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Ricardo Jaimes Freyre was born in Tanca, Peru, in1868 and died in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1933) Poet, essayist and Bolivian playwright he was the primary representative of modernism in the literature of his country. His constant political and cultural activity is by and large reflected in the variety of approaches that can be seen in all his work. The son of a diplomat from Potosi, Bolivia, he also served as ambassador and diplomat, in the United States and Brazil and later as his country’s representative to the League of Nations in Geneva , in addition to being foreign minister.  He is well known for his poetry and has written a number of short stories, of which the following is a good example.  The story reflects, to some extent, the exploitation that the Altoplano indians were exposed to, and perhaps one shouldn’t say “were”, but that’s outside the aim of this discussion.  Ricardo’s description of the two “tourists” who attempted to steal land from the Indians is a blend of romanticism with respect to describing the atmosphere and natural surroundings, perhaps a reflection of the poet within him, and  a chilling rendition of the events leading to the murder of the two travelers.  His use of the Spanish language is  colourful, poetic and a joy to experience.

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IN THE MOUNTAINS

by

Ricardo Jaimes Freyre

 

The two travelers drank the last glass of wine, standing next to the bonfire. The cold breeze of the morning was quivering the brims of their wide felt hats lightly. The fire was already fading under the wavering and pallid light of dawn; vaguely illuminating the ends of the wide courtyard, and painted over the shadows at the base of the heavy clay columns that supported the straw thatched roof.

Tied to an iron ring, fixed to one of the columns, two fully harnessed horses were waiting with their heads down and, with difficulty, chewing on some long blades of grass.   Beside the wall, a young Indian was squatting with a bag full of corn in one hand and with the other flicking the yellow kernels into his mouth.

When the travelers were preparing to leave, another two Indians arrived at the large, rustic door. They raised one of the thick beams attached to the walls that was blocking the way and walked into the vast courtyard. Their appearance were humble and miserable, and even more miserable and humble because of their open jackets, their coarse shirts opened to their chest, the leather strings, full of knots, on their sandals, and by the shapeless caps, covering their ears, the ends joining under the chin these weird caps of gray wool. They slowly approached the travelers who already were mounted on their horses, while the Indian guide attached a bag of corn to his waist and firmly tied his sandal laces to his legs.

The travelers were young, the tall one, very white, cold and hard looking; the other, small, dark, with a cheerful appearance. – Sir muttered one of the Indians. The white traveler turned to him. – “Hello; How are you Thomas”  “Sir, can I have my horse?” “Say again, imbecile! Do you want me to travel on foot”? I have given you mine instead, that’s enough. But your horse is dead.

“Without a doubt, it is dead; but that’s because I’ve ridden it 15 hours at a time. It was a great horse! Yours is worthless;” look at it moving the ribs and its legs. Do you believe it will support you very many hours?”

“I sold my lamas to buy this horse for the holiday of Saint John… Also, gentleman, you have burned my hut.”

“True, because you came to bother me with your sniveling. I threw an ember at your head to make you leave, but you turned you face away and the ember fell into a heap of straw. I don’t feel guilty. You should have accepted my ember with respect. And you, what do you want, Pedro? He asked speaking to another Indian.”

“I am begging you, Sir, do not take my land. It is mine. I’ve planted it.”

“This is your business, Cordova, said the gentleman, speaking to his companion.

No, certainly; this is not my business. I have done what they entrusted me with. You, Pedro Quispe, are not the owner of these lands.

“Where are your titles, that is, where are your papers?”

“I have no papers Sir. My father also did not have papers, and the father of my father we didn’t know. And no one wanted to take away our land. You want to give it to someone else. I haven’t done you any harm.

“Do you have hidden somewhere a bagful of coins? Give me the money and you can keep the land.”

“I don’t have any coins, nor could I raise so much money”

“Well then we don’t have any more to talk about”

“Leave me in peace!”

“Then give me what you owe me!”

