“I was told this story when I was probably… a senior in high school. Um, I, uh, for my bio class we got to go to the amazon jungle, um a research trip with my class. There’s a lot of mythology and a lot of like, ancient beliefs, especially in the jungle and the highlands and places that are not as metropolitan as the main city. Um, and there’s this story that I first heard on that tour from our guide, and it’s about this monster called El Tunche. E-L T-U-N-C-H-E. Um, it’s supposed to be this monster that they say lives in the dark areas of the jungle, and he’s like, not good or bad, it depends on the type of person you are. If you’ve sinned, and you go into the jungle, he’ll come find you. But only if you’ve done something bad. The way that you know he’s coming is he’ll actually whistle. You’ll hear a whistle, like lost in the jungle or something. And if you hear a whistle in another town or something it’s supposed to be bad luck. So like, you have to be aware of like, if you ever hear a whistling sound, that the Tunche coming for you. The Jungle is like super serious and like mysterious, so it’s really easy to believe in these sorts of things”
She spoke often about the Jungle and its role in Peruvian folklore. Specifically its separation from the city and the familiarity of everyday life; it held this sort of mysticism that enabled various folk stories, legends, and tall tales to come from it. She said that Peruvians respect and even revere the jungle for this reason. While she learned this story originally from the guide on a school trip, she said that she confirmed with some family and friends about the legend of El Tunche and the its association with whistling.
There are a number of key takeaways from this story. The first and most prominent of which is the interaction between the natural, as represented by the jungle, and the industrial, as represented by the city. While the city – which is manmade – signifies comfort, home, and safety, the jungle signifies mystery, malice, and magic. This story is a manifestation of those fears as humans become more and more separated from their natural habitat.
The second takeaway from this story is the context in which she heard it. Hearing it from an official guide that is profiting off of visits to the jungle reminds me of the tourist communities we learned about toward the end of our Folklore class. Similar to the Borneo tribes that would further their branded image of savagery to the outside world, so too are the Peruvians furthering violent and mysterious folklore to garner attraction to their jungles.
Additionally, the main religion in Peru is Roman Catholic, and the story has strong religious undertones. First, the use of the word ‘sin’ implies that the transgressions that would invoke El Tunche are aggressions against an established moral code. The jungle and its foreboding mysticism can be thought of as hell, and El Tunche as the Devil. According to Roman Catholicism, to be free of sin is to be free of the temptations and tortures of the Devil and his Kingdom.
Finally, the tour guide might have said this story so that the kids don’t wander away, thus acting as a warning. He’s probably liable, to a certain extent, for anything that might happen. So while this story can be entertaining, it can also provide a lesson for the kids not to leave the tour.