Friday, October 2, 2009
Huallipen is a strange carnivorous amphibian that, according to the Mapuche folklore, can be seen on river banks, lake shores and also by the sea.
Its name is due to its weird appearance and comes from the Mapuche word “Wallipén” (sheep-calf). It has the head of a calf, the body of a lamb, unsightly fur, crooked short front legs and its hind quarters are like those of a seal.
Harmless on land, in the water it is very agile and dangerous, attacking people and animals fiercely.
There is a mutant variety of sheep that produce four or five horned rams; this mutation is known as polycerism (many horns). The sheep that were introduced into Chile and Argentina by the Spaniards in the XVIth century carried this mutation. The Mapuche called them melimüta (meli = four, müta = horn) and they believed that these rams, could “defend the herd from the "huaille peñ" [sic] which occasionally feeds on lambs”.
Latcham in explaining its origin pointed out that the Huallipen combined two animals unknown in Chile before the Spanish Conquest (cows and sheep). He assumed that it, like Nahuel (the Patagonian jaguar), had a totemic origin symbolizing very old bonds between the lamb and the calf clans; he failed however to explain the use of two European creatures in ancient Mapuche clans prior to the arrival of the Spaniards.
A likely explanation is that the Mapuche soon after the Conquest upon seeing these Old World animals used them as a reference to describe this weird American creature to their conquerors.
Alternatively there may have been pre-Hispanic “sheep-like” creatures in America; an option we will look into in a future post.
Huallipen may be related to two other animals, very much like it, the sheep-like Calchona and the goat-like machucho. See my post on them Here.
The creature may have also been identified by the Tehuelche people of Northern Patagonia, who named it Chueiquehuecu.
 Rothschild, D., et al. (1996). Protegiendo lo nuestro: Pueblos indígenas y biodiversidad. Quito: SAIIC. pp. 43-44.
 Guevara, T., (1925). Historia de Chile: Chile prehispano. Santiago: Balcells. Chap.I.
 Latcham, R., (1924). La organización social y las creencias religiosas de los antiguos araucanos. Santiago: Cervantes. pp. 566 and 575.
Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©