In a little and remote village, an ill widow and her two children used to live. Unfortunately, she would eventually pass away due to so much suffering and work. Then, they had no other relatives at all, not even a place to stay in for a night, nor food to eat. One day, the orphans were wandering and starving around the barren lands, they saw a sparrow carrying a potato flower in its beak—potatoes were really prized and rare in that town, so they immediately had an idea.
“Maybe, if we follow that bird, we will get to a place full of potatoes!” the younger one joyfully said.
And those words were enough for them to start their new adventure. There was only one important fact they did not know, Achikay used to live in that town, too. Most people would describe her as an old ragged despicable woman. Such a good description for her. As soon as she found out about the children’s destination, she decided she would kill them to get all of the potatoes just for her. Once she found them, she convinced them to stay at her place effortlessly. They were so innocent! Since both children were starving and it was clearly noticeable on their facial expressions, Achikay suggested cooking, but she asked for firewood first. So then, the older sibling went outside to chop some firewood while her little brother, who was not old enough to do such thing, stayed inside. In the meantime, Achikay could not wait anymore and made a quick choice, she would kill the little boy once and for all. He started crying all of a sudden, he knew he could not defend himself. His sister came back straightaway. To be honest, those screams were not common ones, he was asking for help in a horrified, frightened way. The older sibling realized they were both in danger, so she grabbed the nearest stone and threw it at the dirty witch, then carried her brother on her back, and ran away.
She was running non-stop without looking back; she did not want to fall down nor drop her brother. Achikay was chasing them; she was not as agile as the children, but she was not carrying anything at all. After a short period of time, the older sibling met a black vulture and asked him quickly:
“Black vulture, could you please hide us under your wings?”
He hid them. Later, Achikay arrived and inquired:
“Black vulture, have you seen two children running over here?”
The black vulture, after realizing what was happening, hit her with his wings. He hit her face so hard that she started bleeding. The little girl took advantage of that time to continue escaping, but first she told the black vulture:
“You will have an excellent sight and will always have something to eat.”
And so it is.
The children had to go on running away since Achikay was still chasing them. They ran and ran until they met a puma that helped them out, too. After the witch arrived and asked the same question to the puma as she did with the black vulture, the puma thumped her with his claws so violently she fell down. The girl also thanked him saying:
“Puma, you will be the bravest animal there is!”
And he still is.
But they had to go on eluding the witch over and over again. And as gratitude, animals which helped out, hide, or protect the orphans from Achikay were getting new qualities or attributes that they still preserve. As expected, not of all the animals wanted to help. One of them refused to do so, he is known as skunk. The girl got so mad at him that she cursed him furiously:
“You will have a strong unpleasant smell and people will be able to hunt you easily!”
The children of course got tired after being chased for so long. They got to a huge grassland where, sadly, there were not any spots to hide in at all. Desperate, they decided to kneel down and pray. Saint Jerome, after listening to their prays, threw a rope from the sky. They would finally get to their longed destination, a land full of potatoes, where the orphans are still living cheerfully nowadays.
As for Achikay, who did get to the same place and saw that the children were going up into the clouds using a rope, asked out loud:
“Saint Jerome, make me go up as well!”
Saint Jerome did also throw a rope for her, but this one was worn out, something the old woman did not notice; and so, she started climbing. When she was halfway there, she noticed a little mouse was at the top gnawing the rope, and so she told him threateningly:
“Hey, useless rat! Why do you bite my rope?”
To what the mouse answered at once:
“Don’t bother me, old woman! I’m eating my burned bread rolls!” and he did not stop gnawing it.
Achikay, perceiving she was about to fall, asked God to fall on the grassland so that she would not get harmed:
“On the grassland, please, on the grassland!” she cried out.
However, she was going directly to a sharp rock, and after realizing that, she cursed stormily:
“My body shall scatter all over the place, my bones shall be embedded on the earth, and my blood shall dry plants and herbs!”
And so it happened.
Since that moment, the Andes were formed thanks to the Achikay’s bones. Those terrifying rocks that we can see around the mountains resemble the witch’s last cursing gestures. The echo we hear when we shout is the hag imitating us. And her blood was also dispersed all over the coastal valleys and some hillsides, which are arid since then and forever.
Apart from that, that dreamy land where the orphans got at the end is known as Taricá, a place where hunger is never going to be a thing because it is full of potatoes. And Saint Jerome is the patron saint of those lands, as you would expect, since he was the one who helped the very first settlers of that town, the main little characters of this story.
Arguedas, J., & Izquierdo, F. Mitos, leyendas y cuentos peruanos. Edición 2011, Lima: Santillana S. A.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. “Achikay”, a legend adapted and translated by Pablo Alejos Flores.