“If you don’t clean your room, the boogeyman will come in the night and steal all your toys,” you might have heard an exasperated mom jokingly frighten her child into obedience. Every culture in the world has a different name for the “Boogeyman” who embodies the fear of the unknown and the consequences of disobedience. In Peru, that dreaded name that sends shivers down the spine is El Tunche.
According to Peruvian folklore, El Tunche is a spirit that wanders through the thick foliage of the Amazon rainforest at night as the guardian of the land. As the guardian, it collects the souls of those who die in the forest while it punishes those who disrespect and harm the land. In some legends, El Tunche takes the form of a tall shadow with bright, glowing eyes, while others claim it appears as an attractive figure to deceive and attract its victims. Did you hear that eerie, hollow whistle coming through the trees? RUN. That’s El Tunche whistling at you to lure you deeper into the forest where you will lose all sense of direction and the safety that comes with community.
Chances are, you are reading this blog post on your computer or phone in a place of relative comfort and safety. It is important to remember that Indigenous people who live off the land, such as the Achuar tribe of Peru, are more connected to the land in spiritual and physical ways which show up in their culture and folklore. They seek to live in harmony with nature, rather than exerting dominance, and teach about how all living things are connected. They frequently view the land as sacred, believing that it is not just a physical resource but also a spiritual entity.
As Halloween approaches this year, remember to pick up your candy wrappers from the ground and throw them away, because you never know if El Tunche is watching. Most importantly, make sure your family sticks together in a safe pack, and never follow an eerie whistle down a lonely alleyway.
If you want to hear about more legends like El Tunche, sign up for One-on-One classes to learn the Spanish language and culture and sign your child up for our ViLaCa (Virtual Language Program) so they can learn along with you.