Women Writers of Folklore and the Fantastic: Juana Manuela Gorriti

Today’s featured writer is Juana Manuela Gorriti (1818-1892), possibly the first published writer of fantasy in Latin America [1].

Juana Manuela Gorriti
Juana Manuela Gorriti (1818-1892).
Source: Wikimedia

During her lifetime, she was also the most widely read woman writer in Latin America [2]. I don’t honestly know how well known she is today, but she definitely deserves attention for (among other things) her contributions to gothic literature. In this post, I’ll talk about some of Gorriti’s gothic pieces, and share a translation of a short ghost story from her later writing.

Juana Manuela Gorriti came from a politically active family in Argentina. Her father, José Ignacio de Gorriti, was a hero of the Argentine war of independence from Spain, and a supporter of the Unitarian faction of Argentine politics [3]. When the opposing Federalist faction overthrew the Unitarian government of Argentina, the Gorriti famiily escaped to Bolivia.

In Bolivia, Juana Manuela met and married Manuel Isidro Belzu, who eventually became President of Bolivia. The marriage was not happy, and Gorriti separated from Belzu and moved to Peru, where she began her literary life.  She started a school, edited journals, and published not only in Peru, but in Chile and Argentina as well. While in Lima, she began to host tertulias, or salons, which were attended by prominent cultural and literary figures of the day, both men and women–especially women, for Gorriti was a feminist and encouraged women to join in the intellectual and political life of their countries.

In 1878 she returned to Argentina, establishing herself in the literary and cultural circles of her native country, while maintaining connections with the (many) notable women writers of the period from all over South America. She died in Buenos Aires in 1892.

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The Mbyá-Guaraní Creation Myth

As a follow-up to the previous installment of my hummingbird folklore series, here is a version of the Mbyá-Guaraní creation myth, as rendered by Paraguayan anthropologist León Cadogan. He apparently got this story from an informant he names Cantalicio, the mburuvicha [chief] of Yvypytã (a site loated near Colonia Mauricio José Troche). This is my translation of his Spanish rendering.

In his text, Cadogan gives this myth in the context of his etymology of the term aju’y, the name still used by the people of Guairá for the black laurel (Cordia megalantha, I think). The chapter in his book is titled “La Columna de la Tierra”, which I’ll render “The Pillar of the Earth.”

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The Primitive Customs of the Hummingbird

The fifth installment of my hummingbird folklore series comes from the Mbyá, a Guaraní people who inhabit the southern part of Paraguay in Guairá, parts of Brazil, and the Misiones Province of Argentina. This piece is the first chapter of the Ayvu Rapyta (which means roughly “the foundation of the world”), a book in the Mbyá-Guaraní language that records their myths and religious traditions. The book — full title Ayvu Rapyta: Textos míticos de los Mbya-Guarani — was compiled by Paraguayan anthropologist León Cadogan and published in 1959. This version is my translation of Dr. Cadogan’s Spanish translation.

As in the Ohlone myths of California, Hummingbird (and Owl, apparently) are present at the creation of the world. Hummingbird feeds and refreshes Ñamandú, the “First Father,” as the First Father goes about the task of creation.

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Hummingbird and the Condor’s Wife: An Aymara Folktale

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.

Condor

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.

800px Lama3

“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.

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