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Ukuku - the son of the bear - Typical Peruvian Folktake

Ukuku - the son of the bear

Peruvian folktale involving a bear, a young shepherdess and their son

This Peruvian folktale was taken from the original in Quechua language (Ukuku, ukukupa chupin) and freely translated into English.

Something or someone made a terrible noise in the bush. So long and deep was that noise that one of Paulita’s alpacas fled. Paulita had grown up high in the mountains, walking along the ravines, moving the stones on the road, and taking the alpacas along narrow paths on the edge of the abysses.

But this was the first time that the beautiful young shepherdess was afraid. Still, Paulita ran after the white and woolly alpaca, and when she thought she reached it on top of it, she saw it enter a cave.

The brave shepherdess was determined to enter the cave when a man surprised her from behind. It was a young man wearing glasses. Paulita had never seen such a hairy man. Besides a beard and long hair, the man had abundant hair on his arms and hands. So much was the hair that it peeked through his shirt.

ukuku the son of the bear peruvian folktale

“Have you lost something?” The man asked in a serious but polite tone.

“Yes, sir,” answered the shepherdess, with some hesitation in her voice. “One of my alpacas has gotten lost, and I have followed her here, but she has entered that cave.”

“I’ll go with you to look for her,” said the man. “You’re never safe in caves; bears and pumas usually live in them.”

“Don’t bother, sir,” the shepherdess replied. “I can go alone.”

But then a dreadful noise was heard in the depths of the cave, and without further discussion, the man went ahead of Paulita and entered. Everything was dark inside, but at the bottom of the cave, a thread of light glowed intermittently from above. The man ran towards the light. The shepherdess could not follow him because the floor of the cave was slippery.

“Get on my back”, the man offered to Paulita.

And she got on, thinking thus to go faster to find her lost alpaca. But, little by little, and as they approached the light, the man walked with arms and feet, and his clothes fell apart. Paulita thought: “This really is a hairy one,” because the man’s abundant hair was becoming more and more palpable. When they reached the place where the thread of light shone, the man unloaded the shepherdess and looked at her. Paulita gasped and opened her eyes.

She no longer had a man in front of her but a large spectacled bear, which then told her, “From now on you will live with me and I will take care of you. Inside here you will not suffer from the cold of the mountains or the heat of the harsh sun. Not even the rain will touch you. If you try to run away, you will get lost. There are pumas that live in other parts of this cave. One of them has eaten your alpaca. But I will remedy it by bringing you a lot of food, so that you are always happy and can sleep with a full belly.”

During the following months, Paulita cried so much that she ran out of tears. At first, she tried to escape, but she always went back to look for the thread of light, because not only was there no way out of it, but the roars of the pumas terrified her.

This is how the shepherdess spent many days curled up in a corner of the cave and without sleeping. The bear brought her food, but she refused it. One day, she couldn’t take it anymore and she fell asleep. When she woke up, she noticed the bear had brought her food. She detested raw meat, but she was so weak that she ate a piece. After that, she felt confused, and she roared like the bear did. She soon ate more of the meat, and so she forgot herself, to the point of believing that she was a bear.

Years passed, and the shepherdess had a son with the bear. They called it Ukuku. The bear boy was very naughty and playful. From the belly button down, he was a bear and everything from there up, a man. His mother took care of him so that the pumas would not attack them, but one day Ukuku ran away to play with the puma’s children. The little ones seemed half stupid to him, because they only scratched and roared. The bear’s son could imitate them perfectly, and even pretended to be one of them with the mother cougar, to steal a little of breast milk. Soon Ukuku learned to speak the language of the pumas and got them to do everything he wanted... they even seemed to be his pets.

Meanwhile, Paulita got terribly bored in the cave and fell in total hopelessness, because, when it was cold, the father bear would lie down to sleep for months on end and snored nonstop. So, it was on one day Ukuku took his mother for a walk. Since he knew the cave so well, he led her by the hand to the exit. When they ran into the pumas, who did not hide their interest in the shepherdess, the bear boy scolded them in their language and sent them to take care of their little children instead of doing bad things to the people.