“But we are never going to bring this to a close: You believe I’m stupid enough to pay to you for a sheep and some hens that you have given me?” Did you imagine we were going to die of hunger?

The white traveler who was beginning to become impatient exclaimed:”If we keep listening to these two morons we’ll stay here forever”

The top of the mountain, on the flank of which the broad and rustic hostel was located, was affronted by the first rays of the sun. The narrow hollow was illuminated slowly and the desolate dryness of the scenery, limited by the nearby dark mountains, was standing out under the blue sky, cut into ribbons by the fleeing, leaden clouds.

Cordoba made a sign to the guide that headed toward the gate. Behind him came the two gentlemen.

Pedro Quispe rushed towards them and grabbed the reins of one of the horses.  A lash in the face made him step back.

Then the Indians came out of the yard, and quickly ran toward the nearest hill, climbing it with the speed and agility of the vicunas and, arriving at the Summit, they scanned the area surrounding them.

In the ravines and Gorges the freshly cut grass was yellowing; on the banks of the streams, grasses and the cuts limited the channels with a capricious and undulating wall; ; some herds of goats and llamas ran for the hills or disappeared in the crevices of the mountains, and here and there a cloud of smoke announced the proximity of a hut or a camp of Indian travelers.

Peter Quispe put his lips to the horn, which was hanging on his back, and blew some powerful and prolonged notes. He waited a moment and then continued with strident and quick notes. .The travelers began to climb up the flank of the mountain; the guide with firm steps was indifferent, devouring the corn kernels. When the sound of the horn reverberated, the Indian stopped, looked alarmed at two gentlemen, and then made a fast exit down an open path in the hills.  Moments later he disappeared in the distance. Cordoba, speaking to his partner, exclaimed: “the Guide… why do we need him?” He became tenser. Alvarez stopped his horse and looked around, with concern, in all directions.

The Horn was still resonating and at the top of the Hill the figure of Pedro Quispe was silhouetted against the blue background, on the reddish nakedness of the peaks. By the edges and the crossroads, a spell was taking place.  Behind the large overcrowded fields of grass, between the gleanings, wild grasses and bitter weeds, under the wide awnings of the nomadic camps, at the doors of the huts and at the summits of the distant mountains, could be seen the rapid coming and going of human beings.  They stopped for a moment and looked toward the hill on which Pedro Quispe was blowing incessantly on his horn and later began hiking up the hills, climbing cautiously.

Alvarez and Córdoba continued climbing up the mountain; their horses panting on the rocky roughness of the razor-thin path, and the two gentlemen, deeply concerned, carried on silently. Suddenly, a huge rock broke away from the top of the mountains, passed near them, with a mighty roar; then another… another– Alvarez galloped his horse to escape, forcing it to outflank the mountain. Cordoba imitated it immediately, but the boulders were chasing him.  It seemed that the mountain was crumbling.  The horses, startled by the disturbance, jumped on the rocks, miraculously supported by their hoofs on the projecting ledges, and dithered in the space provided by the enormous height.

Briefly the mountains towered over the Indians. The gentlemen then rushed towards the narrow path that was twisting along their feet, along which a sweet, thin and crystal clear stream trickled.

They filled the valleys with strange harmonies; the rough and disagreeable sound of the horns was flowing from all parts and including the end of the ravine; in the radiant clarity that was opening two mountains, a group of men suddenly stood up.

At that moment, a huge stone crashed into Alvarez’s horse; he was seen hesitating a moment and then fell and rolled down the slopes of the mountain.  Cordova jumped to ground and began crawling towards the point where he could see the dusty form of the horse and the gentleman.

The Indians began to descend from the heights and left the cracks and the bends, one by one, advancing carefully, stopping all the time, with an sharp-eyed look to the bottom of the gorge. When they came to the edge of the creek, they spotted the two travelers.  Álvarez lay motionless, stretched out on the ground. Next to him his partner, standing with his crossed arms,  desperate and feeling powerless, following intently the slow descent of the frightened Indians.

