An Inca King desperately wishes to cure his son of an unknown illness. The king will ask his subjects to bring the healing waters of a lake that rests at the end of the world. Many will go, but only one will have what is needed to make it that far. In the afterword, we explore the origins and story of Lago Titicaca.
Book: Cole, Joanna. (1983) Best-Loved Folktales of the World. Anchor Books: United States.
About Lake Titicaca: http://www.discover-peru.org/lake-titicaca-history/
The magic lake
Adapted and retold by Carolina Quiroga
Once, there was an Inca King who was powerful and wise. He was getting old, and he had a son that was powerful, and young but was constantly sick. As the years passed, the prince’s health did not improve, and none of the court doctors could find a cure for his illness.
One night while he was feeling hopeless, the Inca went to the temple of his ancestors, and bent down on his knees in front of the eternal flames, and raised prayers to his ancestors.
Inca king: Oh, Great Ones! Soon, I will be with you. I am afraid there is no one to look after my people and my son. I pray to you to make him well, and strong so he can become a good ruler for my people. Please, Great Ones! Tell me how his malady can be cured?
Soon the flames of the eternal fire raised, and the Inca heard a voice coming from the fire.
Ancestors: Fetch, Fetch! the water from the magic lake at the end of the world, where the waters touch the sky, and he will be cured.
At that moment the eternal fire sputtered and died. When the Inca looked down, the ashes seemed to be covering something. He cleaned the ashes, and found a golden cup, and since he was wise, he understood that he needed to fill that cup with the waters of the magic lake.
Now, quick question: do you think that, despite the powerful king’s age, and his young son’s illness, either of them could go in search of that magic lake at the end of the world?
Most likely it was possible but not advisable. Thus, the emperor sent messengers across the kingdom looking for brave, and courageous people that could go in search of that magic lake at the end of the world. But none could find it; they all came back with their cups empty.
Again, the Inca sent word about it, but this time there was a reward.
It happens that in a valley, near Cuzco where the emperor’s palace was, lived a poor farmer who had a wife, two sons, and a young daughter.
One day the older son said to his father: Tata, tata, father, let us go in the search for the magic lake! Before the moon is new again, we shall return and help you harvest the corn and potatoes. Think about the reward! After that, we won’t be poor again.
But the father did not want them to go.
Father: no, no, no, outside there are supays, evil spirits that might want to take your souls and minds, and make you do or say wrong things! No, no, no, you are not going!
But Tayka, mother intervened.
Wife: I think there is nothing wrong with my boys going on that journey. They are brave and smart, and they can take care of each other. Besides, it is our duty to help our Inca!
After his wife had spoken, the father agreed
With their parents’ blessing and an affectionate farewell from their young sister, the sons set out on a journey.
They traveled for months, trekking through endless mountain ranges, each time thinking the mountain they were climbing must have been the very last one on earth. They crossed deserts and forest and certainly found many lakes, but none was the magic lake at the end of the world where the waters touch the sky. Finally, one day the youngest son said:
Youngest brother: Brother, we must return, our father needs us, and it seems that we will never find that lake! I am sure it probably doesn’t even exist! Let’s go back!
Older brother: You are right brother, we should go back, but before we do it, I have been thinking about a plan. What if you fill your cup with the waters of one of the lakes we passed, and I fill my cup with the waters from another lake. We can go to the palace and present the waters. If the Prince drinks it and gets well bam! We did it! Even if it doesn’t work, surely the emperor will give us a small reward for our trouble! Who knows?
As they were out of better ideas, the youngest brother agreed, and they went on to collect the waters.
On arriving at the palace, and hearing about the brother’s arrival, the Inca was thrilled and hopeful, so he called his son.
Inca king: Churi! Son! Come! Come! These brothers have brought the waters from the magic lake; you’ll soon get well! Now drink them!
The prince slowly approached the oldest brother who handed him his cup. The prince took a sip and coughed. Then he turned to his father, and said:
Prince: Nothing father!
