Thursday, September 04, 2008

Ghost Stories of the Sierra IV: Isabel and the Duendes

Another story of Lizbeth's from her youth in the sierra. To the village of Cabanaconde, where her family live, a few men would occasionally arrive with a llama train from a remote settlement two days walk into the mountains, on the border between Arequipa and Cuzco. They walked without shoes, having rubbed alpaca fat into their feet to harden the soles. In their community they ate only charqui (dried llama meat) and chuño (dehydrated potato), so would bring salt and firewood to Cabanaconde to exchange for maize and other provisions.

One day, a man from this settlement brought with him a girl of about ten or eleven, who was his daughter, and left her with Lizbeth's mother. The girl's name was Isabel. Lizbeth's mother sent her to live with her sister in Lima, and when Lizbeth went to stay there when she was studying, Isabel would comb her hair and tell her stories about life in the mountains (years later, I myself would meet Isabel in a crowded, friendly house in the barrio of San Juan de Miraflores).

One story that Isabel told Lizbeth was of an incident that happened when she was about seven years old. At around 5:00 in the evening her mother had sent her home alone from the fields with her baby sister. She went into the family's little shack and prepared alpaca milk for the baby. Then she went down to the river to wash her hands and go to the bathroom. While she was occupied, she heard the baby crying nearby. She found it at the water's edge, without any clothes. Frightened, she picked up the baby and went back to the shack. Through a crack in the wall, she saw two duendes, laughing, down by the river. These are little creatures, old, with pale skins but with normal clothes, that appear around sundown, when the souls go to rest.

Isabel heard the alpacas running around nervously outside. A puma was nearby, causing the alpacas to take fright. She went outside and began to gather firewood, to light a fire and scare away the cat. When she went back into the shack, the baby was no longer there. She found it down by the river, half in the water, stone cold.

The duendes were responsible. They are old and malicious, and need to tap the strength of humans to maintain their life force. To try and make themselves younger, they had taken over the soul of the baby.

No comments: