their King.
                   However, once he had received enough gold in Cuzco, Peru, killed Atahualpa. When they heard about the sovereign's death, the Atacameñans hid their gold at the bottom of the lake on Cerro Quimal. The treasure was made up of two metal statues, seven small llamas made of silver and six made of bone. They say that someone stole one of the statues and became ill, and another treasure hunter crushed his hand under a block of granite. They also say that the treasures on Cerro Quimal shine on certain days of the year, when their enchanted city
              makes a fleeting appearance.

              Source: Gómez Parra, Domingo, Cuentos de nuestra tierra, Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas,
              Universidad de Antofagasta, 1994.


              The Legend Of Licancabur


                   Many years ago, the hunters and gatherers of the Atacama used to leave sacrifices to the Licancabur volcano once a year. They used to choose one of their women to give as a gift to the live volcano which was feared as a powerful and capricious god. The sacrifices of the women ended only through the brave actions of a strong young man who challenged the volcano. After suffering various days and nights with earthquakes and violent storms, he managed to reach the summit, at 19,685 feet /5 916m asl. On his success at reaching the top, a small lake formed, and the volcano was no longer active. The hunters and gatherers started to bury their dead in the lake from then on. Legend says that in the lake there are many treasures as a result of the tributes of the Atacameñans burying their dead with objects of value and making offerings to the volcano god.

              Source: Gómez Parra, Domingo, Cuentos de nuestra tierra, Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas,
              Universidad de Antofagasta, 1994.


              The Fox And The Condor


                   One day a conceited fox met a condor.
              —I am more intelligent than you, nobody beats me —boasted the fox,— I can climb the highest peaks.  
              —Let us see who reaches the top of that peak there —challenged the condor.
                   The fox ran through the hills, between stones and peaks. The condor though, ran a few meters and took to the air, clearly in the lead. The fox ran and jumped, trying to catch up to the condor.
              —Hurry up Mr Fox —shouted the condor.
                   At dusk the condor waited for the fox at the start of the snows. The fox said to him: —Let's see which of us is capable of being here all night on the frozen lake.
              —Alright —said the condor.
                   The condor spread out one of his large wings and put a foot on top of it. When it got cold, he changed wings and put the other foot on it. That was just what he was doing as the sun rose. The sun was warming everything and the condor shouted:
              —Fox, fox, come out of the water.
              The fox had died of cold.

              Source: Gómez Parra, Domingo, Cuentos de nuestra tierra, Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas, Universidad de Antofagasta, 1994.


              The Fox And The Wild Goose



                   One day the wild goose was sitting in her nest on her eggs when the fox came up to her. 
              Hungry, the fox asked:
              —Can you give me an egg? I'm starving.
              —Of course, Mr Fox- said the wild goose. —I have six eggs and I can give you three.
              —Thank you so much, Mrs Goose- said the fox.
              —Come closer Mr Fox, close your eyes and open your mouth — ordered the wild goose. 
                   The obedient fox opened his huge mouth. In the meantime the wild goose went to look for a stone and put it in the mouth of the fox.
                   When he realized that he'd been tricked, the fox became angry and
              went far away, never to bother the wild goose again.

              Source: Lehnert, Roberto, Mitos y creencias del mundo atacameño. Antofagasta, 2000.


              The Enchanted Toad


              THE MAGIC DANCE

                   A young man was walking next to a river when he heard a lovely melody. Surprised to discover it was a toad, the man said to her:
              —Can you make me a shirt, please?
                   The toad kindly knitted him a beautiful shirt. The young man was delighted with his new piece of clothing and went to show it to his brother. The brother loved the shirt, and went to see the toad to ask her to knit him one, too. She knitted him an ugly shirt. The brother, unhappy with the work, commented loudly.
                   One day, the young man invited the toad to a dance. The toad danced all night. At every turn she scattered flowers around her. The dance floor was covered with flowers.
                   The wife of the brother of the young man, however, scattered bones everywhere, for looking down on the toad.

              Source: Lehnert, Roberto, Mitos y creencias del mundo atacameño. Antofagasta, 2000.


              The Story Of The Hummingbird


                   The hummingbird, the smallest bird in America, has green, orange and gold feathers. They say that the hummingbird lives as long as the flowers last. They move their wings rapidly over them as they feed from their nectar. 
                   When the time of the flowers passes, the hummingbird clings to a tree, and using its beak stays hanging there for six months. It disappears in winter and returns in the spring, waking from a long winter sleep. That is why it is known as the bird that is reborn. They also say that Atacameñan women bring the rebirth of the hummingbirds forward, by sheltering them with their bodies.

              Source: El Colibrí. Libro de Actividades. Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino. 2002.


              The Song Of The Water

              WHY THE DESERT IS SO DRY

                   Many, many years ago when the earth was recently taking shape, in the area known as Atacama, volcanoes and plains appeared and the earth took on a wide range of colours. It rained and rained and gushing rivers were formed. The Atacameñans sang to the water, and the water helped them with their cultivation. The running water brought stones with it which made the walls of the canals which can still be seen today.
                   Some time later came a big rain, it rained for forty days and forty nights and the water ran and ran until it ran out. And that is how the Atacameñans lost everything, all their crops, their earth and their life.
                   Nowadays, nobody knows how to sing to the water so that it comes back, like it was before.

              Source: Gómez Parra, Domingo, Así hablan las montañas, Universidad de Antofagasta, Antofagasta, 1998; Nuñez, Lautaro, Cultura y conflicto en los oasis de San Pedro de Atacama, Editorial Universitaria, Santiago, 1992.