When Ukuku and his mother came out of the cave, she was blinded by the sun that she covered her face with her hands, which looked more like claws given the size of the nails. She had cried so much when the bear kidnapped her that a pool of water had formed at the entrance of the cave. There she saw herself as a reflection, rubbed her eyes, and remembered everything. She looked so ugly, scruffy, and pale that she cried uncontrollably; but she was relieved, for at least she had regained her ability to cry.

ukuku the son of the bear peruvian folktale

Ukuku then hugged his mother and asks why she was crying. Between sobs, she told him her story, and he felt very sorry. The only thing the shepherdess didn’t remember was her real name. But she didn’t have time to think about it either, because the father bear growled furiously. He had woken up and could not find his family anywhere.

Ukuku and his mother fled very frightened and in a hurry. They ran so much that they soon reached the house where the shepherdess lived years ago with her parents. Her scratching on the front door of the house prompted an old couple to come out immediately. After a few seconds of silence, both opened their arms with great joy and tears in their eyes.

“Paulita, my daughter! We thought you were dead!”

Upon hearing her name, the shepherdess remembered the only thing she needed to regain her identity. And after telling her story, without further details, she asked her parents for help.

The father bear was already roaring in the distance. So, grandparents, mother and grandson set a trap. When the bear scratched at the door of the house, they greeted him with boiled corn and well-fermented chicha. He invited himself to sit in a large, apparently very comfortable chair. But as soon as he made himself comfortable, cha cha pum, a huge clay pot filled with boiling water was poured over him. Finally, the bear received the punishment for having stolen Paulita, the most beautiful shepherdess. He fled, never to be seen again.

Ukuku stayed with Paulita at her grandparents’ house. But as he grew older, the bear boy became more mischievous than ever. He broke what he found in his path with his enormous strength and was even about to rip out the foundation of the house. His grandparents, who were very poor, were afraid that Ukuku would destroy what little they had, so they sent him to live with the nuns. But he was no good at studying because he couldn’t even sit still. He scratched the notebooks, broke the windows, desks, and doors, and not infrequently scared his classmates and teachers with strange roars.

So it was that the nuns sent Ukuku to live in a remote town, where he would work as an assistant to a parish priest. But Ukuku became more foolish there. He fell asleep in the mornings, lost the keys to the tabernacle, and rang the bells that called for mass at odd hours.

The whole town suffered. The priest then baptized Ukuku and gave him the new name Juan, after the saint. But the bear’s son refused to answer to that name and was about to break the parish bells. So, the priest locked Juanito (as he called him) for several days in the church. But Ukuku did not know the word bored. He went down to the saints and put them to play cards. What a surprise for the priest when he came back for Juanito!

“You lost your mind, Juanito!” he started yelling at Ukuku, when he saw what he had done.

The people of the town knew that there was a forest where the pumas did not allow anyone to enter to get firewood. The parish priest decided to give Juanita a scare and told him one day: “Tomorrow you will go for firewood on the mountain. There is a virgin forest on top of a mountain, next to some caves. Only from that wood you will bring and otherwise do not come back.”

Ukuku left the next day with three donkeys that he had to bring loaded with firewood. He walked all day, and in the afternoon, he came to the forest and collected firewood. When night came, the three donkeys were already loaded, but Ukuku felt very sleepy and went into one cave next to the forest to sleep. He tied the donkeys to a tree that grew next to the cave and went to sleep. Ukuku snored like his father and maybe that’s why he woke up the big pumas in the cave. The pumas, who were starving, came out and ate the donkeys, leaving nothing behind but bones and firewood.

The next morning Ukuku saw what had happened and, anxious, he went to look for the pumas, who were sleeping peacefully with their full bellies. Finding them like this, he pulled their tails and ears and scolded them in their own language. As punishment, he made them get up, loaded them with all the firewood, and ordered them to accompany him to the village.

When Ukuku entered the town with the pumas, the horrified people ran to hide in the parish. But the son of the bear calmly crossed the town square, arrived before the parish church, and scratched the great door with his nails. The parish priest had no choice but to leave, harassed by his congregation.

ukuku the son of the bear peruvian folktale

“I hope you don’t get scared”, he told him. And then he handed over the wood.

Ukuku, the bear’s son, finally knew his destiny. He returned with his new puma friends to the forest, where he takes care of it to this day.

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