While Paraguay is known as a small and remote country in the heart of South America, it is a nation rich in oral tradition and storytelling. Passed down through centuries by the indigenous Guaraní people, tales of weird mythological creatures are still dominant in today’s society - they reflect the often times comical and laid-back attitude of Paraguay, where any day is a day for a good story. Passing travellers will often hear of these bizarre beings, or ‘mitos,’ that inhabit the countryside and define the customs of the people that live there. Here are some of the most popular and peculiar mitos that have shaped Paraguayan culture:
Pombero, the most popular and legendary Paraguayan mito, is known as a mischief maker that lives in the forest. He is a short and ugly little man-creature who carries a knapsack over his shoulder. Pombero likes to be a troublemaker, and will steal possessions from houses and barns, set animals free, scatter feed, and cause other mischief. Pombero’s presence is generally used to explain any sort of mystery or strange occurrence in Paraguay. The only way to appease Pombero is to leave his favourite items, honey, whiskey, and tobacco, outside of the house at night. In some areas people believe that if they continually leave gifts outside for the Pombero, he will start to protect their farm and animals against other evil spirits. Pombero is generally the most well-known of the Paraguayan mitos, due in part to a famous Paraguayan clothing chain, aptly named ‘Pombero,’ that sells handmade indigenous clothes.
The Kurupi is a god of fertility, and it is said that everything he touches bears fruit. The most notable physical feature about the Kurupi is that his penis is so enormously long that he wraps it around his waist, much like a belt. Because of the length of his phallus, he can wind it around doors and windows to impregnate women while they sleep, without them ever knowing he was there. Oftentimes adulterous women will blame the Kurupi for their pregnancies, and Paraguayan parents will use him to scare young girls into abstinence. The Kurupi is often overcome with lust and to satiate his desires he will steal lone women wandering on their own. For this reason, parents don’t allow their daughters to travel or walk unaccompanied. The only way to escape the Kurupi is to either cut off his penis or climb up a tree. The Kurupi resembles a short, squat, and hairy god (similar in appearance to Pombero). Paraguayans attribute their wonderfully fertile land and well-germinated plants and trees to the Kurupi. The Kurupi continues to be prevalent in modern Paraguayan culture, mainly due to the ‘Kurupi’ blend of yerba máte, a popular local loose tea drink.
The Ao Ao (pronounced as if saying ‘Ow Ow’) is a ferocious creature that lives in the forest and feasts on human flesh. The Ao Ao is said to have the head of a wolf and the body of a sheep, with large, talon-like claws. Paraguayans are terrified of him and believe that Satan himself sent the Ao Ao to live on earth. The Ao Ao will fixate on humans wandering alone in the forest, and continuously chase them until they collapse from exhaustion. The only way to escape the Ao Ao is by climbing to the top of a coconut tree; only then will he relent. Ao Ao is aptly named because it is the sound he makes when chasing his prey, though one could argue that it is also because he has an affinity for eating human clothes (‘ao’ in Guaraní, the indigenous language of Paraguay, means cloth). Paraguayans use the Ao Ao to teach two primary lessons: never wander alone, and learn how to climb a tree.
Jasy Jatere (pronounced Jah-sih Jah-teh-ray) is the only mito that resembles a full human. In contrast to the other mitos, the Jasy Jatere is an adorable blonde- haired, blue-eyed, and child-like creature. His sweet and innocent appearance is not to be trusted however, because the Jasy Jatere likes to kidnap children by sneaking up on them and luring them to sleep. The children are usually left unharmed and wake up in the center of a forest a few hours later, but Paraguayan mothers still threaten small children that the Jasy Jatere will get them if they don’t take their afternoon nap. The best way to appease the Jasy Jatere is to feed him honey, which he can’t get enough of. The Jasy Jatere is very popular in Paraguayan culture, and a recent movie “Asaje Pyte” (“Time for a Nap” [left]), about the famed mito, is currently playing in theaters in Paraguay.
Perhaps the hardest to pronounce, Plata Yvyguy (pronounced Plah-tah ‘uh- vih-gih’), literally means ‘buried treasure'. The legend of Plata Yvyguy started during a brutal war in the late 1800’s, where women hid all of their gold and jewellery by digging holes in the ground to conceal their valuables. Many of these women were killed during the war, but even the majority who survived forgot where they left their buried treasure. Up to this day, legend has it that Paraguayans still find buried gold throughout the country from centuries ago. People in certain areas of Paraguay believe that a spirit guide in the form of a headless dog running through the forests will lead them to the Plata Yvyguy. Other Paraguayans swear on finding the buried treasure by seeing a fire in the distant forest- they know it’s Plata Yvyguy if nothing is actually burned.
So how much do Paraguayans believe in the mitos? It depends on who you ask, and where. Some modern Paraguayans view mitos as only silly stories from their grandparents and great-grandparents, while in certain rural villages people swear they’ve seen the Jasy Jatere or Pombero wreaking havoc in the countryside. Most Paraguayans settle on believing that many of the mitos are legend, but that certain aspects of the different creatures exist. Regardless of the level of belief of the mitos in Paraguay, they are an important and fantastically weird part of Paraguayan culture.
Written by Brittany Boroian
Brittany Boroian is a current Peace Corps Volunteer in Paraguay, presently working on her tree-climbing abilities in case she meets the Ao Ao in a forest. She was featured in our first issue last year in December 2012 on her exciting travels in Paraguay (find out more here). All opinions are of her own creation and do no reflect the positions, views, or intents of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps. For more on life in Paraguay, visit http://brittanygoesglobal.com.
‘Pombero’ Artwork by Chris Knight, 2013. For more on his artwork, visit http://www.goodknightart.com.