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The Macaw Woman

The Macaw Woman

A myth from ancient Peru

Translated from Cristóbal de Molina’s “Fábulas y ritos de los Incas”. The myth of the macaw woman can be found in the opening pages.

There came a time long ago when the earth was covered with water. As the water rose, it drowned the people, all but two brothers, who fled to the mountain called Huacayñán. Still the water kept rising. It threatened to cover the mountain.

But the mountain itself grew higher and higher, and in this way the brothers were saved. When the flood had subsided, and the land was dry, the brothers, nearly starved by now, came down from the mountain to look for food. All they could find were roots and a few herbs, barely enough to keep them alive.

Each day they would gather whatever they could. At night they would return exhausted to the little house they had built for themselves on the mountain.

One evening, as they entered the house, it amazed them to find cooked food to eat and chicha ready to drink. They couldn’t imagine where it had come from or who might have brought it. Yet the next day, the same thing happened. And on the following day it happened again. When this had gone on for ten days, the brothers decided to find out who their mysterious visitor might be.

The next day the elder brother remained at home. He hid in a corner and waited. Two birds arrived, bringing food. They were macaws, yet they had human faces and wore their hair fastened in front the way women still do even now. As soon as they came into the house, the larger of the two removed her mantle. The young man could see that they were beautiful. As they prepared the food they had brought, he rushed forth and tried to seize them. Enraged, they flew off, leaving nothing to eat.

The Macaw Bird Woman - Peru

When the younger brother returned and found that no food had been cooked as on previous days, he asked what had happened. His brother told him about the macaws, how he had tried to capture them, and how they had flown away. Then both brothers were very troubled.

The next day the younger brother decided that he too would remain in hiding, and together the young men waited to see if the macaws would return. Finally, at the end of three days, the birds reappeared and prepared food as before. The brothers watched carefully. As soon as the birds had cooked the food, the brothers jumped up and shut the door with the two macaws inside. The birds were furious; they tried to escape, but only the larger of the two succeeded. The brothers seized the smaller bird and, grasping her tightly, would not let her go.

The smaller macaw then became their wife, and in time she gave birth to six sons and daughters. For many years they lived on the mountain, planting the seeds the macaw woman had brought and gathering the harvests.

We are all descended, they say, from these six sons and daughters. We are all children of the macaw.

For this reason, the mountain Huacayñán is a holy mountain. The macaw, too, is holy; and its feathers are worn at sacred feasts.

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