Atacama myths

Myths and legends from Atacama

While travelling you meet story tellers that will take you to the lands of mystery, magic and legends. It is always fascinating for me to hear those stories as they explain a lot about the culture, tradition and history of a country and its people. Legends and myths, although only partially true, can give an insight to better understanding of the lives people live. And it’s fun to hear them.

Myths from Atacama

Illustration by Carmen Cardemil

Those stories here were given to me in a nice package and nicely printed when I visited Hotel Tierra Atacama in San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. I would like to share some of them with you.

The legend of licancabur
The taming of the capricious volcano

Many years ago, the hunters and gatherers of the Atacama used to leave sacrifices to the Licancabur volcano one a year. They used to choose one of their women to give as a gift to the live volcano which was feared as a powerful and capricious god. The sacrifices of the women ended only through the brave actions of a strong young man who challenged the volcano. After suffering various days and nights with earthquakes and violent storms, he managed to reach the summit, at 5,916 m asl. On his success at reaching the top, a small lake formed, and the volcano was no longer active. The hunters and gatherers started to bury their dead in the lake from then on. Legend says that in the lake there are many treasures as a result of the tributes of the Atacameñans burying their dead with objects of value and making offerings to the volcano god.

Source: Domingo Gómez Parra, ” Cuentos de nuestra tierra”, Instituto de Investigaciones Antropológicas, Universidad de Antofagasta, 1994.

Atacameñan myths

Illustration by Carmen Cardemil

 

The enchanted toad
The magic dance

A young man was walking next to a riverwhen he heard a lovely melody. Susprised to doscover it was a toad, the man said to her:

-Can you make me a shirt, please?

The toad kindly knitted him a beautiful shirt. The young man was delighted with his new piece of clothing and went to show it to his brother. The brother loved the shirt and went to see the toad to ask her to knit him one, too. She knitted him an ugly shirt. The brother, unhappy with the work, commented loudly.

One day, the young man invited the toad to a dance. The toad danced all night. At every turn she scattered flowers around her. The dance floor was covered with flowers. The wife of the brother of the young man, however, scattered bones everywhere, for looking down at the toad.

Toad: in the Andean world, toads and frogs are related to meanings to do with water or textiles. The toad is associated with the function of attracting rain.

Source: Roberto Lehnert, ” Mitos y creencias del mundo atacameño”, Antofagasta, 2000.

Atacameñan myths

Illustration by Carmen Cardemil

 

The song of the water
Why the desert is so dry

Many, many years ago when the earth was recently taking shape, in the are known as Atacama, volcanoes and plains appeared and the earth took on a wide range of colours. It rained and rained and gushing rivers were formed. The Atacameñans sang to the water, and the water helped them with their cultivation. The running water brought stones with it, which made the walls of the canals which can still be seen today.

Some time later came a big rain, it rained for forty days and forty nights and the water ran and ran until it ran out. And that is how the Atacameñans lost everything, all their corps, their earth and their life.

Nowdays, nobody knows how t sing to the water so that it comes back, like it was before.

Fiesta del agua: The water party. Every spring the Atacameñan people celebrate the fiest of canal cleaning to prepare the canals which irrigate the area to receive the melt water from the Andean snows.

Source: Domingo Gómez Parra, ” Asi hablan las montañas”, Universidad de Antofagasta, 1998

Atacameñan myths

Illustration by Carmen Cardemil

 

What legends and myths did you hear during your travels? I would love to hear them.

Keep smiling, follow your heart,

Anna