Paraguay is a small, land-locked, kidney-shaped country in the heart of South America. I lived there from 1997 to 1999 as a Peace Corps volunteer. Paraguay has two official Languages; Spanish and Guarani which is the language of the indigenous Guarani Indians. Paraguay really is a bi-cultural bi-lingual society and the Guarani Indians have a rich tradition of myths and legends. The Guarani Indians had no written language, so their stories are from an oral tradition These creatures and stories are well known throughout the country, largely due to the efforts of one man, Ramon Elias, who was the founder of the Museo Mitologico, the mythological museum of Paraguay. The museum is located in the town of Capiata, about 14 km outside the capital of Asuncion. I visited the museum twice while I was a volunteer and I’d like to share these interesting myths with you. I've included pictures of the original statures from the mueum, but recently there have been a group of progressive young artists who have given a more modern look to these myths.
A note on name pronunciation: As in Spanish, vowel sounds are soft. “R’s” are soft. “Y” sounds like the Englsh “J”. “Tu” sounds like “too”. “Yu” sounds like “ju” in juice.
Tupa is the supreme god of the Guarani creation myth. Tupa comes from the sun and he, along with the the moon goddess Arasy created the universe and human beings. Tupa also created Tau, the spirit of evil and Angatupyry, the spirit of good. He, like the Christian God is benevolent and merciful. However, in other stories, he is more like the Greek god Zeus, infamous for his many affairs and spawning many illegitimate children
Tau and Kerana
The story of Tau and Kerana is central to Guarani mythology. Tau, the spirit of evil, fell in love with a beautiful girl, Kerana, who was a princess of the Guarani tribe. He took human form for seven days and tried to woo her. However, Angatupyry, Tau’s opposite and spirit of good came to save the girl. He and Tau fought for seven days and nights until Tau was at last defeated. Tau was exiled, but he somehow returned and kidnapped Kerana and ran off with her. The myth neglects to mention how Kerana felt about all of this, whether she loved Tau or was just a hapless victim. In any event, the couple were cursed by the goddess Arasy. Spawned by the spirit of evil, Kerana bore seven sons, all of them monsters, each having a different dominion and attributes. These monsters are often chimeras, a mixture of two or more creatures. The image of Tau and Kerana is of them in flight. Depicted here, Kerana seems a willing accomplice, following Tau in haste. What follows is a family album; Kerana’s children in order of birth
1. Teyu Yagua (lizard-dog)
Teyu Yagua is a giant lizard with the head of a dog and eyes that shoot fire. Some versions describe him with seven heads, others only one. Despite his menacing appearance, he is basically benign. He cannot move around very well, perhaps because of his large size. Teyu Yagua feeds on fruits and was given his favorite food honey by his brother Yasy Yatere. He is said to have skin covered with gold and precious stones after rolling around in the treasure of Itayu. Teyu Yagua is the Lord of Caverns and the protector of fruits.
2.Mboi Tu’i (snake-parrot)
Mboi-Tu’I is a huge serpent with the head of a parrot and a large beak. He has a terrible appearance and a powerful squawk hat can be heard over great distances. He likes humidity and flowers. Mboi-Tu’i is protector of aquatic animals and wetlands
3. Monai (“n” pronounced nasal as in Spanish, “Nya”)
Monai is an an enormous serpent with long, sharp teeth and two tall horns, which are like antennas. His domain is the open fields, but is also said to live in deep rivers and inaccessible regions He can climb trees with ease and hunt birds, hypnotizing them with his antenna. He is called “Senor de los campos”, Master of the countryside. He is Lord of the land, air and birds. In one story, he enjoyed stealing things from a village and hiding them in a cave. This created a lot of confusion and arguments amongst the villagers. They finally decided to punish Monai and his brothers for their misdeeds. A beautiful girl Porasy volunteered She went to Monai and said that she had fallen in love with him and wished to be married, but before the wedding, she wanted to meet all of his brothers. She was left in the care of his brother, the slow Teyu Yagua, while Monai went to gather his brothers. When everyone was assembled, they had a huge party and all the brothers soon became drunk. It was then that Porasy tried to escape the cave, but a large boulder blocked the exit. Monai discovered her treachery and threw her back into the cave. Her screams were heard by the villagers waiting outside. She ordered them to burn the cave, sacrificing herself. For her sacrifice, the gods transformed her into a star and placed her in the heavens.
4. Yasy Yatere
Yasy Yatere is the most agreeable in appearance of all of Kerana’s children. His name literally means “a piece of the moon”. He appear as a small, fair, child with very light, even blonde hair and almost blue eyes. He carries with him a magical golden staff or cane sometimes depicted with a snake’s head. He is Lord of the siesta. Yasy Yatere roams about during the siesta nap time. He is usually invisible and finds any disobedient children about not sleeping. He hypnotizes them with his wand and takes them deep into the forest. There are different versions of the story. In some, he only plays with them during siesta time and returns them safely home. But in other stories, he tortures and kills them or worse yet takes them to his man-eating brother Ao-Ao. In these versions he is a kind of boogyman used by parents to make their children obey. He is also considered the protector of hidden treasure. If one can take his magical staff from him, he will break down and cry like a child. Then you can order him to take you to his hidden treasure, like a leprehaun.. He is also protector of the the Yerba Mate plant, a popular tea in Paraguay, as well as birds, wild fruits and animals.
You’re gonna like this one. Curupi is a short, ugly, harry man. He is similar to another mythical figure Pombero. See that thing around his waist that looks like a belt? It’s not a belt. Curupi’s distinctive characteristic is his amazingly long, prehensile penis. He is the god of fertility and reproduction. Curupi is said to impregnate young girls while they sleep. Sometimes without entering the house! He is often blamed for unwanted or unexpected pregnancies and sometimes said to kidnap and rape young girls. On his good side, he is said to help people have children and is protector of wild animals and fruits.
Ao Ao is perhaps the most dangerous of all of Kerana’s offspring. Ao Ao is a huge, ferocious, sheep-like monster with long fangs and claws. He may also be inspired by the peccary, a kind of wild pig. Ao Ao is a voracious predator and is said to only eat humans. He will stop at nothing to capture his victim. If chased by Ao Ao, the only escape is by climbing a palm tree which is sacred. If you climb any other tree Ao Ao will circle the tree, howling incessantly and eventually dig up and knock it down. His name comes from his howl, “Ao-ao-ao”. He is also a god of reproduction and has spawned many children. He, along with his offspring are lords of the hills and mountains.
Luison is the Paraguayan werewolf. He is described as a large half-human, half-dog like creature. His domain is the cemeteries, which he prowls at night and he feeds on the flesh of the dead However, his origins may be quite different. Originally, he was more human, horrifying, with long black hair and pale skin.. He was said to be the harbinger of death and in this way resembled the grim reaper of Europe. His appearance and behavior were more like a ghoul. Only later, after the arrival of European settlers, did his story, form, and even his name change to that more like a werewolf. The name Luison is derived from the Brazilian word for werewolf. His original Guarani name has been lost.
Luison is the seventh and last son of Tau and Kerana. These seven monster comprise the core of Guarani mythology. I wonder if anyone has ever made a movie based on these myths. I think it would really be something to see.
More to come…