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Luisa Cadena, “First Woman Sends Her Children Away to Become Animals”

From interviews with Tod D. Swanson

English and Quichua subtitles.

Cite video as:
Tod D. Swanson, "Luisa Cadena, “First Woman Sends Her Children Away to Become Animals.” Youtube video. 11:42. November 22, 2016.


Not available.

English translation

Luisa Cadena, “The First Mother Turns Her Children into Animals.” I am going to tell you what my grandmothers told me about the beginning times. My grandmother used to tell how the Tayag Woman took them (and transformed them). She was their mother. They say that she had children. The snail was her child, the crab was her child too. The wooly monkey was her child. The spider monkey was her child, and besides them the capuchin monkey was her child too. One of her children was the tortoise. The toucan was her little child too. They say that all the animals used to be her children. The white collared peccary were her children, all of them were here children. And then she said “Kids, come here.” Now you are all going to go to different places. "I am going to send you each to a different place.” When she said that her children all gathered together. She had prepared the (black) wituk paint beautifully. She prepared the white clay to paint them with and send them off. They say that her children came crying and said, "Mom where are you sending us? I am the one who knows where to send you. And when she had said that, since he was close by, they say that the first one she sent off was the toucan. So she said to the toucan, "Come here. Now I am going to paint you and send you off.” Then she painted each of them with white clay and red clay. After she had painted (the first one) she said now you will become the toucan. Go sing in that tree! Otherwise you may go across the sea. They say she pierced each of them. And when she pierced them (they sprung to life in their new form). The toucan took flight saying “I have cross the sea.” But taking flight they say he fell half way across. So, since he fell they say that the toucan said, "I am not going (over there).” So he stayed and from him the toucans have multiplied. The same thing with the Wishpa. And after she had (painted) all of them she said “Now you will all live in the forest.” Now you all will have to live looking for your own food. From now on your food will be different. You will no longer eat with me they say she said to those children. I can't cross the sea said the wooly monkey. I will stay here in this forest. After painting him black, (she said) now go! I am going to be left alone. He climbed up a a tree and jumped. Now speak! she said. "Tsuru! kuaa" he cried, and went off. After that she said to the spider monkey, "Come! I am going to cut your hair chiu! Like a little roof.” Now you are going to become a spider monkey. Now you are going to go off saying ‘uchuri.’” He too said "I can't cross the sea. I will die half way across.” So after painting him beautifully she said, "Now you are going to cry to me with a different sound.” She pierced him, and he went off making his cry. "Ah, ah, ah ha" he cried out has went away high above. “My child has become a spider monkey now,” (she thought to herself.) After that she sent off the capuchin monkey. ”Now you will speak a different language too," she said. And he went away crying his call. So she (had) painted the capuchin monkey in turn and sent him off. He had gone now, climbed up above to live. "Jaa, jaa, jaa, jaa, ja, ja" he cried as he became a capuchin monkey. Then she called another one, the squirrel monkey. She painted him beautifully, black around the mouth! She also painted his body beautifully white. After she had painted these children she said, "Now you will go away too. Now go!” "Now you will speak to me with a different sound. You will speak to me," they say she said and she pierced him. He went away. And as he went he cried "tsirii, tsirii, tsirii, tsirii." He went crying because he missed (loved) his mother. Well then she called another one. She called the (one who would become) the saki monkey. When she called the saki he didn’t come quickly. It wasn't a fast walker. They say that the sipuru came slowly. "Why don't you listen? Come quickly!" they say she said. It came to its mother's side. Then she fixed its hair cutely all fluffy, poor thing. After doing that she said "Now go!" You are going to be someone with a hairy face," "Now, Go!" she said and she pierced him. He went away. Now you too will have (your own) speech. And the saki monkey went crying "Jull, jull, jull, jull." He went away. After she had sent them all away the (child who would become the) tamarin monkey came. She sent the tamarin away beautifully painted. And the tamarin too went away. And his mother said, "you will cry out to your mother "Si, si, si, si.” And then (it cried), "Si, si, si, si." Now my child has become a tamarin. And so they say she called to the squirrel… "You come here.” She painted him and sent him off. You will look for fruits or nuts to eat. What hard nuts you will live eating.!” And so she sent that one away beautifully painted as well. And