Variations: Hide, Skin; Manta; Huecú, Chueiquehuecu, Chueiquehuecuvu, Trelque, Trelquehuecufe, Trelquehuecuvu, Trilkehuecufe; Ghyryvilu (erroneously?); El Cuero (erroneously)
The tale of the living cow-hide is widespread throughout the lakes of Chile. Originally a type of huecuve, a Mapuche evil spirit responsible for all sorts of ills, it has since assimilated into local folklore and been attributed to animals such as the octopus and ray. Sometimes the creature is merely a physical manifestation of the huecuve, which can then go on to possess people or animals and inflict them with consumption.
The Mapuche term for this creature is Trelquehuecuve, “skin huecuve”. In Spanish-speaking contexts it is known as Cuero, “Hide” or “Skin”, or Manta, “Mantle” or “Cloak”. Molina describes it as a variant of the ghyryvilu or fox-snake, another aquatic terror.
A cuero is a creature that looks like a cowhide, sheepskin, or goatskin, stretched out flat and laid on the surface of the water. It is usually white with black or brown spots, or brilliant yellow and white. The edges of the cuero are armed with hooked claws. The cueros of Butaro laguna, Atacama, resemble living fabric with suckers; they are also the souls of the damned. In central Chile the cuero is an octopus that resembles a cowhide with numberless eyes and with four enormous eyes in its head. Laguna Copín, Aconcagua, is home to a furry, flat creature fond of human flesh.
Anything that enters the water is engulfed and squeezed in the cuero’s folds, and dragged under to have its blood sucked out. After feeding the cuero will release its drained prey and find itself a solitary beach on which to stretch out, bask, and digest peacefully. Unexplained drownings are the work of a cuero. In Ovalle and Coquimbo the goatskin cueros couple with cows and sire deformed offspring.
Cueros can be killed by tossing branches of quisco cactus (Cereus or Echinocactus) into the water. The creature will attempt to seize the cactus, injure itself, and bleed to death. The heroic youth Ñanco successfully confronted a cuero by holding quisco in his hands and tying quisco branches to his legs
The motif of the living hide extends to other beings and motifs. Another Chilean folktale tells of a magical cow that told its master Joaquin to kill and skin it. The resultant cowhide was alive in its own fashion and served Joaquin as a boat, and the cow’s eyes in his pocket granted him the power to see through anything. At the end of his adventures, the skin, bones, eyes, and other remains of the cow were collected for burning, but the moment the last hair of the cow touched the pile, the cow was brought back to life, plump and healthy, and walked off to the farm as though nothing had happened.
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Cifuentes, J. V. (1947) Mitos y supersticiones (3rd Ed.). Editorial Nascimento, Santiago, Chile.
Guevara, T. (1908) Psicolojia del pueblo araucano. Imprenta Cervantes, Santiago de Chile.
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