In a small undulating plain formed by the depressions of the mountains, bounded on its four corners by four wide ridges, waited together the old ones and the women for the result of the manhunt.

The Indian women with their short round skirts of coarse fabrics, their cloaks on their chest, their cloth caps shining, coarse tresses falling on their shoulders, their feet bare, their sordid looks, clustered at one end, quiet, and looking between their fingers at the whirling dance of their spindles and the winders.

When the pursuers arrived, they brought the travelers. tied on the horses

They moved to the center of the square, and threw them on the ground, like two bundles. The women approached and looked at them curiously, still spinning, talking quietly.

The Indians deliberated for a moment, then a group of them rushed to the foot of the mountain and returned with two huge jugs and two thick beams. While some were digging the earth to set the beams, the other filled little clay jugs with liquor.They drank until the sun began to set on the horizon, and the only sound heard was muffled conversations of women and the noise of the sloshing liquid inside the jugs ,when they lifted them. Peter and Thomas took the bodies of the gentlemen and tied them to the poles. Alvarez, who had broken his spine, let out a big groan. The two Indians stripped them of all their clothes and threw them away, piece by piece..  The women looked admiringly at the white bodies.

Then the ordeal began. Pedro Quispe  cut out his tongue and Cordoba burned his eyes.

Thomas punctured Alvarez’s body with small knife wounds. Then came the other Indians who tore off his hair, and banged stones and chips into the wounds.
A young Indian laughingly poured a big mug of beer over the head of Alvarez.

They died that afternoon. The two travelers had long ago given their soul to the Great Righteous, and the Indians tired, jaded and indifferent, were chopping and lacerating the bodies.

It then became necessary to take the oath of silence. Pedro Quispe drew a cross on the ground and the men and women came and kissed the cross. After that, he took his rosary off his neck, something he normally never did and made  the Indians swear on it, spit on the ground,  and walk on the moist earth.
When the bloody evidence  was removed and they had deleted the last traces of the scene that had developed in  the roughness of the Altiplano plateau, an immense silence fell over the solitude of the mountains.

Translated by Kenny Beechmount

October, 2012

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Ciro Alegria was born in Peru in Sartimbamba in 1909 and died in 1967.  One of the best-known Spanish-American novelists of the 1940s and 1950s.  While Manuel Rojas wrote about the common man on the street and the poor, Alegria wrote about the lives of the Peruvian Indians and exposed the problems of the Peruvian Indians while learning about their way of life. For more information about his life, there are a number biographies published on the internet, of which the following is only one.

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/13703/Ciro-Alegria

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The Siren of the Forrest

 

(La sirena del bosque)

by

Ciro Alegría

 

 

The tree called lupuna (1), one of the most originally beautiful in the Amazon jungle, “it has a mother.” The Indians in the Jungle say they believe this tree is possessed by a spirit or inhabited by a living being.   These beautiful and rare trees enjoy some privileges. . The lupuna is one of the tallest trees in the Amazon forest; it has graceful branches and its trunk, of leaden gray color, has triangular fins at its base. . The lupuna is attractive at first sight and generally, after looking at it for a while, produces a sensation of strange beauty. Since “it has mother”, the Indians do not cut the lupuna. Their axes and machetes are used for chopping, knocking down parts of the forest to build villages, or to clear fields for planting yucca and bananas, or to open paths. . The lupuna will stay dominating. Anyway, since they are not cut, they stand out in the forest because of their height and particular shape. They are very visible.

For the Cocamas Indians, the “mother” in the lupuna, is a white, blonde and singularly beautiful woman. On moonlit nights, she rises through the heart of the tree to the crown and comes out to be illuminated by the glowing light and then sings. In this Vegetable ocean, forming the tops of the trees, the beautiful woman resonates her clear, high, and singularly melodious voice, filling the solemn grandeur of the jungle. The people and the animals, who listen to it, become bewitched. The forest may calm down its branches to hear it.

