New Book of Andean Myths and Legends

Cartagena's Gold Museum was an apt venue for the launching of a new book by Carlos Torres last Friday evening. Among the pre-Columbian gold and ceramic treasures exhibited inside Carlos unveiled something perhaps even more valuable: an anthology of Andean myths and legends that Carlos researched over many years, condensed into seven short stories and presented in this his first volume, titled Un Solo Circulo Un Solo Recorrido: Cuentos Inspirados en Textos Nativos Americanos. It translates as 'Only a Circle Only a Journey: Inspired Stories in Native American Texts'.

A small but enthusiastic audience gathered to witness the launch, and were presented with photos and passages featured in the book, projected from a laptop computer onto the auditorium wall. Torres' softly spoken, almost poetic delivery of his synopsis was accompanied by the haunting music from Eyes Wide Shut.

Thirty-eight years old, Torres is a native of Bogota who has worked as a teacher in Brazil, the Dominican Republic and now in Cartagena, explained that the written and oral traditions of the Andean natives did not die out with the Conquest. Many Andean tribes did not see a European face until as recently as 1935, when missionaries finally contacted the most remote regions. As Betty Osorio, Director of Literature at the Universidad de los Andes, writes in the prologue, the importance of these legends and myths is often underestimated; they connect the ancient people with the present, and the distant people with the people close by. By reading them one can gain a better interpretation of these people's religion, history, laws and how they viewed their own place in the universe.

Throughout the book, Torres uses the metaphor of a canoe to represent the flow of stories over the Andes and down to the Amazon region. His principle aim in writing the book was to ensure that these legends are recorded and accessible to the next generation; his book has been approved as a textbook at Colegio Britanico. The stories were gathered from the Peruvian Andes, north-eastern Amazonas and the region of Tierradentro in Cauca. Especially interesting is the Taki Oncoy verse, recounting the fall of Atahualpa, the last Inca Emperor:

"Hombres de densa lana todos rojos, venían por encima del mar en navíos de hierro..."

"Men in thick wool all red, came above the ocean in ships of iron..."

Torres weaves some poetic rhythm into the myths, such as this, the closing passage:

"Los huacas, entonces, retornaron de las tinieblas y purificaron los cuerpos para sentir las estrellas en sus ojos y cosmos bajo su piel, como antaño."

The tomb-spirits, then, returned the darkness and purified the bodies so they could feel the stars in their eyes and the cosmos beneath their skin, like long ago.

De nuevo se amaba ajenos a la "vergüenza"

De nuevo se oían los secretos de las aguas

De nuevo la sonrisa afloró

Aunque sólo sea por un instante...

The kindness of the innocent against the guilty is renewed

The secrets of the waters again are heard

The smile again comes to the surface

Although it will only be for an instant...

Un Solo Circulo Un Solo Recorrido sells for 26,000 pesos in Cartagena bookshops. ISBN 958-33-3140-6, 46 pages, illustrated with photographs by Diana Tono and printed on brown recycled paper, published by Editora Bolivar Ltda, Cartagena.

Posted by Glen David Short, 11 Feb 2002.

Glen David Short is a freelance writer based in Cartagena. His new adventure travelogue, `An Odd Odyssey: California to Colombia by bus and boat' has just been published by Trafford Publishing.

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Text and Photos Copyright 2005 Glen David Short