Inca king: Oh well! Then go drink from the other cup.
The prince grabbed the cup from the second brother, took a sip, coughed, and said again:
Prince: Nothing father!
Inca king: That is strange! Oh! But of course, son! I forgot! You are supposed to drink from the golden cup! Servants! bring me the golden cup!
Once he had been handed the golden cup the Inca said:
Inca king: Churi! Son! Why don’t you just take a break? Sit right there and I’ll take care of this! Very well! Oldest brother go ahead and pour the water from your jar into the golden cup!
But as he was doing so, the waters mysteriously disappeared in front of their eyes.
Inca king: Well that is strange! Fine! The second brother, go ahead, and pour the water from your jar into the golden cup!
But again, as his brother tried the same thing happened. The golden cup would simply not hold the water.
Inca king: Did the waters disappear? Perhaps this golden cup has a spell; servants call the magician.
When the magician came into the room, the Inca said: Can you break the spell of this golden cup so the water will remain in it, so my son can drink it?
But the magician who had seen all that happened before whispered to the emperor: My king, I cannot break the spell. I am afraid that the golden cup is trying to tell you something.
The Inca looked at the magician and understood.
Inca king: How could you? How you dare to deceive me! Take these two and put them in the dungeon! Chain them and make them drink from that fake magic water they dared to bring until they have no more to drink!
News of their disgrace spread far and wide.
Again, the emperor who still had hope sent his messengers across the kingdom pleading for someone to bring the magic water before death claimed him, and the young prince.
And guess who heard the news this time? Yes! The little girl! Súmac, was outside tending her flock of llamas when she heard the royal trumpet, and the message.
Quickly the child led her llamas home, and begged her parents to let her go in search of the magic water.
Súmac: Please father let me go search for that magic lake, if I succeed, I can help release my brothers, and also help the prince!
Father: Absolutely not! You are too young! Besides look what happened to your brothers, the evil spirits took their souls and made them tell such a lie!
Súmac: Father, mother, please! Wouldn’t you try to do the same thing if I were in trouble? If I were sick?
Of course, such a compelling argument melted her parents’ hearts, and they finally agreed.
Súmac went skipping out to the corral to harness one of her pet llamas. It would carry her provisions, and keep her company.
Meanwhile, her mother filled a little woven bag with food, and drink for Súmac – toasted golden kernels of corn, and a little earthen jar of Chicha, a beverage made from crushed corn.
The three embraced each other tearfully before Súmac set out bravely on her mission, leading her pet llama along the trail.
On Súmac’s first night, she snuggled into the warmth of her llama, but on the second night, her sleep was shattered by the cry of a hungry panther. She couldn't endanger her llama, and so she pointed the way back home for her pet, and urged her to go. That night, Súmac climbed a tree to spend the night safely out of harm's way.
The next morning, Súmac was aroused by the voices of sparrows resting on a nearby limb.
Sparrow 1: Kwahh! Kwahh! Oh, poor child! She is never going to find her way to the lake!
Sparrow 2: Oh, but she looks so cute!
Sparrow 3: I think we should help her.
Upon hearing that, the girl interrupted the sparrow’s conversation.
Súmac: Oh, please forgive me for interrupting and intruding in your tree. But if you could please help me, my brothers are in the dungeons, and the prince is very sick.
Sparrow 1: We may help you or we may not! What do you have to offer?
Súmac: Food and drinks that my mother packed for my journey.
Sparrow 1: Well….
The girl understood that they wanted the food, so she handed to them, and they ate it really fast. Then the first sparrow said:
SPARROW 1: now listen carefully! Each of us will give you a feather, and you must hold them all together in one hand like a fan. The feathers have magic powers that will carry you wherever you wish to go. And if you find yourself in danger, hold the magic fan between the danger, and you, and it will take care of it.
Each sparrow then lifted a wing, sought out a special feather hidden underneath, and gave it to Súmac. She fashioned them into the shape of a little fan, taking the ribbon from her hair to bind the feathers together so none would be lost.
