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From aliens to African American creatures:

Two examples of monsters in Ecuadorian short stories


Wladimir Chvez V.
When the literary critics in general talk about Latin America, they often focus
their attention on a limited number of books. This group is usually included in
an ambiguous category called Magical Realism. Therefore, writers like Garca
Mrquez on the one hand, and Isabel Allende or Laura Esquivel on the other,
have obtained much popularity in Europe and the United States as
distinguished representatives of a literary trend.
This has produced horrible generalizations. In fact, many
theoreticians suppose that any supernatural event in a plot written by a Latin
American author is Magical Realism without doubt. They forget that there
already exist better ways to approach a novel or a story with certain
supernatural traits.
There are many monsters in the Literature of Latin America. It is
possible to find some of them in the pre-Columbian oral traditions or in the
legends during the Spanish domination or even in the Literature for children
and teenagers. And monsters also exist in the plots of the Contemporary
Literature for adults.
In Ecuador there is a pioneering book: Profundo en la galaxia (1994)
by Santiago Pez. In spite of the fact that it got excellent reviews, the book is
almost unknown abroad. Monsters of different types appear in Pezs stories,
which are a strange mix between the science of the West and the Andean
tradition. I am going to focus on one specific plot: Yachak.
Another text that deserves special attention is La entundada (1971),
by the Ecuadorian Adalberto Ortiz. Maybe for the first time in Ecuadorian
Contemporary Literature it is possible to find a monster from the afroEcuadorian oral tradition. It is a unique creature: it seems to generate a bizarre
psychological fear. At the same time, it seems to incarnate prejudices and
ignorance. And finally, I would like to show that in the Andean countries it is
possible to write Fantastic Literature that it is not necessarily Magical Realism.
1.

Magical Realism and Fantastic Literature

There is an abundant bibliography concerning Magical Realism since 1960:


Pietri (his opinion was published in 1948), Carpentier (1949), Flores (1955),
Irby (1957), Donahue (1966), Franco (1969), Valbuena Briones (1969),

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Barroso VIII (1977), etc. But what is authentically the Magical Realism? The
response is difficult. Juan Barroso VIII is sure that the term Magical Realism
has been used in an indiscriminated way.1 Enrique Anderson Imbert agrees:
What surprises is that while the historians of Art do not use it [the concept of
Magical Realism] anymore, historians of Literature exaggerate its use.2
Many specialists announce that the first one who used and
consolidated the concept with his works was Garca Mrquez. Others point to
the Mexican Elena Garro, the Ecuadorian author Jos de la Cuadra or even to
the Chilean Maria Luisa Bombal (from the beginning of the XX century).
There is a diversity of opinions and delimitation becomes imperious.
For the present study we use the categories proposed by Enrique Anderson
Imbert in the book The Magical Realism and other essays (1976). At the same
time, Introduccin a la Literatura Fantstica (1972), by Tzvetan Todorov, is
extremely helpful for an approach to the area of Fantastic Literature.
2.

Yachak, a story of monsters in continual mutation.

The term yachak designates a wise person of the Andes. A yachak consults
nature, sees partially the future, diagnoses with the help of cuyes (guinea pigs)
and cure illnesses. Nowadays he is still an essential authority inside the
Andean communities. There is an equivalent category: the shaman. The only
difference is that the shaman is the wizard of the jungle.
In this short story, the old yachak Jos Snchez wakes up one night
because he feels a sickness in Pachamama (the Mother Earth). The nature
shows strange symptoms. His son, Lluntu, is a beginner of yachak and sleeps
in the same hut. Both decide to go to the waterfall of Peguche to ask the stones
for advice.
A parallel story is narrated: a space ship out of control looks for a
planet to land. The monsters (the crew members of the ship) are the TSKZZ,
from the planet of Orkyyun:
[] they were creatures in continual mutation. The voice was
going out from the feet when his brain was located in one of
his eight tubular extremities, or from the green bulbous body,
when his mind was resting in it.3
The inhabitants of the planet of Orkyyun are owners of an advanced
technology. Their space ships, for example, are a mixture of alive creatures
and mechanical gadgets. Everything is accuracy and harmony on their planet.

