Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino

Indigenous Stories > Aymara > The condor and the shepherdess

A girl was seated on the edge of a chacuña –a semi-circle of stones where the shepherdesses went to do their weaving.

As she watched her flock in the summer pasture, the shepherdess worked on her weaving to pass the time. Suddenly she saw a man approaching her, who said:

—Little shepherdess, why do you sit all by yourself? Do you not wish to play for awhile, to pass the time?
—No, because I am weaving, but if you want to wait until I am finished…

And so the man, who was not really a man but a condor who had taken the shape of a man, sat down beside her to wait. After some time, the girl finally finished her llijlla—which is a blanket that the women use to carry their infants and for other things—and decided to play. The man was very happy, because the shepherdess was falling into a trap. He suggested that they play a game to see which of them could run the furthest with the other on their back.

The shepherdess climbed up on the man’s back first, then he climbed on her back, and thus they played for a while.

But the man’s intentions were not good, because what he really wanted was to carry her away and marry her.

In the middle of the game, when it was the girl’s turn to climb on the man’s back, the man began to run very fast, and when he had reached a high speed, he turned into a condor and flew up toward the high hills where the bird had his cave and where it was impossible for any human being to climb down from. Only the condor could leave, by flying.

Trapped in the condor’s yquiña (the highest cave on the hill, where condors are wont to live), the shepherdess became very sad, because this was no place for humans to live. She was cold as well, and had nothing to eat, but her greatest fear was that the condor wanted to marry her: How could anyone marry a condor! The very thought of it drove her to despair, and she wept, thinking of her family and her community far away, she wept because none of them could help her.

The condor tried to be kind, and to care for her as well as he could. He brought her abundant food, but it was always raw or rotten meat. The little shepherdess insisted that he bring her better food, that she would only eat cooked food.

The condor was desperate, because he could not find any food for the woman. He approached a viacha (a field of old hay that has been burned so that new sprouts can emerge), but did not dare get very close because he was terrified of fire.

But close to the viacha, the condor found a yareta bush that had been burned some time ago, and among the coals that remained he wrapped a piece of meat that he had been bringing to the shepherdess, and he returned to the cave carrying the piece of meat all dirty and blackened.

But while the condor was at the yareta bush, the little shepherdess continued her weeping, and as she was weeping a little bird flew up to her—a picarrosa—and asked her, “Why are you crying, beautiful little shepherdess?”

“Because the condor tricked me to bring me here. He forced me to come here and wants to marry me, and I do not want to. I want to return to my community and be with my family,” the girl answered.

“If you want to go back, I can help you,” said the picarrosa.

“But how can such a small bird as you help me?”

“Don’t worry about that. I only ask that in return for taking you back to your family, you give me that beautiful green necklace you are wearing.”

“It’s a deal,” answered the shepherdess, elated.

“Hang on to my little neck and close your eyes,” said the picarrosa.

And the two quickly left the great hill behind and flew down toward the pasture.

When she bid the bird farewell, the shepherdess handed him the necklace, and that is why, to this day, the picarrosa bird wears a green collar around his neck.

Now, the little shepherdess from the summer pasture all the way home, where she found her parents weeping with grief. She told them what had happened and how the condor had kidnapped her in order to marry her.

The father of the girl, who was a wise old farmer, said, “I have no doubt that this cuntir [the bird’s Quechua name] will come to find you with his big friends the alcamares [birds of prey], but we are going to prepare things to run them off.”

And so the father, the mother, and all the shepherdesses’ brothers and sisters hid the girl under a p’uño, a large ceramic pot.

Not long after, just as the father had predicted, the condor appeared, innocently asking after the shepherdess.

“What have you come here to look for, thief?” said the father, dumping a bucket of boiling water over its head and neck.

The condor was seriously hurt, and was determined to find out who had helped the girl who was to have been his wife escape off the hill. Clearly, she could not have done it herself: some bird must have helped her.

“I must find that traitor!” thought the condor, livid with anger.

As he was the king of all the birds, the condor called an urgent meeting, which none of them dared not attend. When all were present, the condor asked if they knew how his future wife had managed to get down from the hilltop.

“I don’t know,” said the guallata bird.

And the same “I don’t know” was echoed by all the birds—the alcamares, the doves, the eagles, the puku-puku, the kukulí, the leke-leke, the chictale and the chipi-chipi.

None of the birds wished to tell who had brought the shepherdess down. However, there was one tiny bird that had been calling out for some time, “I know! I know!”

But he was so small no one took notice of him.

The little bird made such a fuss, however, that the condor finally looked at him and said, “What do you know, little bird? What knowledge do you have, laika amachi (which means witch bird). Who was the traitor who has robbed me of my woman?”

“The picarrosa it was, he who is also called picaflor [hummingbird],” answered the witch bird, pointing with his beak to where the accused was perched.

The picaflor tried to fly away, but was quickly surrounded by the other birds. The condor was furious, and he approached the little bird and pronounced, “You will be a meal for me,” and, no sooner said than done, he swallowed it whole.

But the story does not end here, because the picaflor, being such a tiny bird, managed to escape from the condor. And as the picaflor flew away to freedom, all of the birds that the condor had called together laughed uproariously and flapped their wings in amusement.

The grandfathers tell us that, since then, the picaflor and picarrosa wear a beautiful green necklace, and for the same reason they have a bald spot on their necks.

Uybirmallco (Cerros que nos dan la vida)
Tradición oral aymara.
(Uybirmallco (Mountains that give us life)
Aymara oral tradition)
Rucio Flores M.
Julián Amaro M.
Juan Podestá A.