Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino

Indigenous Stories > Atacameño > The story of the Shepherdess

In the countryside close to town, a shepherdess was watching her flock when a young man came down the hill, dressed in fine clothes, and began to profess his love to her. The young man wanted to marry the shepherdess, but she did not wish to do so.

People joked about how short he was [he was a hunchback], but the young man tells her that, despite being so short, he can lift her up. So the shepherdess crawls up on his back and, to her great astonishment, watches as the long arms of the young man turn into wings, and he carries her to an inaccessible cave high on a mountain.

The young hunchback was in fact a condor who turned into a man when he spoke.

The condor leaves his beloved in the cave and goes out in search of food for her. He brings her raw meat, but the shepherdess does not want it and pushes it away. The condor takes flight once more, and this time he leaves the meat on the remains of a fire, where it is covered with ashes and is burned by the coals. He feeds the girl this way, and she continues to live in the cave. Three years pass, and the shepherdess now has a baby. She wants to leave the cave but cannot—she is ashamed to tell her parents that feathers have begun to cover her body.

One afternoon the shepherdess sees a fox passing by on the hillside below the cave. She calls to it, she cries to it from high up at the mouth of the cave, asking the fox to tell her father, Urrucutu Pancho, where she is and what has happened to her.

The fox runs through the countryside crying:
—Urrucutu Pancho, Urrucutu Pancho…

He encounters a lizard and begins to hunt it down, and as he is eating it he remembers the shepherdess’s request, but finds that he has forgotten the name of her father. He returns to the mountain where the cave is, and the shepherdess calls to him:
— Urrucutu Pancho is the name of my father.

Again, the fox runs through the hills calling for her father the shepherd:
—Urrucutu Pancho…Urrucutu Pancho…

This time, though, he sees a bird and begins to chase it, and once again forgets the name of the girl’s father. Again he returns to the foot of the mountain on which the shepherdess lives. Again she repeats her father’s name, and begs him to carry out her request.

Down through the countryside goes the fox, crying out the name, until he passes close by the homestead of Urrucutu Pancho. When the shepherd sees the fox circling nearby, he releases his dogs to chase it and hunt it down, because the shepherd does not know that the fox is there for a purpose. When the fox is cornered by the dogs, he cries out to the shepherd:
“Fine, I shall not tell you then where your lost daughter is to be found.”

Urrucutu Pancho calls off the dogs and, upon hearing what has happened to his daughter, he rushes to save her, following behind the fox, who leads him to the cave.

That day the condor was not in the cave because he had to travel far to find food for his child and his beloved. So the shepherd Urrucutu Pancho takes advantage of his absence and climbs even higher up the mountain, and from there he drops a rope to the cave where his daughter is. The shepherdess ties the rope around herself and her father hoists her up, along with the child.

Later, as the sun is going down, the weary condor flies home to the cave on the mountain. There, he is devastated to find that both the shepherdess and his child are gone. Weeping, the condor flies over the hills and countryside without finding any trace of them. Exhausted, he spies a small homestead and flies over to it, intending to rest on its thatched roof.

Urrucutu Pancho and his daughter see the condor coming near, because it is their house the bird has decided to rest at. Immediately the father hides the shepherdess and her child in a huilqui (large ceramic pot), covers it and pretends to go about his work.

The condor reaches the house and weeps silently. Clear water flows from one eye, blood from the other.

Later, the condor departs on his solitary journey home to the mountains.

Alone at last, Urrucutu Pancho runs to help his daughter out of the huilqui, but he is grief-stricken to find both his daughter and grandchild dead, transformed into condors.

Note: This story is known throughout the Salado area.

Narrativa tradicional atacameña
Hábitat. Cultura. Corpus.
(Traditional Atacameña Narratives
Habitat. Culture. Corpus.)

Domingo Gómez Parra