Tag Archives: peruvian

Curiosity Buried The Man

Context: S is a Peruvian man in his early 60s. S spent around the first 13 years living inside of Peru before moving to Germany where he lived until his late 20s when he moved to California. Although having lived in California for most of his life now, he still has a close connection to Peru and Germany through his family. This piece was collected during a phone call.

Intv: “Can you think of any stories that came from somewhere local?”

S: “There was this one story about a guy who was buried alive.”

Intv: “Oh my gosh, like someone who you knew?”

S: “Not me personally, and I’m not really sure, I used to think it was someone my family knew, but I can’t be sure. Anyways, There was this guy, who was terrified of being buried alive.”

Intv: “I mean, I would be scared too if it had happened to me.” 

S: “Oh yes, but for him, it just was all he thought about, he would wake up in the middle of the night because of nightmares about it. One day he decided he couldn’t take it anymore, and he went to his family with a series of rules and tests to make sure if he died, that he was dead. They were supposed to use a mirror to see if he was breathing, wait three days, and a number of different things. So of course all of his family promised him that they would do it, and make sure he was dead. But the man keeps wondering, what if, what if, so he decides to test it and fakes his death, with the plan to reveal himself before being buried. However, and this is what I can’t remember so well, but something happens, I believe the coffin lid closes on his head and knocks him out, and he ends up buried alive.”

Analysis: Being buried alive is likely something that everyone fears, making this story immediately relatable. I think that’s intentional as it’s trying to convey an important message, something that is behind a large number of folklore tales, like how the boy who cried wolf teaches one not to fib and lie. This story, however, is more like a long version of the phrase “curiosity killed the cat.” It’s a cautionary tale regarding unhealthy obsessive pursuits. 

Offer Children to Aunts for Inheritance

M: Me, I: Informant

I: another interesting fact children because they had so many children because the life expectancy was shorter, if you wanted your child to inherit a home or do better and you have so many other, they would often gift a child to like an aunt or uncle who had a home so your {insert name} was raised by {insert name}

M: Oh so he was a ‘gifted’ child

I: Yeah, I don’t know if ‘gifted’ is the word, but he was turned over to {insert name} to raise even though his own mom and dad were right down the street. Kind of like an heir for her.

M: Gotcha, now does he, so he was raised by his aunt or the child is raised by the aunt or whoever they are turned over to, so that he can inherit. Um… what does that do to the relationship between the kid and the parents. Are they just the equivalent of an aunt to him?

I: Um.. no he knew

M: or those are still his parents?

I: he knows who his parents are, but he is raised by somebody, I guess it just kind of like common in the mountains you know. Not like in the city area, but like more in the rural areas

M: Rural Peruvian traditions. I’ve never heard of that one

Context: My informant was born in Peru and immigrated to the US as a child. Her parents grew up in a very poor, rural town in Peru. Practically all her family was from Peru. An important thing to note is that big families with lots of children were common because of the high infant And child mortality rate.

Analysis: Out of all my collections, this one definitely shocked me the most. This is probably due to the fact that this custom is so starkly different from anything in the US. Given how many children families would have oftentimes the younger siblings weren’t going to inherit anything. Thus, parents would ‘gift- more like offer-’ a child to a ’spinster’ aunt, uncle, or relative who does have property to raise so that they could inherit something. The child still knew who their parents were and knew their situation, but I think what startled me the most was how casually this was talked about and how I knew people who were ‘offered’ and never knew. I was really interested to find out the dynamics of the parent, child, relative relationship, however that wasn’t truly the focus so I’ll have to investigate some more at a later date. This was a custom only in the rural, mountainous parts of Peru, which tended to be less well off, financially speaking. This just shows the stark contrast between US culture and Peru’s rural culture, as much of the value of ‘parenthood’ in the US comes from raising and growing close to the children, whereas in rural Peru the focus was more on providing for them. However, I don’t think this would function in the US because of how difficult it would be having to deal with the legality of making the custom work in the US. This ultimately would prevent it from being spread and widely accepted in the United States. This custom, as many others, will only work in a particular, given environment.

Howling Dogs

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M: Me, I: Informant

I: When I was younger, growing up my mother would say if you heard a dog howling at night, it was the soul of someone who was about to pass away or die or crossing to the next world. So, howling dogs at night used to scare me

M: Oh it used to scare you. Ok

I: Yes because it meant that someone was going to died and you didn’t know who

M: Oh gotcha, gotcha, gotcha. So you believed it to be true?

I: Well yeah I was little, like 7 or 8.

M: Do you believe it to be true today?

I: No, but there things in our family from Peru because we’re from you know that more of the rural areas, that there’s the belief in signs

Context: This was taught to my informant and the rest of her siblings when she was a small child. They all believed in this and even believe their mother had a ‘sense’ about these things. Her mother heard a basketball bouncing in the middle of the night (a symbol connected to the neighbors) and a dog howling and she claimed that someone in that household would die. Soon after the mother of the neighbors died of a surprise brain aneurysm. Seeing the folklore working in real time help to solidify in their belief of the howling dog as a premonition for a soon approaching death.

Analysis: In Peruvian culture especially in the more rural areas, there is a large focus and trust in omens. The belief is that the dogs have a sense about death and illness that humans don’t and thus they know when death is coming sooner than humans do. I think that allowing animals, dogs in this case, to have the power to sense what is coming allows for humans to conceptualize these deaths as a part of nature, a part of the life cycle, and that this was what was in the plans. It makes it easier to attribute to nature’s timing when ‘nature,’ aka dogs, is involved and know what is coming in advance- there is nothing to do but allow for life to take its course. Additionally, ‘seeing’ this work in real life with their neighbors, help to cement this belief in my informant when she was growing up, even if she doesn’t believe it as much now, possibly because she is in a much more science-valued country(the US).

Sitting at the Corner of the Table

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M: Me, I: Informant

Corner of the Table 

I: Never sit in the corner of a table if the table is square because um because if you are in the corner you won’t get married, things like that.

M: Oh no, that’s really good! How come? What was the background of that? How come?

I: Oh, I don’t know

M: you can’t sit on the corner of a table

I: Yeah I don’t know what the background was, that’s just what they always told us.

M: Is it only for unmarried girls or is it for unmarried boys too?

I: It was just, well it was only told to us girls. I don’t remember it being told to the boys

M: Gotcha. Did you believe that? Did you believe that one?

I: Um.. you know because we were growing up in the United States, not so much, and at that age I really wasn’t interested in getting married. *Laughs*So. But I remember her saying it

Context: She was taught this by her Peruvian family, but she had immigrated to the U.S. so she didn’t really believe this one as her new environment affected her beliefs.

Analysis: While she herself may have not believed it, others in her family did. This is reflective of the views of marriage and gender. This was geared towards girls as back then much value came from being married and thus the fear of not getting married was prevalent, which is why some of the people in her family didn’t sit in the corners of tables, ‘just in case.’ Additionally, there may be some phallic reference (protrusion of the table) here as marriage and loss of virginity are often very linked and that’s possibly a consideration as to why this was only geared towards girls. With the phallic imagery, this folklore could also be a result of the culture’s importance of virginity; if the corner of the table was the phallic symbol and represented a deflowering prior to marriage, that would be the reason why she won’t get married later.

La Casa Matusita A

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.