Wladimir Chvez

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But there is something that produces a complete chaos in the society: the fear.
When the inhabitants of Orkyyun are dominated by fear, everything is lost.
In case of this story, the space ship is looking for a place to land.
There is fear in its occupants and fear in the own ship. In fact, when the word
fear is mentioned in the story, it appears in capital letters. The inhabitants of
the planet of Orkyyun know that they are going to die.
Meanwhile, the old Jos Snchez starts his ritual and asks for the
illness of Pachamama. The nature answers with signs. Jos Snchez orders his
son to go to Quebrada Negra (Black Gorge) and obtain a shining stone. Lluntu,
the son, prefers not to go because at night there is a mal aire (a spirit that steals
the energy until the victim dies) who lives in Quebrada Negra. After the
insistence of the father, Lluntu leaves.
The old yachak, close to the waterfall of Peguche, protects his son,
who finally obtains the stone and purifies it blowing spirit (alcohol) over it.
Lluntu manages to return with the brilliant stone to his father.
The yachak examines the stone and finds tiny creatures in its interior:
they are the inhabitants of Orkyyun. The space ship, which has the size of a
stone, has landed on the ground in Quebrada Negra. The crew and the ship are
nearly dead and only the pilot has not fainted yet.
-You have made my world ill - said the yachak - you have
made my son ill.
-Forgive us -answered the pilot, almost fainted in the room of
the control panel of the ship we are not used to damage other
beings, but we are sick now. We have infected your world.4
Curiously, the yachak has considered the aliens as if they were spirits and has
asked them if they are from the world of heaven (angels) or from the interior
world (demons). The pilot of the ship understands part of the question and
answers that they come from the sky, in a way. Nevertheless, because the
intruders bring illness, the yachak decides to call them demons. The yachak
order them not to damage with their illness Pachamama and they are required
to leave, but the pilot answers that this is impossible, that they are terribly sick:
- Who are you? - asked the yachak.
- A traveler - answered the demon-. And you?
- A yachak, a healer.
- Heal me.5

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It is here that the plot gets into a critical point. A very common reason to visit
a yachak and healers in the Andean countries is to ask for a cure to mal del
espanto (the disease of panic). It is an illness with its own symptoms: fever,
diarrhea, vomits According to popular beliefs, the illness can be caused by
many factors: a furious dog that tries to attack, some unfortunate news, a fall...
The patient remains terrified after any of these experiences. In fact, he/she has
the disorder of the terror. A yachak treats the illness with prayers, secret
words, and blowing alcohol over the infected person. Some healers use also a
red tie or a strip to diagnose the illness.
The yachak Jos Snchez notices that the demon (the alien) and his
companions have mal del espanto. He realizes the importance of his task and
executes the ritual on the aliens as if they were human beings, with prayers in
Quechuan (he begs the indigenous gods and the Christian God and saints) and
finishes by giving a shower of spirit over his patients. At the end of the rite,
the small ship has recovered its vitality, its occupants are healthy again, and
together they immediately leave the Earth.
So the first monster we meet comes from the alien's class. We have
said that the monsters of Orkyyun are in continual mutation and that their
voices can come out of any part of their body. At the same time, the history
itself shows many examples of mutation, change and adjustment. When the
yachak begins his ritual and ask Pachamama for its illness, what does he use
during the ceremony? First, there are elements linked to the nature: obsidians,
quartzes, rocks of rivers, etc. Second, there are western elements: a bayonet
from the Independence War against Spain (beginnings of the XIX century),
saints stamps, crucifixes, photographies, among others There are elements of
two different ways of thinking. They are a miscellany that complements itself
perfectly in the mind of the yachak. It is a sample of crossbreed, and the
yachak prays both to the Christian God and to the deities of his forefathers.
It seems to be impossible to find examples of pure characters or
situations in the story. In the same way as the yachak is a product of a
crossbreeding, the aliens show a complex facet of adjustment. Their machines
are not pure metal. The people of Orkkyun, who come from such an advanced
planet, still allow themselves to be dominated by a feeling as basic as fear.
Besides, there is a paradox: the monsters with the tubular extremities
do not provoke fear. It is strange. Maybe because the yachak knows that his
work potentially will lead him to speak with demons. Or maybe for the tiny
size of the TSKZZ. There is also the explanation of the size: if the monster is
bigger, the fear increases too. In any case, these monsters are not too original
aliens (in other plots the form of aliens has been characterized as a disparate
mass), though they are terribly attractive for their roll in the story.

Wladimir Chvez

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Because the inhabitants of Orkkyun are monsters, they should
provoke a compulsory consequence: the appearance of the fear. The monsters
and fear are an entity in the plots. But in contrast to the traditional stories, in
this one the monsters (tiny and in the process of dying) are also under the
effects of the terror.
The fear is the sensation which all the characters have to fight
against: Jos Snchez, and the fear of the spirits at the waterfall of Peguche;
his son Lluntu, and the fear of mal aire; the wife of Lluntu, who can not
understand what is going on; and the extraterrestrials, of course. In the plot the
fear is the axis, but dominates the monsters in addition. The monsters bring the
terror, but at the same time they experience it.
The confusion between aliens and demons becomes remarkable too.
For the yachak Jos Snchez, the word extraterrestrial does not mean
anything. He defines the inhabitants of the planet Orkkyun by way of
elimination: the intruders neither are humans, nor animals, plants, nor part of
the tangible nature. So they are spirits. But since they bring illness, they cannot
be good spirits. They are demons. This sort of logic works perfectly.
At the same time, all that is strange could become a monster: an alien,
a malignant spirit, a deformed face... We are scared of abnormality. Nobody
speaks about the normal things, which are tacit. It is the rupture of normality
that also attracts us. This becomes evident in La entundada.
3