Súmac spread the three feathers and said: If you please, will you take me to the magic lake at the end of the world?
As if she were a feather herself, Súmac was lifted far above the trees, and whisked to the mountains. Thousands of feet below her, the snow-topped. peaks of the Andes Mountains - the world's longest mountain range - raced by, and Súmac nervously clutched her fan. At last, she was lowered ever-so-gently onto the very last peak, and her feet alighted.
There before her sparkled the magic lake. Súmac knew she had reached the end of the world. She tucked the fan into her braided waistband, and ran to the edge of the water. Suddenly her face fell. She had left everything back in the forest; she did not have a jar to fetch the water.
However, at that moment she heard a sound right by her feet. She looked down, and discovered a beautiful golden jar – the same one the emperor found in the ashes. Súmac grabbed the cup and knelled at the water’s edge. Just then she heard a hard splash in the waters when she looked up; two fierce eyes were looking at her with anger. Then she heard a voice bubbling up from the water; it was an angry giant green alligator. His long tail beat the water angrily.
Alligator: Get away from my lake or I shall eat you up!
With trembling hands, the child took the magic fan from her waistband and spread it open in front of her face. As soon as the green alligator looked at it, he blinked. Then he drew back, and slowly, and quietly, he sank to the bottom of the lake in a sound sleep.
Before Súmac could recover from her fright, she heard a shrill whistle in the air. She looked up and saw a flying serpent. Sparks of anger flew from his eyes. The serpent hissed.
Serpent: Get away from my lake or I shall bite you!
Again, with trembling hands, the girl held the magic fan spread in front of her, and right when the serpent was about to attack Súmac, the serpent closed his eyes and drifted to the ground. He folded his wings and coiled up on the sand. Then he began to snore.
Súmac took a deep breath before she tried for the third time to fetch some water, but suddenly a low humming started behind her. Spinning around, she saw what looked like a low, dark cloud. Soon the humming became louder, and the dark cloud became bigger, and darker. She realized with horror that a swarm of ferocious army ants was about to surround her.
Quickly she shot the fan in front of her face, not knowing if the feathers would protect her from so many ants coming from so many different directions. Yet in the next few seconds, no ants bit her feet or climbed her legs. Trembling, she peaked through the feathers. The swarm of deadly army ants silently laid around her, asleep.
The girl kept the fan in front of her face while she hurried to the magic lake, and with her other hand, dipped the jar into the magic waters. As soon as the jar was filled and sealed shut, she gripped the fan and said:
Súmac: Right away, please, take me to the palace.
The next moment, she was facing the palace of the emperor, and its walls of huge interlocking cut stone. In front of the girl was a tall guard. The girl, who still had not recovered from her adventure, said with a trembling voice: I wish to see the Inca.
Guard: Why, little girl?
Súmac: I bring the water from the magic lake to cure the prince.
The guard looked down at her in astonishment.
Guard: Come! Hurry up!
In just a few moments Súmac was led into a room full of sadness. The Inca was pacing up, and down in despair. The queen was weeping, and the prince lay motionless on a huge bed. His lips were dry, he was all pale, and it seems that his soul was already leaving his body.
Without wasting words, Súmac went to the prince, and gave him a few drops of magic water. A few seconds after that, his lips were not dry anymore. Suddenly, the prince opened his eyes, and whispered with a weak voice:
Súmac gave him a sip of magic water. His cheeks became flushed. It was not long before he sat up in bed and drank some more.
The emperor and the queen embraced Súmac. Then, Súmac told them of her adventurous trip to the lake. They praised her courage.
Inca king: Dear child, all the riches of my empire are not enough to repay you for saving my son’s life. Ask what you will, and it shall be yours.
Timidly Súmac said: Oh, generous Inca, I have but three wishes.
Inca king: Name them, and they shall be yours.
What do you think was her first wish? I think you are right!
