The fourth story in my hummingbird folklore series comes from the Aymara people, who live in the region around Lake Titicaca and the Andean Plateau (Altiplano); regions that are now part of Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. In this story, Hummingbird helps foil Condor’s plans.
One day, as he flew down from the peaks where he lived, Condor saw a young woman tending her llamas in the field. She was so pretty that Condor wanted her for his wife. So he decided to talk to her.
The girl was the chief’s daughter. As she wandered through the field, keeping an eye on her llamas and picking berries, she saw a tall, handsome young man approaching.
“Hello,” he said to her. “Can I help you pick berries?”
“Okay,” the girl said, shyly.
Together the two of them picked berries, laughing and talking all the while. Soon she had two baskets overflowing with ripe, delicious fruit.
“We picked them so fast,” the girl said. “Now what will I do to pass the time?”
“Let’s play games,” said the boy. “What about ‘Carga, Cargitas’?”
“What’s that?” She asked.
“First I carry you, then you carry me,” he said.
And he picked her up on his back and ran through the fields, around the startled llamas, while the girl shrieked and laughed in delight. After some minutes of this, he put her down.
“Now you carry me,” he said.
“But you’re too heavy,” she protested. The boy ran behind her and put his arms on her shoulders.
“You can do it,” he said. “Just try.”
So the girl tried to pick the boy up, and to her surprise, he wasn’t heavy at all. In fact, as she ran around the field with the boy on her back (I can imagine the llamas rolling their eyes in disdain as they watched) it seemed as if he got even lighter. So light that she felt as she were running without her feet touching the ground….
But wait! She wasn’t touching the ground! She looked down in confusion as the earth fell away from beneath her feet, and then noticed that the hands on her shoulders — were no longer hands. They were claws: the talons of a great bird. Her friend, the handsome boy, had turned back into the mighty Condor and was carrying her away to be his wife.
Condor carried her up into the mountains, up, up, until they landed in a giant nest, atop a high ledge. This was Condor’s home. It was cold up there, amongst the clouds — and it got colder as the sun set.
In the morning Condor flew away to find food for his shivering, hungry bride. After he flew away the girl looked over the edge of the nest, hoping to find an escape. But the nest perched on the ledge of a sheer, steep cliff, above a deep, deep ravine. There was no way out. Finally, Condor returned, with several mice in his beak: her breakfast. Poor girl. She cried.
In the meantime, down in the valley, her father, the chief, had been frantically searching for her since the night before, when the llamas had returned home without her. Not finding her anywhere in the village, he set out to all the neighboring villages, seeking fruitlessly for his daughter. Suddenly, a hummingbird flew up to him.
“I know where your daughter is,” the hummingbird said. “She was tricked by a young man who was really a condor, and he has flown away with her. If you give me leave to fly amongst your crops, gathering nectar from the flowers, without driving me away, I will take you to her.”
“Anything you want!” cried the chief. “You can take all the flowers you want from my crops if you take me to my daughter.”
And so the hummingbird led the chief up the mountains, up and up, until they stood below the cliff where Condor’s nest sat. But there was no way for the chief to climb up, and no way for his daughter to climb down.
“Wait for me,” said the hummingbird, and taking a coil of rope which the chief had brought with him (hummingbirds were much larger then than they are now), Hummingbird flew up to the top of the cliff.
After hiding the rope nearby, Hummingbird flew to Condor’s nest. Inside, the girl sat crying, still refusing to eat the mice, no matter how Condor tried to coax her. Hummingbird perched on the side of the nest and gave a little rusty chirp.
“Excuse me, my Lord Condor, your Majesty. If I may make a suggestion?”
“What is it?” the Condor said, in a deep, stern voice.
“Mighty Condor, humans can only eat cooked meat. Down on the other side of the mountain, I saw some villagers roasting an alpaca. Maybe you should bring some back for your wife.”
Good idea. Condor flew away, over the mountaintop, to steal the alpaca meat. Hummingbird retrieved the rope.
“Quickly!” he said to the girl, and fastening the rope to the edge of the nest, he helped her climb down to her waiting, joyful father.
Meanwhile, Condor arrived at the village on the other side of the mountain, but found no roast alpaca. Realizing he’d been tricked, Condor flew quickly back to his nest, to find it empty and the rope dangling over the edge. Furious, he flew back to the valley where he’d first seen the girl.
There, he spotted Hummingbird, flitting amongst the crops from flower to flower, sipping nectar. Furious that Hummingbird had helped steal the girl back, Condor attacked. Hummingbird felt Condor’s immense shadow fall over him, and tried to escape, but it was too late. Condor grabbed Hummingbird, ripped him into fifty pieces, and ate him. Satisfied at his revenge, Condor returned to his nest.
But in the middle of the night he awoke with terrible stabbing pains in his stomach. Looking down, he saw with horror that his belly was splitting open! Sharp little beaks — hummingbird beaks — pierced through from inside him. Rrrip! Condor’s belly burst open, and out flew fifty bright shining hummingbirds, tiny ones, the size that hummingbirds are today.
The next day the chief’s daughter went back into the fields with her llamas. There among her father’s crops she saw several tiny beautiful birds, with long sharp beaks, flitting from flower to flower. And Condor never came down into the valley again.
This retelling is based on two versions: “The Condor and the Hummingbird,” as collected by Weston La Barre and published in the paper “The Aymara: History and Worldview,” 1966. His version mentions Illimani, the highest peak of the Cordillera Real, in western Bolivia, so I assume this is a Bolivian version. I also used this version, as told by former Maryknoll Associate Father Phil Bloom. He heard it sometime in the late eighties or early nineties in Ilave, Peru, from his colleague Father Percy Chipana, who is of Aymara ancestry.
La Barre’s version is quite simple: Condor, disguised as a man, takes the chief’s daughter. Hummingbird helps rescue her in exchange for the right to feed in the chief’s cropland. Sparrow tells Condor what happened, and Condor, embarrassed, never comes back down to the valley where he would see Hummingbird enjoying his reward. The additional details — the specific game, the mice and meat, and Hummingbird being torn to pieces, eaten, and coming back as little birds — are all from Bloom and Chipana’s version.
Interestingly, John Bierhorst includes a version of this tale called “The Condor Seeks a Wife” in his collection Latin American Folktales. His version was collected from a Quechua-speaking informant in Bolivia in 1949 by M. Rigoberto Paredes. In Paredes’s version, the kidnapped girl is initially happy with her Condor husband (and her Condor mother-in-law), and even bears him children. A parrot, rather than a hummingbird, rescues the girl, again in exchange for feeding privileges. The parrot is also torn up and eaten, and then returns as many little birds.
Quechua was the language spoken by the Incas. The Aymara became subjects of the Inca empire some time in the 15th or 16th century. I don’t know for sure, but given that the simplest version of this tale is Aymara, and that it gets progressively richer in detail, I would guess that the story is really originally Aymara, and drifted out to Quechua-speaking communities later.
- Bierhorst, John (editor). Latin American Folktales, Pantheon, 2002.
- Bloom, Phil. “The Condor, the Hummingbird and the Shepherd Girl.”
- La Barre, Weston. “The Aymara, History and Worldview,” The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 79, no. 311 (Jan-Mar, 1966).