La entundada

The story has a witness-narrator. It is a child (his name does not appear in the
plot) who lives with a female cousin (just a few years older), his uncle and his
mother. The two children play together. One day, Numancia (the female
cousin), who is becoming a teenager, is kidnapped by the Tunda. But, what is
a Tunda? The narrator tries to explain us:
The Tunda is an ignominious beast The Tunda is a ghost...
The Tunda is the Patica... The Tunda is the one with one
foot The Tunda is the phantasm The Tunda is the Cuco
The Tunda is the soul in the sorrow of a widow The Tunda
is smutty No one really knows No one knows.6
Numancia has been kidnapped by a monster who does not have a definite
form. Immediately, a group is organized to go to the jungle and rescue the girl.
They take dogs, provisions, weapons and clothes. The expedition walks close
to the river. Nobody has seen either the Tunda or Numancia. The black women

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listen terrified to the details of the new apparition of the Tunda and beg their
own children for prudence and care.
More people join in the crusade, but although they check caves and
travel a lot of time through the forest, they do not find any track. A few
months later, when the search has stopped, Numancia arrives suddenly at the
family house. It is night time. The cousin and his mother are sleeping in a
room next to the room of Numancias father. Numancia embraces her aunt.
The narrator notices that the stomach of his cousin was big, sure because she
was eating shrimps and small fishes7, thought the child.
Alerted by a sound, the father of Numancia appears. He looks into the
eyes of his daughter with hardness. This behavior shocks the little narrator.
- Where have you been? - The father asked shortly.
She did not answer, but she lowered the head.
No one was glad to see Numancia again [] I embraced her
with happiness and asked:
- Is it true that the Tunda took you?
She complied with her head.
- Did it harm you?
She denied with her head
His father continued looking at her fiercely and nastily []
He shouted her with terrible voice:
-You are like your mother! Go back to your disgusting
Tunda!8
The story finishes when Numancia leaves the house of her father crying.
The Tunda is a mythical being from the African Ecuadorian culture.
In addition to different indigenous groups, Ecuador has also a community of a
black population. They are descendants of slaves, who came to the country
during the Spanish domination. Black people preserve their customs, music,
dances and African traditions, but with certain changes. The Tunda, for
example, seems to come from a tradition of the Bantu tribe (a tribe in Africa)
and of a mythical personage of this culture: the quimbungo. The goddess
Oshun is also mentioned in La entundada.
In Esmeraldas, the province in Ecuador where most of the black
people live, everyone has heard about the Tunda. It is said that the Tunda can
take any form that it likes and keep its victims in the jungle. It seems also that
the Tunda prefers to adopt the appearance of a woman. It is possible to
recognize the monster because one of its feet is very small and the other one is
a paw of stick in the shape of a cross. When a woman is kidnapped, she can

Wladimir Chvez

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become a concubine of the monster. Some says that the Tunda feeds its
hostages with shrimps (the witness-narrator of the story supposes it).
Sometimes the kidnapped can flee from the jungle and return to
his/her house. Then he/she becomes entundado (expression used by the
African Ecuadorian; it means the person is under bewitchery of the Tunda:
he/she returns stupefied, confused forever).
The first contrast we find is the monstrosity opposed to the
innocence. There are many elements related to monsters and their
consequences: the Tunda, the fear of the unknown, the fear of the loss of a
dear person, the endless walk through a place full of dangers like the jungle,
the mentions to the Patica (the devil), the Cuco (a sort of monster), etc.
But the elements related to innocence are also important. Numancia is
a girl who plays with her cousin until she was not interested anymore in our
games and that made me very sad.9 She is involved into a transformation
process along the plot. Step by step she becomes a beautiful teenager.
Numancia was illuminated by a pretty and rare color of toffee and she was
already tall enough.10 Almost at the end the child says that [she] had grown
up and in her face had a new, unknown and shimmering beauty.11
Numancia surpassed the childhood and forgot the innocence as well.
But what happens to Numancia does not happen to her little cousin. The
narrator of the history is full of tenderness and innocence. He imagines himself
talking to the owls, to the parrots, to the plants, until the adults admonish: Mad boy - they said to me - the plants do not talk.12
What happens at the end? Why has Numancia to leave the house?
When she returns she has an inflated stomach (the narrator supposes it is
because the shrimps that the Tunda forced her to eat). But there is a process in
which Numancia is not a child anymore. Maybe Numancia is pregnant now.
One possibility is that she has been a concubine of the monster. But I
have not found anything in literature saying that a concubine of the Tunda
could become pregnant. On the other hand, she is not entundada (stupefied by
the charm of the Tunda). It is true that she does not answer any question (she
just moves the head) but it seems that the shame is the cause of her silence
(once she even lowers her head, in a very explicit gesture). She insists to her
cousin on the version of the Tunda, because he cannot understand the world of
adults. Anyway, she says in addition that the monster did not treat her badly.
If it did not treat her badly, and Numancia is not entundada, we are
not talking about a monster. Numancia went away home with a lover. The
father realizes of that as soon as he sees her. And he can not support that she
disrespected the paternal authority.

