The chullachaqui is a demon of the jungle, known to almost everyone in the Amazon, frightening and pathetic. He is characterized by having one or both feet deformed — either both turned backwards, or one shaped like that of an animal, such as a deer or jaguar; the name is Quechua, meaning uneven feet. The deformed foot is emblematic of his nature: turned backwards, it leaves false tracks; but it cannot be disguised, revealing his identity. He takes on the form of a friend or relative, or of an animal to draw in hunters, and lures people deep into the jungle, where they become hopelessly lost. People thus stolen away he then abandons, makes sick, enslaves, drives mad.

The poet César Calvo pictures chullachaquis as zombie-like creatures — creations of great shamans, sculpted out of the air, or formed from kidnapped children. If a kidnapped child is charged with evil powers, the right foot becomes deformed, self-contradictory — an animal foot when the chullachaqui is in human form, a human foot when in animal form. But there is also a second type of chullachaqui — benevolent, a person of the good, “a deceit in the service of the truth,” with no deformity. In either case, the kidnapped one does not return.

Chullachaqui with a backwards foot (detail from a painting by Pablo Amaringo)

Chullachaquis are also known as yashingo, curpira, shapingo, and shapshico. Two generic terms are also applied to chullachaquissupay, demons, and sacharuna, jungle people. The term sacharuna makes the chullachaqui the land equivalent of the yacuruna, the water people.

Yet there is something sad about the chullachaqui. He dwells alone in the inundated forest, where the chullachaquicaspi tree grows, or under lupuna trees, with which, Calvo says, he has an “indissoluble agreement of love.” He keeps a garden in which he cultivates only sachacaimito, and lives on its fruits. Sometimes he appears, comically, as a small man wearing huge red shoes, red pants, and a hat; he may be challenged to a wrestling match, and one who defeats him will be given good hunting and happiness.

The chullachaqui is also madre del monte, mother of the wilderness, the master of animals; by following the appropriate diet, one can propitiate the chullachaqui, who will grant success in hunting, but punish those who take too many animals. In this, the chullachaqui is like other madres of the jungle — the mothers of the trees, the mothers of the colpas — who protect their domains from foresters and hunters.

There has thus developed, in the last few decades, a new version of the chullachaqui, born out of an increasing awareness of commercial encroachment on the jungle — the chullachaqui as defender of the forest, enemy of lumber and oil companies: he heals wounded animals, and punishes those who cut down the trees and hunt animals out of greed. “The chullachaqui is a protective spirit of the jungle,” says one description, “who can harm or help people, depending on whether they mistreat or respect nature in the jungle.” This new chullachaqui “is generous with those who make rational use of the resources of the forest, but is harmful toward people who invade his space without permission and destroy its plant and animal resources.”

Don Agustin Rivas tells of a jungle encounter with a small man who had an aged face, curved nose, small brilliant eyes, and very small mouth, and was missing one foot. Although the man was dressed normally, don Agustin recognized him immediately as a chullachaqui. Don Agustin expressed his delight in finally meeting a real chullachaqui, and they smoked a pipe together; don Agustin mentioned that he had been having bad luck in hunting lately, and the chullachaqui said, “Those are my animals. You need to ask my permission first, and you have never asked me before shooting an animal. But today you’re going to kill an animal.” Don Agustin suddenly felt dizzy and fell to the ground in a faint; when he awoke, the chullachaqui was gone. Almost immediately, he came across a very large deer and shot it — a perfect shot through the heart.

So, with that background, I think you might find the following interesting:

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4 Responses to “Chullachaqui”

  1. Luke says:

    Thankyou for all this information, I hugely appreciate it.

    Please, if you have the time make a wikipedia article on it.

  2. Kakulja Evan says:

    Ha. Cool, I’m just finishing Calvo’s Three Halves of Ino Moxo right now.

