This house situated in Downtown Lima, Peru is the most famous haunted structure in the entire country. It is famous throughout, you can ask anyone in Lima, and they will all know of it whether they believe in paranormal phenomena or not. The house was first brought to my attention when I moved to Peru by one of my maids, she told me all about it and then my mother confirmed the stories circulated, but said they were all made up. During her last visit, I had her recount a couple of versions of the story of the Matusita which she knew (there are dozens):
At the turn of the twentieth century, there lived in the house a cruel man with two servants (cook and butler). During dinner with friends, the servants decided to get their revenge and poison their master and his friends with hallucinogenic substances. They served the tampered dinner and locked the door of the dining room. A few minutes later, the servants heard a horrible scuffle. They waited until the noises ceased and then when they opened the door, they saw that the diners were torn to pieces, there was blood spread everywhere. The servants felt terribly guilty and took their lives right there. This version is said to explain the loud voices, conversation and laughter followed by blood curling cries and sepulchral silence that neighbors and passerbyers have attributed to the house. It is said that if they get close to the house or look in, they will go mad at the sights of gore and debauchery inside.
This version shows the rift between the master and his servants which can be extended to the sentiments that the indigenous and African workers feel towards their European (and later on Asian) masters. This tension is found to this very day since in Peru there is a very strong, but passive racist undercurrent that is perpetuated from generation to generation and never confronted. The race of the master is left unsaid in some versions of the story like this one (it is implied he was white); however , there are also versions that connect this version to version b which I also discuss. In those versions, the master is Asian and a descendent of the Chinese family who lived in the house in the 19th century.
During the 19th century, the house was inhabited by a migrant Chinese (sometimes Japanese) family. The father worked very hard and came back late at night every day. One day, he came back earlier and was surprised to hear strange noises coming from his and his wife’s bedroom. He went there and fount his wife in bed with a lover, irate, he grabbed a knife and hacked them both up into pieces. When his kids got home, he decided to kill them as well since he saw no feasible explanation of his deeds and he didn’t want them to hate him. After that, he committed suicide.
While property records show that a Chinese family did indeed live in the house during the early 19th century, there is no proof that the above events transpired. This story’s popularity however could be attributed to lingering xenophobia, staring from the mid 19th century to the early 20th century, there was a very large wave of Chinese migrants to Lima. These immigrants were brought to Lima under false pretenses of wealth and opportunity when in reality, they were brought to collect guano since there was a dearth of cheap labor in Lima (the remaining Africans who were brought over as slaves were too few and the indigenous population had fled to the Andes to avoid being enslaved). These Chinese immigrants suffered horrendously and died by the thousands; however, there was a good number who survived the Guano age and established themselves in the city. In spite of their work which had brought an immense level of prosperity for Lima, these migrants were viewed with distrust by the Peruvians of European descent and were actively discriminated against. This version of the story is a vestige of that sentiment.
The American embassy used to be situated in a building directly in front of the Matusita house, and it is said that the legends were all invented and fostered by the American mission so as to prevent people from entering the Matusita house and using it as a site to launch terrorist attacks on the embassy itself (during the late 80s unrest due to the communist Sendero Luminoso).
This version is corroborated by multiple facts. First, my mother and her coevals heard of the Matusita stories only in the early nineties, and second, as a consular officer herself, she once heard from her peers at the Ministry that the Matusita legends were a product of “Hollywood at its politically finest”.
In the late 1970s, Argentinian comedian, Humberto Vilchez Vera made a bet on his television show that he would stay in the house for seven days without incident. However, on the the fourth day, neighbors called police because of the horrible screams that could be heard inside the house. The police and ambulances arrived and took Vera away who was still screaming, speaking in tongues and acting erratically. He was also frothing at the mouth. He was sent to an insane asylum for 13 months and after his release forever declined to speak of the house.
While the previous versions about the Chinese family and the cruel master are not supported by any evidence other than property records which show that the house was indeed inhabited by Chinese migrants, the Vilchez Vera case re is the most recent occurrence that is well-documented and would seem to corroborate the stories of the hauntings. However, Vilchez Vera denied having entered the house in his autobiography and said that while he made the bid, his intention was only to fool people into believing he’d entered the house. Vilchez Vera was very vague in his autobiography which was published shortly before his death, and he doesn’t state exactly how he pretended to enter the house nor does he address his documented rescue by the police or his disappearance after the incident (the insane asylum story has never been proven since no documents have been found). Over all it’s a very puzzling case.
This proverb is one frequently mentioned by my mother and in Lima, in general. The interesting thing is that it is used to convey a slightly different (somewhat racist) message than its English equivalent. In the English proverb, the meaning is that a person’s worth is determined by who they are inside, not by what they’re wearing. In their words, appearances can be deceiving. In the Peruvian sense, however, this proverb is used to denigrate the “new money” class, the rapidly growing middle and upper middle class composed of indigenous people. Since these people are frequently self-starters who come from poor backgrounds and have no social graces or taste, they are ridiculed by the European class with sayings like these that denote that in spite of their new wealth and position, these “cholos” are still the same illiterate farmers (and should be treated as such).
Informant is a Peruvian friend who was visiting me this week. She first heard of the Amancaes festival from her grandmother. The Fiesta de San Juan was a festival that took place in the hills of the Amancaes located in the seaside Rimac district of Lima. The Amancaes are bright yellow flowers that grew on these hills during the months of June and July.
The Festival of Amancaes evolved from the pilgrimage site because of the beautiful Amancay flowers that blossomed during the months of June and July and covered the hills in their entirety. In these celebrations, limeñans of all classes and races came down to the hills for unlimited food, music and dance. This celebration went on until 1952 when it was discontinued because the hills of Amancaes were invaded by squatters coming from the outskirts in search of better opportunities in the capital.
This festival was meaningful because Limeñan society has always been very stratified and segregated by class and race. Limeñans of European descent always looked down upon the indigenous and African populations, but on this one day (like Mardi Gras and the Ancient Roman’s Saturnalia) all of these social mores are forgotten and people of all races and classes would party together and share food and drink. Now, there is a festival that was started two years ago called Mistura, this is a gastronomic festival organized every year in Lima and it has become so popular that tickets are sold out almost immediately after they go on sale. This festival is doing the same purpose that the Festival de Amancaes used to do which was to bring society together by providing them with something that people of all ages, races and social classes enjoy: good food.