he too went away crying to his mother like the others. He also cried to his mother, he went crying out. She sent him completely away behind her. She called the snail. You all come. She said come and then put them “lin" inside metal shells. Now you will all go live in the water. She said "Go!" and released them into the water. And she also called the one who would become the crabs. Along time later they came saying “Mom." Where will my house keeping things be? You called me here. What will I eat? You will live looking for food in the water she said and then sent them into the water too. And the crabs went into the water. He turned into a crab. So she called the woodpecker the same way. "Hurry! Come! You are a strong guy,” they say she said. Since she called (him) the woodpecker came. After beautifully painting the one who had come she said "Now go!” "You are stronger that any one else," she said as she pierced him. And when she pierced him (he went off). Otherwise he would still be around here poor thing. The mother watched the sea from behind him (as he went) wondering if he would make it. And as she watched she saw that the woodpecker flew (moving his wings) matú, matú, matú, matú. And as she watched he landed on a dead tree stump on the other side. And as he reached the other side he cried out to his mother, “tandangar, tandangar.” I have gone. I have crossed (the sea). I want to go! I want to go! The turtle said as his mother took her time painting him. And after she had painted him beautifully she sent off the turtle. "I am going to cross (the sea),” he said just as (the woodpecker) had said. “So go!” she said and “tupú” he went down river, but he reached the other side. He became a turtle. That is what that mother did. Then after sending them all off their mother wondered "What shall I become? Now I have sent off all of my children. Now they will eat on their own if they can. She had sent them off at dawn beautifully painted. They say they had run off into the forest becoming agoutis and pacas. What a beautiful chubby little girl the one who would become the paca was. "Well I will become a paca.” "You will be a paca," daughter. You will be a nocturnal feeder. And to the agouti she said "You will feed during the day in different gardens.” And when she had said that she sent her off. So when she sent them off the paca (and the agouti) went crying, “Chiun, chiun, chiun,” because they loved their mother. So they all left. And when they had left and after she had sent them all away she asked, "Now what will become of me?" I have sent all my children away. Now who will I live with? I will live inside a hole in the earth,” the Tayag (beginning time woman) said. I will just go to look for a mountain, and as I look for a (way into) the mountain I will find a hole. And when I find it I will stay in there becoming a Tayag, someone who now lives inside the earth.” That is what they say about this. So when she was left alone she began to look, with all her heart, for this large home where she could live. And then she found a large hole, and there she sat down in the doorway and began to sing pitifully to her children. “I have sent off all my children,” she said. And as she sat crying she sang, (in the beginning time language that no one now living understands) "Tay kuata pani ñu, kichirt kaja pani ñu." Who knows where the beginning time person was from who walked by (and heard her singing this)? When he looked to see clearly, (the door closed) tulun! The Tayag had gone (inside the earth). That is what our grandmothers used to tell us. When I was a child (our grandmothers) would sit us down and talk to us long about this but I have forgotten it. And were her children listening? When the mother was sending off her children they came crying. They say that all of them came crying and said "Mom where are you sending us?” “I am sending you out into this forest to the places that are now empty where you will live. You will go speaking all of the different languages,” she said as she sent them away crying. She sent them off crying. When she had sent them all clean away and she was left alone she went to sit inside a hole (in the earth.) As they were going away crying what did they say, what did they cry? They say the mother cried too, but she said "I have raised you up to this point and no more. Now go!” They say that the mother also cried as she sent them off. So they cried, "Mama, mama!" in each of their different languages? (Yes) they say that the poor things went away crying, "Mama, mama, mama," and then perched up above. But it was not human language that came out? No. After (she had sent them) they left speaking and singing in (their) different languages. The toucan singing "wian, wian, wian.” The curassow was sent off beautifully (painted), landed on a low branch and sang. You are crying now, poor thing. Now in its (own) language, speaking a different language. The same thing happened with the nocturnal curassow. It also sang. Because it loved its mother, it cried from it heart, but it spoke in a different language. Our grandmother used to tell a lot about this but I have forgotten. This is where my story ends.