The old Cocamas prevents the young men from falling under the spell of the voice. Whoever listens should not approach the singing woman, because they will never return.  Some say that they died waiting to reach the beautiful and others that she turns them into tree. Anyone who thought her out, any young Cocamas that followed the fascinating voice, dreaming of winning the beautiful, never returned. This is the woman, who comes out of the lupuna, the siren of the forest. The best thing you can do, on some moonlit night, is to listen to, and remember her beautiful singing, nearby and far away.

1)      The following links provides some background on this tree, including legends and superstitions

http://www.flickr.com/photos/hgcharing/4138391176/

http://www.singingtotheplants.com/2007/12/pucalupuna/ 

http://meta-religion.com/World_Religions/Ancient_religions/South_america/myths_peru_amazon.htm

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FOREWORD

Ricardo Palma was born in Lima, Peru in 1833, and died there on October 6, 1919, at the age of 86. He was contemporary to the Mexican writer, Vicente Riva Palacio (1832-1896) with whom he had quite a few things in common. They were both university educated, had served in the armed forces and dabbled in politics. Palma began his writing career as a poet and published his first verses at the age of only 15. During his life, he published several additional volumes of verse, including Harmonies and Lyre in Paris during a visit there in 1864-65. From 1865 onward until he retired in 1912, he published a series of volumes called Tradiciones, with the first showing up in 1872. These essays, short stories and historical fiction pieces became the core of a six-volume set of the Complete Peruvian Traditions. Like Vicente Riva Palacio, many of his stories and amusing anecdotes are based on folklore and for Ricardo Palma, on Peruvian traditions. The following story about brother (friar) Gómez and the scorpion is an amusing little tale of fantasy that rivals that of Palaciao’s El Buen Ejemplo.

When I was a boy I frequently heard the older people exclaiming, while pondering the value and price of a piece of jewelry “This is as valuable as Brother Gomez’s scorpion!” I propose to explain this adage of the old people with the following story.

Brother Gómez was a lay brother, contemporaneous with Don Juan de la Pipirindica, the valiant lancer and of San Francisco Solano, redeemer in Lima at the convent of the Seraphic Fathers, whose monks were in charge of the infirmary or hospital for old and frail devotees. Brother Gómez created miracles galore in my country, like someone who is not even trying. He was a natural-born miracle-maker, like the person who spoke in prose, not knowing that he did.

It happened one day; the lay brother arrived at a bridge, when a runaway horse threw its rider on the paving stones. The unfortunate soul remained, lifeless, with his battered head spurting blood from nose and mouth.

“He fractured his skull,-he fractured his skull!” shouted the people, “Will someone go to San Lorenzo and fetch some anointing oil?”

Everything was in an uproar and clamor.

Brother Gómez slowly approached the person lying on the ground and put the cord from his garment across the mouth of him, then said three blessings, and without neither doctor, nor medicine, he stood up, fresh, as if he if he never got hurt.

“Miracle, Miracle! Long live brother Gómez!” shouted all the spectators.

Enthusiastically they tried to carry the lay brother in victory. In order to get away from his applauders, he ran down the road to the convent and cloistered himself in his cell.

The Franciscan history explains the latter in a different way. They say that brother Gómez, in order to escape his applauders, lifted himself into the air and flew from the bridge to the tower of the convent. I neither confirm, nor deny this. Maybe he did, and maybe he didn’t. When dealing with miracles, I don’t waste my time nether defending or refuting them.

That day, brother Gómez was in the mood for making miracles, for when he left his cell, he walked to the infirmary, where he encountered San Francisco Solano, resting on a bed, suffering from a severe headache. The lay brother took his pulse and said: “Father, your health is fragile; you would do well to eat some food.”

“Brother, replied the saint, I have no appetite.

