Guide to Patagonia's Monsters & Mysterious beings

I have written a book on this intriguing subject which has just been published.
In this blog I will post excerpts and other interesting texts on this fascinating subject.

Austin Whittall

Monday, October 5, 2009

Inulpamahuida - "the walking tree"


Inulpamahuida - Austin Whittall 2009 copyright ©

Inulpamahuida - The walking tree

This is a unique creature. Inulpamahuida is surreal and nearly sci-fi; it predates by over two centuries, Dan Millner’s 1975 movie “From hell it came” which starred a walking killer tree stump, Inulpamahuida is a mythical Mapuche monster tree.

Its name means, in Mapudungun the Mapuche language, “mountain climber” (inulpa = to climb and mahuida = hill) and refers to the tree’s clawed branches, which it uses to climb up the steep Patagonian mountains.

It also lacks roots –hence its ability to move about.[1]

We can’t imagine what tree originated this myth; maybe it was born out of the fear provoked by the forests.

Read about Alihuen and Quemanta, two other monster-trees Here.

Fear of the Forests

Another element that had a great impact on the natives’ superstitions was that none of them dared to venture into the dark Andean forests.
They feared them and were more comfortable on the harsh environment of the Patagonian steppes.

Beyond the occasional skirmish with the bellicose Mapuche, no Spaniards explored the Patagonian forests until Jesuit missionaries crossed the Andes from southern Chile into what is now Argentina in the mid 1600s. When they did, they encountered the natives living beyond the edge of the forests but none living in them.
Many explorers have confirmed the natives’ aversion to the forests:

1. George Chaworth Musters, a Briton, who was the first European to travel in 1869 along the steppe between the Chilean settlement of Punta Arenas on the Strait of Magellan to the Argentine town of Carmen de Patagones on the Rio Negro. During this journey of 2.500 km (1,550 mi.) with a group of Tehuelche, he noticed that they were reluctant to venture into the forests, and only overcame their fear to hunt wild cattle at its edges.[2]

2. Welsh explorer and colonizer Llywd ap Iwan also noted this, in 1893, writing about the deep Andes “where the Tehuelches never enter”.[3]

3.But the natives’ fear was not a quirk, it had a clear reason: monsters. Explorer Clemente Onelli provided an explanation: “the Indian has, like his entire race, repulsion towards the forest; because they believe that it is the home of adverse genies”.[4]

4. His point of view was shared by Patagonian Pioneer Andreas Madsen (1881-1965) who wrote that the Tehuelche “Indians have a superstition against living in the mountains due to the ‘Gualicho’ or evil spirit”.[5]

5. Mrs. Bertha Koessler-Ilg (1881-1965), a German folklorist who migrated to Patagonia in her 20s and lived there all her life compiling the native Mapuche’s fables and traditions, stated that they:

held a great fear towards the forested mountains and did not want to go into them. The forest’s appearance was very ominous. They felt exposed to great unknown dangers[6]

6. Further south, English Major Vernon Hesketh-Prichard mentioned that the Aonikenk he had met at Lake Argentino “never dare to enter these forested lands”[7] and that they “do not only never enter the Cordillera but they even avoid the very surroundings of the mountains”.[8]

It could be argued that the dark temperate forests awaken some deeply ingrained fear in the human mind. Northern European fairy tales exploit this fear embodying it with witches, wolves, trolls and ogres. It seems that we feel that the forests are not ours; they are an alien and wild place, the realm of the spirits. Forests are places to be avoided.

Furthermore, the Patagonian natives placed their demons in the forest; it was the abode of the evil Gualicho spirit and other strange creatures and monsters that we will describe in our posts.

Patagonian Forest - Clara Whittall 2009 copyright ©

Patagonian Forest. Photograph: Clara Whittall © 2006.

But they were not alone, even modern men, when viewing these lonely places feel a cool chill running up their backs; Prichard expressed it very well describing the ominous feeling that the Andes provoked:

When one looks at the foliage that extends far away, ridge after ridge, where the valleys and the slopes close upon each other, a feeling of darkness and mystery takes hold of the mind.[9]

It is within this context of forbidding gloomy forests and the apprehension that they stir in our minds, that we should review Patagonia’s mythical -and, yes, real- creatures.


[1] Vúletin, A., (1982). Huecuvumapu: curanderos, hechiceros y mitos de la Patagonia y Tierra del Fuego.
[2] Musters, G., (2007). Vida entre los Patagones: un año de excursiones desde el estrecho de Magallanes hasta el río Negro: 1869-1870. B. Aires: Continente-Pax. pp. 144.
[3] Roberts, T. and Gavirati, M., (2008) Diarios del Explorador Llywd ap Iwan. Villa Adelina: Patagonia Sur Libros; Gral. Roca: La Bitácora Patagónica. pp. 91-3.
[4] Onelli, C., (2007). Trepando los Andes. Un naturalista en la Patagonia argentina (1903). B. Aires: Continente. pp. 56.
[5] Madsen, A., (2006). La Patagonia Vieja. Ushuaia: Zagier & Urruty. pp. 36.
[6] Koessler-Ilg, B., (2000). Cuentan los Araucanos: Mitos, leyendas y tradiciones. B. Aires: Del Nuevo Extremo. pp. 81-2.
[7] Hesketh P., (2002). En el corazon de la Patagonia, en busca del último milodon. Septiembre 1900 – Mayo 1901. Ushuaia: Zaguier & Urruty. pp. 234.
[8] Ibid. pp. 260.
[9] Ibid. pp. 282.

Copyright 2009 by Austin Whittall ©

Patagonian Monsters


  1. Dear Austin (if I may),
    Thanks for your wonderful account of walking trees et al. In the winter of 1984 I was the guardian of Frey hut in Bariloche and saw a coihue (sp.?) moving along the Van Titter brook near Piedritas. I was alone, hungry and very tired. But I did see it. However, I have never seen the most-famous ñucs in this area. Please sign me on for a copy of your book when ready.
    Edmundo Murray
    Geneva, Switzerland

  2. Thank you Edmundo!
    Of course I will be glad to jot you down for a copy of the Book. By the way, Van Titter is lovely, I have trekked up it several times going to Frey Lodge (and on, towards Laguna Schmoll, el filo and down to the Rucaco Valley and then on to Jacob!). My daughter (she was 9 then) was not too amused with the upward winding path. But the forest was great. Alas, no ñucs!

  3. Legit don't get why mostly Spanish speakers write about this thing. You're pretty much the only English source.

    1. Aw, you beat me to it. Still an interesting article!


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