Carbunclo

Variations: Carbunco, Carbúnculo; Añapitan, Agnapitan; Inuyucoy (Pira); Oñánge-píta (“Devil”, Guaranani); Carbuncle, Glow Beast (English)

Carbunclo

Carbunclo (Spanish) and carbuncle (English) are both derived from the Latin carbunculus, “little coal”. This has been used historically to refer to the garnet and the ruby, medically to a type of abscess, and teratologically to a glowing South American creature associated with riches.

Sightings of the carbunclo come from the southernmost countries – Argentina, Chile, and Paraguay. Multiple accounts of its appearance are given, and it may vary from area to area. A carbunclo has a shining mirror on its head, like a glowing coal, from which it gets its name. The creature itself produces a bright bluish-white glow from its body, easily distinguishable from wood fires and visible from over a league away. A carbunclo is larger than a mouse, perhaps cat-sized, and has a segmented body shaped like a small corn cob. The light is produced from within and shines out through junctures in the body segments. A bivalved shell resembling a rock is present. If an enemy is detected, the shell clamps shut, extinguishing the light and camouflaging the creature as an ordinary stone. Father Narciso y Barcel wrote in 1791 that the “lid” is covered in exquisite plumage, and there are beautiful spots on its breast. Carbunclos are also capable of leaping and running swiftly. Eulogio Rojas, observing a carbunclo from one meter away in 1879, noted more than four legs. In Chiloé carbunclos guard treasure and are cat-sized quadrupeds with glowing beards on their chins.

Carbunclos move about at night like enormous glow-worms in search of food and water. They have keen senses and are quick to escape or close their shells at the slightest sound. During the drought of 1925, flashing lights were seen descending the hill of Tulahuén to the valley of the Rio Grande; this was interpreted as a family of carbunclos desperate for water.

These glowing creatures have long been sought by miners and prospectors, as they are believed to hold untold riches within their bodies. Nobody as yet has succeeded in capturing one. Martin del Barco Centenera hunted the carbunclo in vain, and said that whoever could obtain the creature’s stone would be assured joy and fortune. By virtue of their excellent camouflage, sharp hearing, and impenetrable habitat, the carbunclos have kept their secrets, and no amount of careful searching has shed further light on them.

References

Aguirre, S. M. (2003) Mitos de Chile. Random House, Editorial Sudamericana Chilena.

Borges, J. L.; trans. di Giovanni, N. T. (1969) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Clarke, Irwin, & Co., Toronto.

Centenera, M. B. (1836) La Argentina o la Conquista del Rio de la Plata. Imprenta del Estado, Buenos Aires.

Cifuentes, J. V. (1947) Mitos y supersticiones (3rd Ed.). Editorial Nascimento, Santiago, Chile.

Oviedo, G. F. (1852) Historia General y Natural de las Indias, v. II: 1. Imprenta de la Real Academia de la Historia, Madrid.

Southey, R. (1812) Omniana, or Horae Otiosiores, v. II.  Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, Paternoster Row, London.

Lakúma

Variations: Lucooma

lakuma

According to the Yamana, the Lakúma are the most dangerous sea creatures of Tierra del Fuego. These water spirits have been known to tip canoes over, pull their occupants out, and drag them under to consume, leaving their entrails to float to the surface. They can also create huge waves, summon whirlpools, and whip up storms to damage larger vessels.

Lakúma have been compared to whales, squids, and giant worms, making their exact appearance hard to pin down. What is known is that they like to flatten themselves out on the water’s surface, letting their back protrude like a small island. Their broad and flat backs are covered with encrustations of unusually large mussels.

Sometimes there are so many lakúma in one spot that they can be used as stepping-stones. A group of Yamana on a desert island saw countless wide, flat lakúma rise to the surface, forming a living bridge to a bountiful island. “If we run quickly, we’ll get to the other side!” said one man, running over the backs of the lakúma and reaching the other shore. But the others were too slow, and the lakúma dove, taking them to a watery grave. The one survivor recruited enough men to slay many lakúma in retaliation, and their bodies can still be seen today in the form of large, flat stones at the bottom of the sea.

