Ayaymama [en]

Originally titled «Ayamaman» on Mitos, leyendas y cuentos peruanos, edited by José María Arguedas & Francisco Izquierdo Ríos. This legend was first picked up by Irene Izquierdo Ríos in Saposoa, Huallaga, San Martín, Peru.

Photo shown above by The Lilac Breasted Roller from Sullivan’s Island, United States – Common Potoo (Nyctibius griseus), CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3359738


Around the Amazonian jungle, some little birds can often be heard singing at dusky, quiet nights, they do not simply sing but cry with sorrow:


wischusqam kaniku!

(«Dead mummy, we’re lost!»)

Those birds were two children in the past—a boy and a girl. Their mother had died leaving them quite young yet. Their father used to love them intensely at first, but he changed a lot after getting married for the second time. His new wife took total control over him, he appeared to be her slave. He no longer cared about his children, and his wife detested them both. She treated them as pack animals making them work all day long. And things got even worse when they had their first child together. So, one day at night she said to her husband: «Listen, we’re really poor, we’re gonna have more and more babies and we won’t be able to live like this anymore. We must get rid of your kids, they’re lazy. They’re useless, they just eat all day long.» Given the circumstances, the man of course protested; but he later had to obey his treacherous spouse, as in everything she would order.

She went on commanding: «Tomorrow at first light, you will get the children out of my house and abandon them right in the heart of the jungle.» The older sibling—who was stood up in silence outside the kitchen, next to the wall—listened to the whole conversation. But he did not say anything to his sister. That same night, when everyone was already sleeping, he grabbed some corns from the grill, cut the kernels off, and dipped them into his pockets. He knew they could be useful the following day.

And pleasing his wife, the next day at dawn the husband did take his children out; they went to the woods, and after walking for a long time—very, very far—the man told the little ones to stay and wait for him there. He said he was going to look for some wood and return soon, but he did not. After a while they noticed they were lost and the youngest sibling began to cry, but her brother was there to comfort her. They returned to the last place where their father was seen, and fortunately they found the kernels that the older sibling had been throwing down during their long journey.

They were finally able to get back home. So they did, they arrived on time for dinner—which were actually just leftovers. They, as it might be supposed, were not allowed to eat because of their stepmother, she was mad at her husband and blamed him for not forsaking his children.

So, one more time the father and his children went out into the woods, but this time they got even further. And the man lied again promising he was going to get back in a while. But the children knew that was not true at all. They were dumped as garbage for the second time, deep inside the lonely nature.

Tigers and snakes were surrounding them while staring at their eyes, but they did not seem to be threatening; monkeys, shouting and jumping, were throwing ripen fruits from the trees, same as various parrots. The little ones were in an enchanted region. This place, and all of its trees and creatures, embraced them with great love. It was definitely supernatural.

At nightfall, the children were sleeping under a toquilla palm, a plant with leaves that look like umbrellas. They saw in their dreams a beautiful, moon-white woman with long, golden hair, dressing crystalline clothes. She was taking care of them, stating they should not be scared. They woke up at dawn and started wandering around the rainforest—they were not afraid anymore—and, in the blink of an eye, numerous days have passed. One night they fell asleep under a giant Wimba tree[2], and dreamed about becoming little birds, and eating, along with other birds, the red fruits of that same tree. The fairy[3]—who was looking after them—turned them into birds, indeed. She just wanted to help them be happier. They decided to go back home at once, and they got there for the gloomy, vivid twilight; they alighted on the roof, and sang along in grief:




(«Dead mummy, where are you?!»)

Their father—who was sat down outside, next to the door—already repented of his actions, stood up and, excited, he cried: «Oh, children of mine! Come! I’ve missed you two! Where are you? Are you fine?»

But they, after realizing their mother was not there and will never be back, returned to the jungle, where they can live and fly freely. The father stayed still, sobbing, just looking at nothing more than two birds flying far away. He knew deep down in his heart he was not going to see his unfortunate children ever again.

[1] It is a name given to some nocturnal birds in the jungle. These birds are always in pairs, male and female. They sing in a sad, plaintive way, very similar to the Quechua word ayamama, which means «dead mother» (aya means dead, and mama means mother). There are various interpretations of this legend, yet all of them transmit the same message.

[2] Leafy tree with large, wide, and protruding roots; and small red fruits. It looks sinister. It grows in the jungle and around some settlements. Natives believe that demons live there and claim that it is possible to listen to them murmuring, especially during the peculiar atmospheric ambience which comes before rain. It is the cause of many superstitions.

[3] In some stories from the jungle fairies appear personifying benevolent witches, they are of no harm.


Arguedas, J. y Izquierdo, F. (1947). Mitos, leyendas y cuentos peruanos. Edición 2011. Lima: Santillana S. A.

Licença Creative Commons

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. «Ayaymama», a legend translated and adapted by Pablo Alejos Flores.

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