Back to Argentina: Guarani mythology

Come and discover the many creatures who wander around in the Argentinian forest…

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The Pombero
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He is the owner of sun but is a little shaggy and dark. He usually stalks houses and causes problems like opening gates of stockyards, braiding horses’ tails or putting out fires. He is also famous for his talent as lady’s man. The Pombero is the spirit who protects the birds. He looks over the forest and if he sees children hunting them, he takes them away and let them far away from their home. He usually kidnaps them during siesta hour, although he can also kidnap them at night, when they walk behind the fireflies. He does not make a sound when he walks. For this reason, in some places, he gets the name of Py-ragüé, Downy Feet. He can imitate the singing of the birds, and also, according to some stories, become a trunk or a water plant, or even become invisible. He likes fresh eggs and honey from the forest. He chews black tobacco and usually sleeps in the subdued stoves. Certain versions say that people who celebrate agreements with him may benefit from his help. To invoke him, you have to go to the forest and repeat his name three times in the evening; but the legend says that this is not advisable, because those who have seen him have remained mute or crazy. If one speaks about him at night, it has to be done softly, trying not to offend him, and it is a good idea to leave some tobacco for him to chew next to the house. To repel him, you have to put a clove of garlic in every corner of the house.

The Curupí or Curupiré (rough skin)
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He is a small man with his ears on top of his head, his feet backwards, ad his skin as scaly leather. He is always represented naked. As his feet are facing backwards, he moves very awkwardly, and he can’t swim: because of this, people make fun of him. His principal feature is his virile member which turns around his waist. He uses it to get women pregnant from a distance: he usually waits for solitary girls wandering in the forest. It is said that cutting his phallus makes him inoffensive.
Mothers usually scare their daughters with this story so that they don’t go alone in the forest. Meeting the Curupí is dangerous for them: if the Curupí gets them, they would end up pregnant, and even if they manage to escape his attempts, they would lose their mind due to his obscenity. This kind of phallic myth is a symbol of the multiplication and the continuation of the species. With this story, Guarani justify the birth of children of unwedded mothers, or try to scare girls from having sexual intercourses outside of marriage.

The Yasí-Yateré
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He is a fair-haired and muscular dwarf, who walks around the world with a big hat of straw and a golden cane, to kidnap children. He takes them to the forest, play with them and then leave them there wrapped in lianas. During siesta times, he hisses to attract curious children, boys and girls. The legend says that if a mortal manages to steal his golden cane, he would acquire his power to attract children and young girls.
This myth seems to take its origin in the habit of kidnapping children and women as plunder of war between tribes. Parents use this story to scare their children so that they don’t end up disappearing.

The Teyú Cuaré
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The legend says that at the bottom of the hill today called Victoria, in the park of the same name, was living in the maelstrom of the river the Teyú Cuaré, a giant animal half lizard, half dragon, which would sink the boats that were sailing on the Parana River. This was meant to explain the movements of the water when it would hit the cliffs of sandy stone by the river, as much as the shipwrecks or other navigation accidents.

The Yaguareté-Abá
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He is described as half human, half animal: he has the body of a tiger with a short tail, and human head, feet and hands. He was a man magically turned into the fiercest animal, and he uses his new abilities to take revenge from his enemies or to get to women. He cannot copulate with a female tiger or he will never become a man again. He always goes hunting at night. He is a very strong and dangerous creature, but it is possible to defeat him by cutting his head. You can escape him by climbing up a palm tree, the only one the Yaguareté-Abá cannot climb.
The Cainguá people of the Alto Parana think that if a tiger is sitting next to a grave, the soul of the dead person has been reincarnated into the animal and this belief has been passed on the Guarani tribes.

The legend of the Yerba Mate
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In ancient times, Guarani used to leave the elders behind so that they would not be a burden to these nomadic people. When the Spanish arrived, The Guarani were the most widespread indigenous people in South America, and were in the process of settling. This implied an important change in their habits (hunting, harvest…), and also in the way they were treating the eldest. It is probable that the legend of the Yerba Mate explains this period.

An elder person was left behind by his tribe, and while he was complaining about his misfortune, he saw two beautiful maidens coming towards him. They were the sun and the moon personified. Suddenly, an enormous tiger (yaguareté) jumped from the bush in order to attack the two girls. The old man used to be a warrior, so he took his long and heavy cane and attacked the beast, defeating it after a fierce struggle. The Sun (Cuarají) and the Moon (Yasi), grateful, gave him a small plant that would grow into the tree of the yerba mate (caá mate). They taught him how to dry its leaves by placing them on the fire, to grind them and to prepare the potion which is, for the Guarani people, the mother of all teas thanks to its vigorous qualities. When the old man shared his gift with his people, he was received with honors back into his community.

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Stories found in the Teyú Cuaré Park, near San Ignacio, Misiones, Argentina.

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