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We know that there are elements of the oral tradition that support the
status quo, to consolidate the power of the authority. In fact, in many parts of
Ecuador there are some beliefs: to disobey a parent is punished by supernatural
forces with a violent death. The children are threatened with the Cuco, a
monster that is going to appear in front of the disobedient kid who did not eat
the soup, etc.
In this case, the Tunda brings the monster of the prejudices.
Numancia has left her house without saying anything to anyone, she had a
lover and now is pregnant. She has suffered, she needs help, but Numancia
does not have the right to return home. She is a shame for her father and for
the adults. In fact, the monsters are created by the very adults, a world in
opposition to the one of the narrator, crowded with innocence: No one was
glad to see Numancia again. And this situation disturbed me in excess. I was
filled with indignation because of the indifference of adults.13
1.3

Conclusions

The sensation of fear goes inevitably with the monsters, like the sensuality
might accompany the image of the sirens in classic literature. Nevertheless
there is another perspective in Yachak. In addition, the story has two basic
elements: the technology and the ancestral knowledge. At first sight they
would be distanced by the basic opposition of science vs. superstition, but in
the plot they coexist in harmony. Santiago Pez writes about extraterrestrials
and computers, at the same time as mal aire and mal del espanto. Is this short
story an example of Magical Realism? No. It is a Fantastic-Marvelous story: it
begins like a fantastic story, but at the end becomes a supernatural plot.
With the argument of a monster that kidnaps a young woman, La
entundada has some virtuous elements. One is the narrator: the story is told by
a child, permeable to receive fantastic stories and unable to understand the
cruel world of adulthood. And as a secondary effect, it helps us to understand
the African Ecuadorian culture, its credence, and the prejudices of the entire
society (not only the black community).
Is La entundada a story of Magical Realism? Some notions link the
Magical Realism to the mythology of indigenous groups. But The Tunda is not
related to Indians, it is related to the black community (even if the Indians
might have equivalent creatures). And the story does not have magical
explanation. It seems to be nearer to the category identified by Todorov as
Fantastic-Uncanny: the events seem supernatural in the beginning (even the
adults believe in the Tunda) but finally they have a rational explanation.

Wladimir Chvez

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Notes
1. Barroso VIII, 1977. 9. All translations are mine.
2. Anderson Imbert, 1976, 8.
3. Pez, 1994, 10.
4. Ibid., 14-15.
5. Ibid., 15.
6. Ortiz, 1995, 119
7. Ibid., 205.
8. Ibid., 205-205.
9. Ibid., 200
10. Ibid., 199.
11. Ibid., 205.
12. Ibid., 204.
13. Ibid., 205.

References
Anderson Imbert, Enrique. (1976), El realismo mgico y otros ensayos.
Caracas: Monte vila Editores.
Barroso VIII, J. (1977), Realismo mgico y lo real maravilloso en El Reino
de este mundo y El siglo de las luces. Miami: Ediciones Universal.
Flores, A. (1985), El realismo mgico en el cuento hispanoamericano.
Mxico: Premia (la red de Jons).
Naranjo, M. (1996), La cultura popular en el Ecuador, Tomo IV. Cuenca:
Centro Interamericano de Artesanas y Artes Populares. Quoted in Edufuturo,
Cosmovisin, personajes mticos. 2004.
<http://www.edufuturo.com/educacion.php?c=199> (6 April 2004).
Ortiz, A. (1995), `La entundada`, in: E. Viteri (ed.) Antologa bsica del
cuento ecuatoriano. Quito: Sistema Nacional de Bibliotecas. 199-207.
Pez, S. (1994), Profundo en la galaxia. Quito: Abrapalabra Editores.
Tzvetan, T. (1972), Introduccin a la literatura fantstica. Buenos Aires:
Editorial tiempo contemporneo.