in the Peruvian Andes lies an isolated valley, rich in history and natural
wonders, called the Callejon
de Huaylas. Long before the reign of the
Incas and the invasion of the Conquistadors, this rich ecosystem was
the center of the Chavin civilization, one of the oldest in Peru.
its height between 400 and 600 B.C., the Chavin
civilization was known for its intense design skill, fueled by ritual
use of psychedelic snuff, especially visible in their advanced textile
and metal work. After a prolonged and gradual decline, they were eventually
conquered by the Incas less than a hundred years before the arrival of
This wide valley, some 200 km long, is split by the Santa River and
fringed by a picturesque group of towns and villages, among them
Huaraz, Carhuaz, Yungay and Caraz. Today, the Callejon is known as
the "Switzerland of South America" and is a center of mountain climbing
It is largely a land which time forgot.
Wedged between two
Negra and Cordillera Blanca- the Callejon de Huaylas offers incomparable
Andian vistas, an indigenous population living largely as their ancestors
did centuries ago, and easy access to snow-capped peaks, pristine mountain
lakes, and little-known ancient ruins.
It is also where the Dowbrigade Boys, our 20 and 23 year-old sons, have
settled in to build an eco-tourism hotel on a beautiful piece of land
alongside a river above the town of Carhuaz, which we bought over 25
years ago, for a song, and let lie fallow for decades while we
developed a more conventional career north of the border.
We recently returned from 15 days as a guest in the still-under-construction
hotel, working title "Villa Maria", a complete escape from the wired
world and our normal concerns and behavior patterns. While there,
holed up in a cozy adobe cabin, two simple rooms with a hand-crafted
fireplace, electricity but no phone or internet access, bathroom down
by the river, we came across a slim volume published by a tiny local
press and titled "Legends of Ancash."
It contained a charming and revealing collection of myths and legends,
collected over 20 years by Marcos Yauri Monteros and first published
in 1961 by P.L. Villanueva, Lima, ed. The stories were collected from
three main sources throughout the Callejon: 1) high school students,
most of them living in towns and monolingual in Spanish; older people
town and villages, almost all bilingual Spanish-Quechua, and 3) camposinos,
nearly all monolingual Quechua speakers. Quechua is the most widely-spoken
indigenous language in the entire Anedean region, a linguistic descendent
of the language of the Incas, and the second "official" language of Peru.
Having little else to do without internet access, we set out to translate
some of these legends from Spanish into English. Of course, the
book we were using was already a translation, from Quechua into Spanish,
of an oral tradition which had been passed down from generation to generation
since before the Spanish arrived.
Of course, the stories are adapted and elaborated with each retelling,
so these "modern" versions bear unmistakable influences of Spanish, Catholicism
and the cultural influence of whatever oblique reflections of Western
civilization penetrated these Andean redoubts. To us, this cross-cultural
pollination and mongrelization only make the legends that much more poignant
We managed to translate about a dozen of the legends, which we are
please to share with you over the coming weeks. Here is one for
a starter, an origin myth.
The Origin of People
In the beginning there were
no men. In the world there lived only animals, plants, and stones.
to populate it with superior beings. For this reason he had the earth
give birth to the Wirakunas, who established themselves in Pomabamba.
The Wirakunas were giants. They carried gigantic boulders on their
shoulders, with which they built beautiful cities.
But they turned out to be evil. They destroyed themselves with constant
warfare. Then from the East came the Aukas, who were better warriors
than the Wirakunas, and exterminated them.
The extermination greatly angered Japallan Kamakoj. He called to him
three condors and said to them:
Travel around the entire world proclaiming that the Aukas must be punished.
The condors traveled to every corner of the earth, proclaiming their
fateful message. It only took them three days to cover the entire planet.
At the end of this time began a tremendous storm, the likes of which
had never been seen. Between thunder and lightening that seemed to
never cease, a diluvial rain began to fall.
It rained for an indeterminably long time. The earth was drenched to
its foundations. The great cities of men were reduced to rubble, and
people, plants and animals all died. The earth was converted into a
huge muddy lake, with its great cities buried in its uncharted depths.
And when no sign of life remained, the waters withdrew, leaving behind
the ruins of the cities.
After the punishment was complete, Japallan Kamakoj again called the
three condors to him, and said:
Now bring me three pairs of human beings, man and woman.
The condors flew around the world. In their passage they saw that other
cities and other peoples had been destroyed by different disasters.
But each bird was able to find one couple, man and woman, alive among
The three condors loaded the humans on their back and carried them
back to Pomabamba. Japallan Kamakoj ordered that the three couples
to Pinkosmarka, where they established themselves. Their descendents
populated the American continent.
Interesting echoes of the Great Flood. Pre-historic disaster