Kichwa Translation

Not available.

Spanish translation

Not available.


Commentary on "Tayag Woman Transforms her Children into Animals." Tod D. Swanson According to one Pastaza Kichwa story the animal species originate by transformation out of an original human family. As the last world was ending and this world was emerging a human mother sent her children away to become the various birds and animals. As she sent them away each to their own distinctive habitat they cried out in sorrow missing their mother. But as each did so their words no longer came out in human speech but in the cries distinctive of each animal. Although their cries were different each expressed the same word “Mom!” And each expressed the same sorrow at being separated. After she had sent her children away she sang one last song in that original language and sank into the earth forever. Why did she have to send them away? Could she have done otherwise? The answer seems to be “No.” Just as human children grow up and go away so the children of this first mother grew up and went away to become birds and animals. She sends them off just like another mother might send her children off to be soldiers or doctors or lawyers. The difference is that she sends them off to be birds and animals. What does this tell us about the meaning of biodiversity? It suggests that the world before this one was like an immature family. Speciation was a solution to the problem of physical and emotional crowding. The world had become uninhabitable in the same way that a home with no boundaries between adult children and their parents becomes uninhabitable. They invade each other’s space. The emergence of the species is a process of growing up. As new species emerge they get their own room--their own space, their own eco-niche. Some in the canopy. Some under the ground. The now unintelligible calls of birds and animals guard the privacy of these spaces making them safe from eavesdropping by outsiders to their species. When the birds were children they no doubt told their mother and their siblings everything. Later, when they grow up and get their own lives they guard the privacy of their communication and become a mystery to their mother. The transformation of human child voices into bird and animal calls hides the privacy of their adult space. This is for the good of all. Although they may be saying intelligent things to each other they don’t want us to hear them and we do not want to eavesdrop. This is a process that is painful but necessary for emotional security in an adult world. A home in which adult children did not put boundaries around themselves would become dysfunctional and incestuous. What does it mean about the human relation to bird and animal species? It suggests that the difference of appearance, food, and calls (or language) is a protective barrier between them that could be broken down. It is like a child who adopts a different style of clothes, hairstyle or room decor. Perhaps they adopt a different voice a different style of music or become a vegetarian. However, behind each bird call or animal call there is a human voice that has gone away and changed. Perhaps the child adopts a different style of dress. Behind the distinctive plumage of each bird is a human style of dress transformed into this exotic form. The emergence of this world was a solution to a problem. If this is the case it means that that although we could break through the communication barrier between ourselves and the animals it might not be a good idea to do so. It means that a species barrier differs only in degree from the privacy barrier around a new human family. It is painful for children to put distance between themselves and their parents but it necessary for their own well being and for the well being of their parents. After she had sent her children away she sang one last song in that original language and sank into the earth forever. The woman who told the story sang the song for us but had no idea what it meant. I listened mesmerized at the idea of hearing the language the birds and animals used to speak before they grew up and had to go away. It was a language that humans no longer spoke either. We recorded the song and gave it to specialists in endangered languages Lev Michael and Christina Baer. They analyzed the words and confirmed that it was a form of Zapara. In this conclusion, one could say that this story accounts for the meaning of all of the sounds of nature. The first mother, who goes to dwell in the earth is, in some way, the earth herself. Her unintelligible song is the sound of the earth. Although we can no longer decipher the words we know that its meaning is a lament for the separation of her children. Similarly, the call of each animal expresses the pathos of being alone. It is the haunting cry of separation, of aloneness, of grief. What are the animals? In some way or another they are all wakchas (orphans). Nevertheless it is the boundaries between each species that creates space and makes this world habitable. Amazonian culture cultivated listening to nature. But when people listened what did they hear? One answer is that they listened to the “llaki” (pathos, sadness, longing, suffering, or love) of nature. This “llaki” is a longing to overcome the distance between species but is at the same time a recognition that this distance is what creates the private space each species needs in order to live its adult life. Awareness of this pathos was key to creating the empathy that made their working relations to plants and animals possible.
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