Lakúma will also attack people breaking taboos. It is known that a menstruating girl or túrikipa should not eat berries, but one girl thought she could circumvent the rule by sucking out the juices and spitting the solid outer part. Alas, her canoe was attacked by a lakúma, and it refused the offerings tossed at it until it took the girl and devoured her. It then flattened itself out on the surface and rested. The túrikipa’s people went onto the lakúma’s back, took some of the mussels, and used their sharp shells to dismember the lakúma. But that was small comfort for the túrikipa, whose entrails served as a grisly reminder of her fate.

For all their malevolence, lakúma can be tamed by a powerful yékamuš or shaman, and can become obedient servants. One yékamuš was with his wife in their canoe while she scolded him. “I thought you were a powerful yékamuš, but you can’t even strand a whale, or fetch birds to eat!” In response the yékamuš slept and summoned two lakúma, who raised the canoe’s bow up in the air. “Wake up! Help me!” cried his wife, and the yékamuš stirred and spoke nonchalantly. “I thought you said I was powerless”, he taunted, before telling her to paint the lakúma with white paint. She did as she was told, and the lakúma did not resist. Then they dove and created a good breeze to send the canoe effortlessly to its destination. “I had always made fun of you”, admitted the wife, “but now I know you are truly a capable yékamuš!”

References

Gusinde, M.; Schütze, F. trans. (1961) The Yamana; the life and thought of the water nomads of Cape Horn. Human Relations Area Files, New Haven.

Gusinde, M.; Wilbert, J. ed. (1977) Folk Literature of the Yamana Indians. University of California Press, University of California, Los Angeles.

Okpe

okpe

Okpe is a massive, quadrupedal ogre from Argentinian and Chilean Tehuelche folklore. He looks like a pig made of impregnable solid rock, without soft spots or weaknesses. Okpe preys on children, luring them with braised meat before carrying them off in a device on his back. Children captured by Okpe are taken into the jungle and devoured. Attempts to thwart his actions fail, as he is impervious to conventional weaponry.

Once Okpe abducted an older child, who had the presence of mind to hold onto an overhead branch and escape his captor. While Okpe sought his victim and screamed for him to return, the child ran back to his village. There a mare was butchered – as the Tehuelche do in emergencies – and its skin was stretched out on the ground. When Okpe trundled through in pursuit of the boy, he slipped on the stretched hide and fell so heavily that his stony armor rattled! Okpe started to cry in defeat, crying so hard that his tears caused a flood that went up as high as his teeth. He never bothered the Tehuelche again.

References

Borgatello, M.; Bórmida, M.; Casamiquela, R. M.; Baleta, M. E.; Escalada, F. A.; Harrington, T.; Hughes, W.; Lista, R.; Samitier, M. L.; and Siffredi, A.; Wilbert, J. and Simoneau, K. eds. (1984) Folk Literature of the Tehuelche Indians. UCLA Latin American Center Publications, University of California, Los Angeles.

Oókempán

ookempan

Oókempán is an ogre known to the Tehuelche of Argentina and Chile. He looks like a very large man, but has a shell on his back and moves around on all fours like a pig. Oókempán abducts children, enticing them with a bit of meat before slinging them into a box on his back and carrying them off. Any child playing on their own is at risk of being taken and presumably eaten. Attempts to stop Oókempán will fail, as his hard shell prevents any damage from reaching him; his weakness is in his heel, which is unprotected.

It was Oóuk’en, “truth”, the man incapable of lying, who put an end to Oókempán’s kidnappings. He interceded after a child escaped by grabbing hold of an overhead branch as Oókempán passed under it. Oóuk’en went to meet Oókempán at the top of a cliff. “What did you do with the children?” he asked the ogre. “I took them to increase my people”, replied Oókempán. “I only eat rhea, and I needed them to hunt for me”. After some more small talk, Oóuk’en pushed Oókempán off the cliff, shattering his shell and killing him.

The presence of fossil elephant bones in the region have been seen as evidence of Oókempán’s existence.

References

Borgatello, M.; Bórmida, M.; Casamiquela, R. M.; Baleta, M. E.; Escalada, F. A.; Harrington, T.; Hughes, W.; Lista, R.; Samitier, M. L.; and Siffredi, A.; Wilbert, J. and Simoneau, K. eds. (1984) Folk Literature of the Tehuelche Indians. UCLA Latin American Center Publications, University of California, Los Angeles.

