“One day the word homeland will disappear – said Galileo hastily – People will look back on us, enclosed in our cramped borders, killing each other for the lines on the map and say how stupid we were.” Mario Vargas Llosa “The War of the End of the World”
Finally we found out why some people used to scream, crying out a phrase which resembles a word “pistachio” and run away from us before we even have time to say anything. And we also understood the meaning of that gesture which looks like cutting off one’s head. Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, Peruvians think we are famous ‘pistacios’, or ‘pistachos’ (also written ‘pishtacos’) – a pair of white, insidious thugs (and at the same time – secret agents cooperating with the government) who come from village to village and kidnap people to decapitate them, and then suck their fat in order to sell it to pharmaceutical and cosmetic corporations.
It should not be surprising that children believe in such a nonsense (when they are rude and misbehave, parents threat them that white ‘pistachos’ come and eat them), but it turns out that adults also believe in the legend of the abduction of the people by gringo-like Andean vampires.
In the Andean tradition ‘pishtaco’ is a mythological figure. The word comes from the Quechua word ‘pishtay’ – which means “behead, cut the throat or cut into slices”. ‘Pishtaco’ appears in pre-Spanish annals, where we can find information about hired killers sent by rival ethnic groups in order to eliminate VIPs or simply decimate the population.
According to Albert Tauro del Pino ‘pishtaco’ is a highwayman – often a white foreigner – whose main occupation is to attack people to suck their fat. That fat is then sold and the meat is eaten in the form of chicharrones (typical dish of Peruvian cuisine). It is also said that ‘pishtacos’ bury their victims to fertilize lands, or put them into the foundations of the buildings.
The legend in its current form spread in the time of the Spanish conquest. Andean Indians feared missionaries and perceived them as ‘pishtacos’ – those creatures who kill people and use their fat to oil church bells to make them especially sonorous.
For many residents of the Andean region excess body fat is still regarded as a manifestation of good health, strength and beauty. Indians for centuries believed that many diseases have their origin in the loss of this tissue; in the Andes, a slim silhouette is far from being any canon of beauty.
However preposterous it all might seem, a few years ago some strange events took place in the Amazonian jungle. In an article from the newspaper ‘El Pais’, dated November 20, 2009, we may read that after several months of investigation, the police took three members of the gang called ‘Los pistachos del Huallaga’. More than sixty people, mostly residents of Huallaga valley were ritually killed. Fat obtained from their body was subsequently sold for fifteen thousand dollars per kilo. The group, which acted as a religious brotherhood, caused panic in the area but because of their alleged co-operation the government residents did not disclose any disappearances, fearing about their own lives.
That area was until recently the area of activity of the Shining Path guerrillas and ordinary smugglers. Disappearances in the Hualla valley were on the agenda, which may explain why so many disappearances remain unknown. And it is very difficult to determine how many murders were committed by the members of that religious brotherhood.
Polish ‘pistachos’ move slowly to Ecuador. Santa Claus is coming to town. Colorful, illuminated sleighs with too loud music and advertising gibberish move around the cities. We leave the noise and get outside the buildings. But even there you can still here lots of silencer-deprived engines of the tricycle crap. The sun is scorching. We stop pedalling and lie under a mango tree. We eat fruit in the shade and with our sticky fingers shake off the giant ants and beetles. The world around us explodes with its intensity and exuberance. Someone stops nearby and through thickened air cries – Chamba! Suerte! Have a safe journey! And he is actually right. Because what else you could ask for? What more you could expect?
We finish mango and get a move on. A little more, just a little more, to stay with each other, stay with the world. Chamba, suerte.