These three pieces are taken from a volume of folklore, most of which was collected in the field by anthropology students, called Peruvian Myths, Legends, and Stories, originally published in 1947. The book’s editors, José María Arguedes and Francisco Izquierdo Ríos, were both important literary figures in Peru, whose work involved both the study of folklore as well as indigenous issues.
The Evil Bird
from Cañete, Department of Lima
As in ancient times, the inhabitants of this place, especially on the farms, have a superstition about the Evil Bird.
They say it announces the death of any individual, singing on the roof of the house of the one who is going to die.
And that is why they call it that: Evil Bird. This animal has a horrible appearance: black feathers; large, bulging eyes; to see it is frightening. It rarely comes to the village; it lives in the countryside, generally in the most beautiful trees, almost hidden among the leaves.
The Appearance of Human Beings on the Earth
from Jauja Province, Department of Junín
In remote times, what is today the valley of Jauja or Mantaro was covered by the waters of a great lake, from the middle of which protruded a rock called Wanka, resting place of the Amaru, a horrible monster with a head of flames, two small wings and a toad’s body that ended in a great serpent’s tail. Later, Tulunmaya (Rainbow) fathered another Amaru in the lake, of a darker color, as a companion to the first, this latest one never reached the size of the first, which had acquired a whitish color in its maturity. The two monsters challenged each other for supremacy over the lake, where the rock, though of great dimensions, was not large enough to provide a resting place for the two together. In these frequent struggles, the violence of which raised waterspouts to great heights in space, agitating the lake, the big Amaru lost a large piece of its tail to the furious attack of the younger.
Irritated, the god Tikse unloaded a tempest over them, the tempest’s lightning killed them both, and they fell, undone, with flooding rains over the already agitated lake, increasing its volume until it broke its banks and emptied itself to the south.
When the valley had been formed in this way, there came forth from Warina or Wari-puquio (which comes from the words: “Wari,” an unprofaned hiding place that guards some sacred thing or being; and “puquio,” spring) the first two human beings, called “Mama” and “Taita,” who up to then had remained for a long time under the earth for fear of the the Amarus.
This pair’s descendants constructed, later, the Temple of Wariwillka, the ruins of which still exist today.
Today, it is generally believed among the Wankas that the Amaru is the serpent that, hidden in some cave, grows until it makes itself immense and, taking advantage of the winds that form during tempests, tries to scale the sky but is destroyed by lightning among the clouds; and according to whether the the figure of the Amaru in the sky is black or white, it presages a good or bad year.
The Fire-breathing Cow
from La Calzada, Department of San Martín
The people of La Calzada tell that a long time ago, beside the enormous hill that rises up beside the road that runs to Moyobamba, a beast always appeared, with the appearance of a cow, with long twisted horns, breathing fire from its mouth. The people gave it the name of Vaca-Huillca (Sacred Cow). This animal threatened to destroy the village with the fire that it threw out in gushing streams.
The inhabitants, full of panic at such a terrible threat, and convinced that they themselves could not make it disappear, resolved to solicit the services of a magician from Pomacochas. They sent a commission to that place, with this goal. The magician, in exchange for a handsome fee, came to La Calzada. And making use of his practical witchcraft he defeated the animal. They say that the monster moved to the lagoon of Cochaconga on the plateau of Pishcohuañuna, where it is supposed to live to this day.
Brandon Holmquest is a translator, poet and fiction writer who lives in Queens.