This tale was told to Marisol by one of her nannies.
She said that in her mother’s town, one of her family’s neighbors, a man named Huaman went to bathe at a lake in Churin. While he was bathing, he saw a beautiful white woman with blonde hair down to her ankles. She was nude and standing on the other side of the lake form where she was beckoning him with her hand in a very flirtatious way. The man could not hold back for long and so, ensnared by her beauty, he crossed the river and went towards her. Many days went by and the man was not seen back in the town; then, Huaman was found at another town completely blind and incoherent. His family took him to a local hospital, but the hospital couldn’t explain the man’s sudden blindness, and so the family took him to a shaman. It was during a healing, that Huaman was able to tell them about his meeting with the blonde woman of the lake, the mamahuarmi. After the healing his mind was restored, but his sight was not, and he died many years later from old age.
The mamahuarmi is a very popular creature from Peruvian folklore. Unfortunately, there is not much study devoted to Peruvian myths and folktales; however, the mamahuarmi can be found in the recently released encyclopedia of Peruvian magical creatures titled, Seres Magicos del Peru compiled by Javier Zapata Innocenzi. A story similar to the one Marisol heard can be read in Relatos Magicos del Peru
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).