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     Land of winds > Traditions > Legend | Issue 09 (Mar.-Apr. 2012)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Condors and foxes

Condors and foxes

Throughout the Andes, animals have always been featured as main characters in indigenous legends and stories: condors and foxes being probably among the most famous ones. We can remember, for example, the foxes that appear in Dioses y hombres de Huarochirí (literally, "Gods and people of Huarochirí") by Peruvian writer José María Arguedas.

Within Aymara literature, both characters share stories and adventures with the hummingbird, the monkey, the armadillo, domestic animals and human beings. The condor is represented as a powerful being while the fox is depicted as a swindler whose wandering usually end up in disaster.

One of the most popular legends portraying a condor is kunturimp tawaqumpi, "the condor and the maid".

The tale tells that an attentive, well-dressed young man met a young shepherdess and decided to help her attend her flock and be by her side while she spun. Once the maid felt in love with him, he uncovered his real nature: he was really a huge condor.

At this he took her with him and flew to his nest, which was located at the top of a crag. There she remained isolated from the rest of the world. The condor first tried to feed her with putrid meat, next with raw meat and finally with roast meat. Since the maid went on refusing to eat, the condor decided to look for something different. While he was away a parrot managed to go by the nest and the maid promised him that she would give him everything she had at home if he helped her come down.

Once at home, and after she paid the parrot back, the maid told her mother all the adventures she had gone through. The mother, afraid of the condor coming back and asking for her daughter, hid her inside an amphora. When the condor returned to his nest and found it empty, set off to his wife’s house and, perched on the roof, asked her mother where she was. Not being able to find her, he cried in grief and left.

When the mother opened the amphora she found her daughter’s white bones buried in a sea of blood and knew that this was the curse of the condor’s cry. Since then it is said that it is not good to make your partner cry.

One of the many Quechua versions of this tale (specifically, the one from Cuzco) says that the maid went down with the help of a hummingbird, which placed a toad in the nest and told the condor that her wife had become a pest. Surprised, the condor had no choice but to resign himself to his fate and the hummingbird was rewarded with all the flowers the maid grew in her garden.

Regarding the fox, the most famous legend is tiwulamp qala kayumpi, "the uncle [fox] and the donkey". A couple lived in the high plateau region alongside their cattle and their donkey. The man had to go on a trip and the woman was left in charge of the household. Every night she tied up the donkey with a woven hide lasso and every night the fox untied him and took away the lasso. The woman was really worried and asked the donkey —the only witness of the facts— how it would have happened. The animal answered that she, in addition to beat him until he was black and blue, was starving him, therefore he would not say a word to her. With the promise of being given enough forage and after being properly attended to, the donkey asked the women to cover his body with boiled quinua, and went to lie down in front of fox’s earth. Believing the donkey was dead (for the quinua looked like worms) lots of foxes went out with the stolen lassos to take him away. Before they were able to tie him up with the lassos the donkey kicked them to death and went back home carrying her lassos.

Since then it is said that in order to avoid problems it is usually best to take care of domestic animals and feed them properly.

The following legend, kunturimp qamaqimpi, brings the fox and the condor together. The latter found the former gnawing at several dirty bones in the middle of scrubland. When the condor asked the fox what he was doing, the fox answered that he was starving and there were no food anywhere round there but those stinking remains. The condor took pity on the fox and invited him to attend a party in heaven, where there would be lots of food and drink. There they were the four-legged between the condor’s wings. Both of them ate as much they could and got drunk. When it was time to go back to the earth, the condor could not find his binge partner and without giving it too much thought, set off alone. When the fox woke up he found that he was left stranded in heaven. Then, while he was weaving a long rope out of straw, he stole and ate everything in his path. Once the rope was finished, a parrot just happened to pass by him when the fox was starting to descend to earth. Not being able to resist mocking him, the parrot cut the rope and the fox inevitably fall off, crashing into the ground. His intestine burst open and everything inside spread all over. Some time later, a man who passed by there saw plants he had never seen before: maize, gourds, pumpkins, squashes, beans... All of them had grown from the seeds the fox had eaten in heaven.

It is said that it was the fox’s death (and his wrong doings in heaven) what allowed human beings to plant those crops ever after.

Stories extracted from the book "Literatura Quechua y Aymara", by Donato Gómez Bacarreza.

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