Land of winds. Digital magazine on Andean music. Header picture
Andean legend Andean music
Land of winds > Traditions > Legend | Issue 04. Mar.-Apr.2011
By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza


Diaguita-Calchaquí deity who looks after vicuñas, llamas and guanacos [camelids native to South America]. He is described as a small man, smooth-faced and with indigenous features, who wears trousers made of barracán [hand-woven sheep or llama wool], a linen shirt, ojotas [a kind of flip-flops] and a poncho of vicuña wool. He covers his head with an ovejón hat [made of wool, a primitive fabric moulded with a mortar] or with a simple ch'ullu or indigenous cap [a style of hat with earflaps]. Sometimes he can also disguise himself as a guanaco. He moves quickly and easily without a trace. He loves to whistle as he goes up and down the hills and chews coca leaves all the time. Hidden to human sight he keeps careful watch on his cattle. When flocks of camelids are seen moving forward in the distance without a shepherd driving them, it is the Coquena who leads them to richer grasslands.
It is rare to meet Coquena, and when this happens, it is regarded as a bad omen. This vision lasts only an instant for he will immediately become a spirit.
He gets angry when someone goes vicuñas hunting with firearms and harshly punishes those who do so, but he also knows how to reward. Besides, he gets annoyed as well with the muleteers who pack too much load on their beasts of burden. On the contrary, he rewards good shepherds with golden coins.
In addition, Coquena is the owner of gold and silver mines as well as of the many treasures hidden in the region, which are jealously guarded by him. Long ago it was said that at nightfall he drove flocks and herds burdened with gold and silver extracted from different mines across the mountain range toward the Sumaq Urqu in Potosí, for its legendary wealth remained relatively intact. The load was secured with vipers by way of ropes.

Extracted from “Coquena (El)”. In Colombres, Adolfo. Seres sobrenaturales de la cultura popular argentina. Buenos Aires: Ediciones Del Sol, 1999.

The legend of Coquena
Poem by Juan Carlos Dávalos

Hunting vicuñas I walked in the hills.
Wounded of bullet, two run away.
-Don’t hunt vicuñas with firearm,
Coquena gets angry - a shepherd told me.

-Why not to catch them according to custom,
fencing the place with red thread?.
For what reason to kill them, if you only covet
for your clothing the fine fleece?

-Don’t hunt vicuñas with firearm.
Coquena takes revenge for them, I assure you.
Didn’t you see that in the still, dark pupils
it is shining the God’s calm look?

-Have you ever seen Coquena?
-I never saw it,
but my grandfather did –answered the shepherd;
- I only heard him whistling once,
in the tolares, close to prayer time.

Coquena is very small; of vicuña wool are his
hat, socks, vest and pants;
he wears tiny, goblin-like ojotas
and it is said that the God’s face resembles that of a mestizo.

Of the cattle that graze in the hills,
Coquena is a hidden, jealous shepherd.
When you see the flocks moving in the distant
it is the God who drives them without being noticed.

And it is him who steals the llamas at night
when the boss pack too much load on them.

Dressed in wool fabric, up in the hill,
penning his goats, the shepherd was;
buzzing through the iros leaves there was the wind,
cracking the rocks there was the strength of sun.

From summits always covered with snow,
coming storm clouds the shepherd was seeing;
afterwards the valley was fully covered with mist
that ascended from the lower grounds to cover the hill top.

The flock dispersed and run away along the ridge,
while the shepherd called them in vain.
The night found him sat on his heels,
and he was overcome by sleep.

As the dawn paints –clearing the skies-
the ravines scarlet, the shepherd wakes up.
Next to him, in exchange of the missing flock,
filled with gold, Coquena had left a bag.

Penning his goats in the hills never again
the peoples of the valley saw the shepherd,
Coquena stipulated that he was to be very rich.
For good shepherds are always rewarded by God.


Coquena, in Wikipedia [es].
Legend of Coquena, in Jujuy en letras [es].
Coquena, in Diccionario de Mitos y Leyendas [es].
Disclaimer of Land of windsEditorial staff of Land of winds