  3. Johan says:

    Hi there,
    I have been doing ceremonies in the Peruvian jungle and made friends with Chullachaqui .i visited his tree and Potok pictures of it. Next ceremony he came to me as a short black trollish kind of person and he made my thumbs hurt. As I am also a reflexologist besides a photographer I was quite upset about that. I told him that he could screw with any other joint besides my thumbs because that is how i serve people. He grumpely asked why I took pictures of his tree. I told him that I had heard about him and fond him an interesting spirit. As a matter of fact that I liked his attitude. But I told him that I wasn’t dieting on Kim but on Noya Rao . Immediately the spirit of Noya Rao appeared and Chullachaqui ran off. Noya Rao is the grand maestra of the jungle trees. Since his tree has really hard wood I wanted a piece to make a flute out of it. ( I play the flute in ceremonies and it is part of my medicine.) sure as anything, he showed up and asked why I took a piece of his tree- a dead one for that matter- I told him that if I had a flute I could make him known to more people. He seemed to like that and since I have sort of become his protege. He has never harmed me again and actually protects me when in the trance world. In a few weeks time I go back into the jungle and going to dieta on him for 10 weeks. I really like him.

  4. Živka says:

    I met him too, in a dream I had. I was sleeping in our tambo, with 3 others in the room sleeping too. I was dreaming, and then I heard a bang and woke up, but it was only to wake up into another dream: a liminal dream where I was still asleep but dreaming I was awake. In this liminal dream within a dream my body was in the same position it was in the waking world, and the room looked exactly the same. I heard loud footsteps and a girl in the tambo said, “there is someone in the house!”… Strange, I thought, she doesn’t speak English, how can she be speaking perfectly? I then heard footsteps coming towards me. I saw my friend walk by me. Next I hear a voice. “Mmm! You smell good”. He is right beside me, and smells my armpit. He was short, with a cap, and I couldn’t see his eyes. I was so alarmed that I began to call aloud. I called for my friend! “Juan!” I yelled, but because I was dreaming I couldn’t yell as loud as I wanted to… Until I yelled out from my waking world body and fully woke myself up. My arms were still pinned behind my head like the were in my dream, and I was looking exactly where he should have been. I began to pray, and whisper blessings and protections. It was a new experience for me, and I didn’t know about a spirit like the chullachaqui at that time, though I knew something special had happened. The next day I decided to do a tobacco dieta and purge my fears and misconceptions. He didn’t visit me again that day, but I had a deeper sense of who he was… I got the name “abuelo”, and that it was a very wise forest spirit who knew a lot about the jungle – in fact, I sensed he knew everything and was very old. That night we drank the medicine, and I wondered if I would see him. I didn’t, but in the early hours of the morning I felt him again. My mind began a flurry of conversation, as if my thoughts could be read and I could understand him too. For a few moments I wondered if I had gone crazy, because I started to feel elated to connect with him. I began to cry, I felt so happy! I felt like I had found a long lost friend. But to be more sure I was not imagining things, I naively asked for a sign, and at that precise moment a bat in the rafters began flying around making screeches. I asked kindly with gratitude if the bat could stop, because I didn’t want the bat stressed just because of my lack of belief. I cried more and laughed. Could I be friends with the abuelo? It felt like yes, but I recognized somehow we were very very different. Yet also, similar in that we both cared for the forest. He knows so much more than I could, but I hoped we could work together. I am a foreign woman. I care very much about working in the right way. We do convservation work and are helping people to organize away from gold mining. I feel joy to have an ally.
    This was in April. I never knew who he was, but just a couple weeks ago I was reading a anthropological report about shamanism in the amazon, and discovered reports about different spirits. The “evil” chullachaqui made me shudder, but I know these kind of forces somehow exist, even if just in our own creation of duality. When I read the next sentences about the “benevolent” chullachaqui, I grew cold in surprise… And here it is again! Your article sums it well, describing nearly exactly how he was in my dream within a dream.
    I hope I can feed this wise spirit with my goodness and beauty, and that I can help him care for the forest.
    I am nervous too. I come from a culture that does not recognize these kinds of phenomenon, and I sense my naive freshness is somehow a gift, but that it also could put me and others in danger. How does one proceed?
    Somehow i think I have to ask the chullachaqui.

    Thank you so much for this posting. And to the poster above telling his story.

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