“Make an effort, reverent Father, have at least a mouthful.”

So insistent was the monk in charge of the dining hall, that the sick, in order to get rid of the demands that already bordered on nonsense, I got the idea to ask him what even for the viceroy would have been impossibly to obtain, because the season wasn’t right to satisfy his whim

“Look, little brother, if only he would eat a pair of tasty mackerels”

Fray Gómez put his right hand into his left sleeve and pulled out two mackerels as fresh as if they had just come out of the sea.

Here they are Father, and may they bring your good health back. I Am going to cook them.

And with the blessed mackerels San Francisco was cured as if by magic.

There was another morning, brother Gomez was lost in meditation in his cell, when there was some small, discrete knocks on the door and a tetchy voice said:

“Thanks be to God, Praised be the Lord”

“Forever and ever, Amen. Come in dear brother, answered brother Gómez.”

And into the very humble cell came a ragged individual, but in whose face one could perceive the proverbial honesty of an old Castilian.

The furniture in the cell consisted of four leather chairs, a greasy table, and a bunk without mattress, not even sheets, and with a stone for a pillow to rest his head.

Sit down, brother and tell me without detours what brings you here, said brother Gómez.

The fact is, Father that I am an honest man through and through.

That’s apparent and I want to persevere, so that I will deserve peace of conscience in this earthlyl life, and in other one, the blessed place.

The fact is that I’m a peddler with a family and my business does not grow for lack of means, or for idleness and shortage of industry in me.

I’m glad, brother, for God takes care of those who work honestly

But it is the problem, Father that till now God has turned a deaf ear on me, and is late in helping me.

“Don’t despair, brother, don’t despair!”

Well, the situation is that have knocked on many doors in solicitation of a loan for five hundred duros, and I found all of them locked up tight. And it happened that last night in my ponderings, I said to myself: “Hey, Jeromo, cheer up and go and ask for the money from brother Gómez, for if he wants to, beggar and poor as he is, he will find a way to extract me from my troubles.” And this is the reason that I am here, because I have come to ask and request that you, reverend Father, lend me this trifle amount for six months.

“How could you have imagined, son, that you, in this sad cell, would find such wealth?”

Frankly, father I couldn’t answer that; but I have faith that you will not let me leave distressed.

Your faith will save you, brother. Wait a minute!

Looking around the naked, whitewashed walls in the cell, he saw a scorpion tranquilly walking over the window frame. Brother Gómez tore a page from an old book and went over to the window took it cautiously to the bug, wrapped it in the paper and turning towards the old Castilian he said:

“Take this, my good man and pawn this little precious ornament; and don’t forget to bring it back within six month.”

The peddler was overcome with gratitude, and left brother Gómez with great haste and walked to the pawnshop.

The jewel was a splendid, real jewel worthy of a Moorish queen, to say the least. It was a brooch in the shape of a scorpion.

A magnificent emerald mounted in gold, formed the body and a wide brilliant with two rubies for eyes, formed the head.

The pawnshop owner, who was a connoisseur, looked at the jewel with greed and offered to begin with two thousand duros for it; but our Spaniard insisted on not accepting a loan for more than 500 duros for six month and with too much interest, he understood.  The lender gave him the money and signed the papers or promissory notes, expecting that, in the end, the owner of the article would come back for more money, which, with the added interest charges, would turn him into the owner of such a priceless jewel, with its intrinsic and artistic value.

But with this little capital, he became quite prosperous in his business and at the end of the time could discharge the loan, and, wrapped in the same paper he had received it in, he returned it to brother Gómez.

He took the scorpion and put it in the window sill, gave a blessing and said:

“Little animal of God, go find your way.”

And the scorpion walked freely on the walls of the cell.

Translated April 7, 2011 by Kenny Beechmount .

To site this translation, please quote: beachmount.wordpress.com/El Alecran  by Ricardo Palma, translated to English.

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