The heavenly Llama

by Fabian Grieger

Iraner erzählen von Iran (Ausgabe III/2014)


A stylised drawing of a Llama. Illustration: Thumbelina/Shutterstock

When night falls over the Andes, Choque Chinchay, the heavenly llama, wanders through the Milky Way. Then he drinks from rivers and lakes, so that people's villages are not flooded. This is one of the many legends surrounding the llama in Bolivia. Others say that Pachamama, Mother Earth, donated the llama to the locals to help them survive in the harsh Andean environment. In fact, the animal is still indispensable in the countryside today. It provides wool, meat and combustible excrement, and was the only beast of burden available until the Spanish colonisation of Bolivia

Over the years, its agricultural importance has also lent the llama a religious aura. In the past, after someone died, a llama would be sacrificed to accompany him on the journey to the afterlife. This custom is still maintained today in a modified form. Few people dare to build a house without asking Pachamama for permission by embedding a llama foetus in the foundation. Few people dare to enter a mine without having first sacrificed a llama. So it is not surprising that the animal is ubiquitous in Bolivia: as key rings, as patterns on the traditional alpaca sweaters, as attractions at markets or on the fields of the Andes highlands. There, grazing, is where it feels most content.

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