Súmac: First, I wish my brothers to be free to return to my parents. They learned their lesson and will never lie again. I know they were only thinking of a reward for my parents. Please, forgive them.
Inca king: Guards free them at once! What else do you want, my dear?
Súmac: I would like to return these three magic feathers to my friends, the sparrows. I know they are missing their feathers.
Instantly, the fan freed itself from her waistband, shot upward in the air, quickly spun around, and flew out an open window.
Inca king: It looks like that's taken care of, too. What is your third wish?
Súmac: Would you grant my parents large flocks of llamas, alpacas and vicunas, and enough land to herd them so they will not be poor in their old age, and so my brothers and I can take care of them?
Inca king: It will be so, but I am sure your parents never considered themselves poor with such a wonderful daughter.
Finally, Súmac was ready to leave, and when she was leaving the room, the prince ventured to ask:
Prince: Won’t you stay with us?
Inca king: Yes, stay with us! You will have all you need here; we will do anything to make you happy!
Súmac: Oh! thank you, but I must return to my parents and to my brothers. I miss them as I know they have missed me. They do not even know I am safe, for I came directly to your palace.
The royal family did not try to detain Súmac any longer.
Inca king: My own guard will see that you get home safely.
When she reached home, she found that all she had wished for had come to pass: her brothers were waiting for her with their parents; a beautiful house, and huge barn were being constructed; her father had received a deed granting him many acres of new, rich farmland. Súmac ran into the arms of her happy family.
At the palace, the golden jar brought by Súmac was never emptied. Each time it was used, it was refilled. Thus, the prince’s royal descendants never suffered ill health, and the kingdom remained strong. But it is said that after the Inca Empire was conquered by the Spaniards the golden jar was buried at the bottom of the lake at the end of the world, and no one besides Súmac has ever ventured to go there again.
Very well, dear listeners, let’s talk about Lake Titicaca, which was not explicitly mentioned in the story, but I suspect that it could have something to with the story. Because in most of the ancient mythology of the region, Lake Titicaca played an important role as the place where gods met, delivered punishments, and legendary characters originated. Thus, its waters seem to have magical connotations.
Lake Titicaca is a geological wonder formed during the pre-ice age about sixty million years ago. The lake was formed when massive earthquakes shook the Andes Mountains, splitting the range in two, and forming a hollow that eventually got filled with water from the melting glaciers; creating bodies of water, and ultimately rivers, and the immense Lake Titicaca.
According to one of the legends of the origin of the Incas, the first Inca Manco Capac, and his wife Mama Ocllo emerged from the depths of Lake Titicaca on the sacred rock on Isla Del Sol to look for a place to build an empire. Lake Titicaca was a sacred lake to the Incas.
Lake Titicaca was the cradle for Peru’s ancient civilizations. The Puraka culture settled in this fertile land around 200BC, and a millennium later the Tiwanaku culture emerged, and spread throughout the Altiplano, and into Bolivia. Warlike tribes like the Aymaras and the Collas emerged only to be absorbed by the Incas. It was the Inca civilization that unified the many cultures spread into this land, forming the Inca Empire.
The current local population is the Uros people who have populated this territory for hundreds of years. The Uros people come from the Aymara, and the Quechua populations, and they speak the ancient language of Aymara.
It is believed that the name Titicaca derives from the Aymara language. Specifically the words titi, and Karka. Titi means wild cat, and karka means rock. Titis used to live on the rocky islands of the lake. Legend tells that these cats swam from the islands to the mainland in search of food. Nowadays the titi cat or the Andean cat is the most endangered cat species in the Americas.
Very well dear listeners this all the time we have for now, but before we finish here is the last riddle, and of course it comes from the Aymara people:
Who is that shaggy lady that goes around the house from corner to corner? (The broom) Pichaña
And this is all for now, Tres Cuentos reminds you that we all the heroes of our own stories! So, go ahead, and share your life’s quest, and adventures with your friends and family.
Until the next Cuento, adiós, adiós.
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