A maya shaman is robbed from his soul. A merchant will trade that soul for a beautiful slave. Life will bring the shaman, and the slave together but the people of the town will not tolerate that. In the afterword we explore the story of La Mulata de Cordoba, a legend that perhaps was the inspiration of La Tatuana.
1. Legends of Guatemala by Miguel Angel Asturias. Published by Latin American Literary Review Press.
2. The Hispano American Literature: An anthology and historical introduction by Enrique Anderson Imbert and Eugenio Florit. Published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc New York.
3. Las Calles de México (The streets of Mexico) por Luis Gonzalez Obregón, publicado por Editorial Porrúa.
The legend of la Tatuana
By Miguel Angel Asturias
Adapted by Carolina Quiroga-Stultz
“The hero comes to rescue a piece of himself that has been given to the wrong person”
If you were to meet Maestro Almendro, Master Almond, in his human form, you would see a wise native Mayan man with a rosy beard. He was one of those men that the white man thought had riches hidden somewhere, because Maestro Almendro knew how to read the stars.
How to use plants to cure diseases, and how to talk to the talking stone, the obsidian. You see, Maestro was a shape-shifter. When Maestro Almendro had taken his tree form, people saw an Almond tree with rosy leaves.
People said that the tree had been there since forever.
From time to time Maestro Almendro would feel the need of seeing the world beyond. And he would give his soul to the four caminos, the four roads. So, they would go out in four directions, and smell, feel, see and taste the world for him. Then they would come back and nurture him.
Well, it happens that during colonial times, one-day Maestro Almendro again felt that urge for knowledge. He gave his soul to the four caminos, and they left in different directions.
When the North Camino was flying through the air, a dove joined him saying: Caminito! Camino! Will you give me your master's soul! If you do that, I promise you that you will rule the roads of the winds!
The North Camino thought: that Dove is going Coo Coo, and he flew away.
When the East Camino was swimming down the river, a salmon joined him saying: Caminito! Camino! Will you give me your master's soul! If you do that, I promise you that you will rule the roads of the rivers!
The east Camino thought: this salmon is fried! and he swam away.
When the West Camino was running through the forest, the leaves of the trees around him whispered: Caminito! Camino! Will you give me your master's soul! If you do that, I promise you that you will rule the roads of the leaves!
The West Camino thought: these leaves are falling! and he ran away.
However, someone else had a different agenda. When the South Camino reached the town, he crossed the streets, and when he arrived at the biggest house in town, he knocked on the door.
When the owner opened, the South Camino offered Maestro Almendro's soul for something that we will never know. But what we know is that the owner of that house was the Merchant of the Priceless Jewels. Who desperately wanted Maestro Almendro's soul, because in one of his journeys to the old continent, that is Africa, he had seen the most beautiful Black Woman, and he desired her so badly, but the only way to have her was by trade her for something as precious as Maestro Almendro's soul.
When Maestro Almendro found out what had happened, he took the shape of a native Maya man, and headed into the town. When he arrived at the biggest house in town, he knocked on the door, and when the Merchant of the Priceless Jewels answered, Maestro Almendro said:
Señor, I have come to know that you have my soul. Por favor, señor give me back my soul. I will give you anything. I can teach you how to read the stars. How to use plants to cure diseases, and how to talk to the talking stone. But, por favor señor, give me back my soul.
Merchant: Ha! Ha! Ha! Indio, Indio, don't you know who I am? I am the Merchant of The Priceless Jewels! and My Jewels don't have a price.
Maestro Almendro: But, por favor señor, I need my soul back. I can fill up a lake with emeralds señor for you, por favor!
Merchant: Are you deaf Indio! Did you not hear what I said? My Jewels don't have a price.
And the Merchant of The Priceless Jewels shut the door in Maestro Almendro's face. Next day, The Merchant of The Priceless Jewels left for Africa. He looked everywhere, and when he found his Black Pearl, he was able to trade her for Maestro Almendro's soul. Then, he acquired more slaves and journeyed back to Guatemala.
When they reached the shores of Yucatán, The Merchant of The Priceless Jewels called his Black Pearl and said: My Black Pearl, do you see those lands on the horizon? They are mine! and it can be yours, as long as you do as I say.