Cherruve

Variations: Cheruvoe, Cheurvoe, Cheurvue, Cherufe

Cherruve

The Cherruve is the Chilean spirit of comets and asteroids. Originally no more than the Araucanian meteorite, the cherruve’s role has since expanded to include lava, volcanoes, fiery exhalations, will-o-the-wisps, whirlwinds, and animate stone axes.

Cherruve appearance varies from area to area, but it is usually described as a comet, or a great serpentine creature with a human head and lava dribbling from its mouth. Its appearance has been anthropomorphized to various degrees and conflated with aspects of European mythology; in the Andes it becomes a huge seven-headed dragon; elsewhere it is confused with dragons, devils, and giants, or bipedal goats with flaming eyes.

Cherruves live underground and in volcanoes, and streak across the sky by night. The appearance of a cherruve in the sky heralds the spread of an epidemic, the death of a great leader, or other misfortunes, while the cherruve’s vomit is lava and its movements underground cause earthquakes. They make thunder by tossing human heads. The more dragon-like cherruves may demand the sacrifice of Mapuche maidens, and will withhold the flow of rivers if their demands are not met.

Comets, asteroids, and meteors are all cherruves, as are meteorites and oddly-shaped volcanic rocks. Cherruve rocks are collected by sorcerers, who use them to carry out their evil purposes by sending them at their enemies. They are ordered to suck blood and inflict death and disease, and can operate on their own, returning diligently to their masters after performing their duties.

Cherruves are also capable of feeling more human emotions. One cherruve married a Cloud, and their beautiful daughter, ethereal and pale, was Snow. Despite the cherruve’s jealous attempts to keep his wife under lock and key, she was abducted by his mortal enemy Wind. Every now and then Wind would blow Cloud over the volcano, and her tears became rain, while the cherruve’s own despair turned into destructive eruptions. The cherruve redoubled his efforts to protect Snow, and kept her from leaving the mountain during the daylight hours. Snow’s curiosity about the world outside continued to grow, and one day she finally managed to escape her father and climb out into the light. She marveled at the sun, the songs of birds, the colors, all infinitely beautiful and unknown to her. The longer she stayed outside, the happier she was, and yet the weaker she felt. Her mother tried to protect her, but the spiteful Wind carried the Cloud away. When Snow sat down, exhausted, the love-stricken Sun came down to give her a kiss. When the cherruve finally caught up with his daughter, he found nothing but a puddle of crystalline water.

References

Faron, L. C. (1964) Hawks of the Sun. University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh.

Guevara, T. (1908) Psicolojia del pueblo araucano. Imprenta Cervantes, Santiago de Chile.

Latcham, R. E. (1924) La organización social y la creencias religiosas de los antiguos araucanos. Imprenta Cervantes, Santiago de Chile.

Lenz, R. (1897) Estudios Araucanos. Imprenta Cervantes, Santiago de Chile.

Pino-Saavedra, Y.; Gray, R. (trans.) (1967) Folktales of Chile. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Soustelle, G. and Soustelle, J. (1938) Folklore Chilien. Institut International de Coopération Intellectuelle, Paris.

Chonchón

Variations: Chonchon, Chonchoñ, Chon Chón, Chuncho, Chucho, Chuchu, Chaihue; Chonchones (pl.); Cocorote, Corocote (Venezuela); Cuscungo (Ecuador); Tecolote, Telocote (Mexico)

Chonchon

The Chonchón is a bird of ill omen from Chile and Argentina; it originally hails from Araucanian Mapuche folklore. Chonchón is also the name of a kind of kite.

In its simplest form it is a bird of the night, an owl (Strix rufipes) that flies on silent wings during the night to announce illness, death, or some other unwelcome event. When its croaking is heard it is advised to throw ash into the air and utter a few prayers in the hopes of turning away its evil.

The chonchón is also said to be a calcu or evil sorcerer in disguise. It resemble a human head, with oversized wing-like ears that allow it to fly. During the night, these sorcerers’ heads detach themselves from their bodies and fly around to cause mischief, invisible to most, their ominous tué, tué, tué call announcing misfortune. They have the same powers as sorcerers do, and have been known to suck the blood of sleepers.

In order to repel chonchones, several methods are recommended. These include drawing a Solomon’s seal on the ground, laying out a waistcoat in a specified manner, or reciting certain phrases or hymns such as the Magnificat, the Doce Palabras Redobladas, “Saint Cyprian goes up, Saint Cyprian goes down, Saint Cyprian goes to the mountain, Saint Cyprian goes to the valley”, or “Jesus goes ahead, follow him behind”. Doing any of these actions forces the chonchón to leave, or even fall to the ground where it can be destroyed. If the headless body of a chonchón sorcerer is found, turning it onto its stomach prevents the chonchón from returning to it. Finally, a more humane means of dealing with a chonchón is to yell “Come back tomorrow for some salt!” The next day, the chonchón in its human guise will show up and sheepishly request the promised salt. Except perhaps for the last method, most interference with the ways of chonchones will eventually incur the revenge of the chonchón or its friends.

One chonchón was reportedly grounded in Limache when someone made a Solomon’s seal, causing a large bird with red wattles to fall out of the sky. It was decapitated and its head fed to a dog, whose belly swelled up as though it had eaten a human head. Later the local gravedigger told that unknown persons had come to bury a headless body.

Not all chonchones are irredeemably evil, however. A Mapuche man in Galvarino once woke up early in the morning to find his wife’s body without her head. He immediately realized that she was a chonchón, and turned the body onto its stomach to prevent the head from reattaching. As expected, a chonchón soon flew heavily into the house, flapping and staggering as though blind. It then turned into a dog and whined pleadingly to be reunited with its body. The man took pity on it and allowed it to do so, and it became his wife once more. “Every night I leave, without you knowing, and visit distant lands”, she explained. She begged him not to tell anyone, and swore she would never harm him, and both kept their word; the story became known only after the wife died of natural causes.

Some authorities separate the chonchón from the chuncho, with the former being the sorcerous flying head and the latter the owl. Their calls are also different, with the chuncho hooting chun, chun, chun. They have further owl equivalents in the Venezuelan cocorote, the Ecuadorian cuscungos, and the Mexican tecolote. It is also compared to the myth of the voladora, a witch who flies while cackling loudly.

All this is quite unfair to the owls themselves, which benefit the farmers by eating mice, rats, and other vermin.

References

Aguirre, S. M. (2003) Mitos de Chile. Random House, Editorial Sudamericana Chilena.

Borges, J. L.; trans. di Giovanni, N. T. (1969) The Book of Imaginary Beings. Clarke, Irwin, & Co., Toronto.

Cifuentes, J. V. (1947) Mitos y supersticiones (3rd Ed.). Editorial Nascimento, Santiago, Chile.

Coluccio, F. and Coluccio, S. (2006) Diccionario Folklórico Argentino. Corregidor, Buenos Aires.

Rodríguez, Z. (1875) Diccionario de Chilenismos. El Independiente, Santiago.

Soustelle, G. and Soustelle, J. (1938) Folklore Chilien. Institut International de Coopération Intellectuelle, Paris.

Alicanto

Alicanto

The Alicanto is a glowing nocturnal bird comparable to the Carbuncle, perhaps sharing the same folkloric origin. It is  known to inhabit Chile, and has been reported from Atacama, San Bernardo, Santiago, Talagante, and Tarapacá.

Alicantos feed exclusively on metal ores, and take on the color of the metal they ingest – a gold-eating alicanto emits a golden light, while the silver-eating variety glows a cold metallic gray. The rare copper-eating alicanto is greenish, with large wings, a hooked beak, long legs, and sharp claws. Due to its phosphorescence, an alicanto does not cast a shadow. The eyes are bright and gleam silver.

These birds are flightless, but their wings are perfectly functional. They will often gorge themselves on metal, filling their crop so much that they cannot fly. At best they run fast with their wings held open; a full alicanto can barely drag itself along the ground.

Alicantos live around mines and hidden treasure, and nest in small caves. The female always lays two eggs, the shells of which are made of the metal she eats.

As an alicanto indicates the presence of precious metal, finding one can be highly lucrative. For that reason they are sought out by prospectors, engineers, miners, and unscrupulous looters hoping that the birds will lead them to rich veins. However, an alicanto is highly protective of its food sources, and if it knows it’s being followed, it will stop glowing and disappear into the darkness – or worse, lead its pursuers to a cliff.

References

Aguirre, S. M. (2003) Mitos de Chile. Random House, Editorial Sudamericana Chilena.

Cifuentes, J. V. (1947) Mitos y supersticiones (3rd Ed.). Editorial Nascimento, Santiago, Chile.