Months passed, and one sunset while The Merchant of The Priceless Jewels was lying on his hammock with his Black Pearl he said to her: Do you want to know how I bought you? I trade you for Maestro Almendro's Soul. Do you know what he promised me? That he could teach how to read the stars, how to use the plant to cure diseases, how to talk to a talking stone. But, oh! Oh! I refused because all I wanted was you!
Well, time passes and one day, The Merchant of The Priceless Jewels was feeling full of himself, and in need to teach his servants a lesson. So, he ordered them to bring his brand-new stallion. A wild horse he had recently acquired, and he said to his Black Pearl: My Dear Black Pearl watch me tame this wild horse, just as I have tamed your soul! Ride wild horse! Ride!
And for the first time in his wildlife, the horse followed an order. The stallion rode as fast as he could. When the Merchant of The Priceless Jewels looked back, and saw that his hacienda was now looking so tiny in the distance, he got scared and yelled: Stop Wild Horse! Stop!
And for the last time in his wildlife, the horse followed an order. He suddenly stopped, throwing the rider off. The Merchant of The Priceless Jewels landed on top of the talking stone, the obsidian. Perhaps, had he known how to talk to the stone, he could have survived, but he did not understand when she said: ¡Qué tonto! ¡Si tan solo hubieras escuchado al Maestro Almendro!
And The Merchant of The Priceless Jewels died.
To those who are asking, what happened to Maestro Almendro? Well, after The Merchant of The Priceless Jewels shut the door in front of him. Maestro Almendro became a lost soul. He began wandering down the streets of Guatemala sometimes stopping, and asking a stranger:
-Have you seen my soul? I am looking for my soul
People said he had gone “coo coo”. Not only he was always asking a weird question, but he was constantly followed by stray dogs.
Well, it happens that one day, right after the Merchant of the Priceless Jewels had tragically died, this information came to the knowledge of the dogs, who guided Maestro Almendro to the biggest house in town. There the dogs began to… (bark/howl)
And guess who opened the door?
Yes, the Black Pearl
She asked: ¿Señor, may I help you?
Merchant: Señorita, have you seen my soul? I am looking for my soul.
Oh! She knew who he was. Gently she grabbed his hand and welcomed him into the house. There she washed his face and said: Maestro, I am your soul now!
Oh yes! They fell in love, and it was the most beautiful love the world had ever seen. I mean, Romeo and Juliet were just flirting. To me, the most beautiful love is the one that can pass the color of skin, beliefs, origin, accent, all those layers that we all wear, and can love each other's soul for who they truly are.
But you know how some people are. Especially in those colonial times, and the very decent and righteous people of the town began to say: An Indio and a black woman! This is terrible! We can't allow that!
So, the very good decent people got them arrested. Her, for witchcraft! And him, for Sorcery! They were put in jail, awaiting for sentence.
The night before the execution, Maestro Almendro asked his cell guard if he could see his soul for the last time. The guard agreed and walked him to her cell. There, Maestro Almendro gently grabbed her face with his two beautiful Mayan hands and said: My soul! Listen carefully to me!, I want you to be as free as my thoughts!
Then maestro tattooed on her shoulder with his finger nail the shape of a boat, and said:
When you are ready to be free, draw a ship or a boat on the wall or the floor then close your eyes and see yourself sailing on that boat.
Well, Maestro Almendro went back to his cell. Next morning, when the executioners came to pick her up, they found the cell empty. They looked everywhere. It was impossible for her to escape; the cell was so small; even the window was tiny. But one guard later swore that he saw a drawing of a boat on the wall, and a woman sailing on it.
Quickly, the executioners ran to Maestro Almendro's cell, only to find, that it was full. They could not even get in it. Inside of it was an Almond Tree Trunk, and the whole floor was covered with rosy leaves.
No one knows, what happened to Maestro Almendro, and The Black Pearl, and that is all that Miguel Angel Asturias tell us about The Legend of La Tatuana. But I like to think, that they either met again or that she was able to go back to her people.
Whatever it was, I am sure of one thing, Maestro Almendro went back to his Maya people, and until today they are still fighting to get their souls back. Their Lands.
Very well, let’s talk about the story. It is important to understand that this is a fictional story that attempts to reflect historical and mythical aspects of a culture. If you read the story as it was written by Miguel Angel Asturias (a Guatemalan writer) and you compare it with my version, you will find that I made some slight changes. The main reason was that the story by itself might not be easy to understand if you do not have previous knowledge of the Maya you might get lost.
From the book, The Hispano American Literature: An anthology and historical introduction by Enrique Anderson Imbert and Eugenio Florit. The authors who collected the stories, tell us more regarding the “caminos” or the four roads. They remind the reader that in the Maya Mythology, there was the belief that when a person had passed away, they would arrive at Xibalba, the underworld or the place of the dead.
There the person had to cross four roads. The red road, the green road, the white road, and the black road. This last road was a deceiver. Because he would complement the travelers’ pride, telling them that he was the road that would lead to the king, but he wasn’t.
Regarding the character of the black pearl or La Tatuana, my theory is that the character of La Tatuana was inspired by a legendary woman known as La Mulata de Cordoba. To support my claim, I will share with you a brief account of her story, and I am sure you will find the resemblance. From the book Las Calles de Mexico (The streets of Mexico) by Luis Gonzalez Obregón.
We find that there are no historical records or accounts about this extraordinary woman.
More than two hundred years ago there lived in Cordoba (Mexico) a woman that never seemed to age. No one knew who she was; they’ll simply called her La Mulata (that is a woman whose parents were from different races). Many locals considered her a witch or a sorcerer that must have made a pact with the devil. As many swore, the evil master would visit her every night. People assured that passed midnight, anyone could see coming out of her house a sinister light. A light so powerful that it seemed as if a fire was devouring the house from inside.
Others said that they had seen her flying over the roofs, and giving people satanic looks. All the young men that would come to the town would fall in love with her, but she never corresponded to their intentions. Perhaps, as many claimed, it was because Satan was her only master. It was also said, that she could be in two places at the same time.
Yet, there were also rumors about the miracles she could perform. Despite the gossip, this mysterious woman, would attend mass, take all the sacraments, and generously give donations, and even help those in need. The sorcerer (most likely she was a healer) would advocate for the needy. She would help spinsters in hopes to find a husband; for the hard-working people, soldiers, doctors, anyone; and as far as we know, they all were satisfied with her services.
The story tells us that one day this woman was brought to justice. She was imprisoned in the jail of the holy office. Rumors say that the reason why she ended up in the hands of the holy jury was that they owed her a fortune. So, they needed to get rid of her. Another source assured that it was a rejected suitor or lover, that couldn’t handle the fact that she would not take a man for a husband. Probably, she just wanted to be independent, or she didn’t like men. We all know that in those times both things were unacceptable.
Legend tells that one night the prison’s guard came to her cell, and was amazed by what he saw painted on the walls. There was a drawing of a ship, made with charcoal. At that moment the woman asked the man: what do you think the ship is missing? The man asked: what kind of question is that you should repent for your sins, you should repent, and save your soul from the flames of hell. The only thing that ship needs is to sail!
She replied: well if that is what you want then the ship will sail! The woman said: like this! And the next thing he remembers is seeing her jumping into the ship, and then watching how the ship slowly began to move through the wall, and later disappeared with the woman when the ship turned around one of the corners of the jail cell. And that is the legend of La Mulata de Cordoba, in which I think was based the character of the black pearl.
In conclusion, I think that Miguel Angel Asturias used elements of the story of La Mulata, and mixed them with the situation of the Maya people, to represent the historical condition of the indigenous people and afro-descendants. Where healers or shamans were considered sorcerers or disbelievers.
Well, friends, this is all for now. Tres Cuentos humbly suggests you that learn a lesson or two from history can help break the cycle of injustice and racism that has been looping around for centuries. It is about time!
With this last story, we conclude the series of Tales of Power. Until the next cuento.
This podcast was created, produced and edited by CQS. Proofreading and Proof listening by Don Hymel.
Tres Cuentos is a creative exercise of researching, writing, and retelling. Music and sound effects were downloaded from the YouTube audio library and free sound.org. The credits of all songs used in this podcast can be found in the transcript.
Passage by Ugonna Onyekwe
Subtle Betrayal by SYBS
Day of Reckon Sting by Max Surla, Media Right Production
Sea of Doom by Doug Maxwell, , Media Right Production
Foreign Land Sting by Jingle Punks
Grave Blow by Kevin McLeod
Un Requited Love by Sir Cubworth
Tempting Fate by Audionautix
A whisper by Ann Annie
Destination Unkonwn by Ugonna Onyekwe
The Legend of the Mulatta from Córdoba
Opera: La Mulata de Córdoba by J.P.Moncayo