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

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Two-headed Llama and Guanaco


British explorer George Chaworth Musters (who rode all the way from Punta Arenas on the Strait of Magellan to Carmen de Patagones on Patagonia's northern border in 1870), took note of the Tehuelche native beliefs and recorded a strange myth.

Two-headed Guanaco myth among the Tehuelche.

Musters wrote that:

"Another superstition is that a two-headed guanaco exists in the south, the appearance of which is forerunner of sickness".

He added that after the last time it was sighted, measles spread among the natives, killing many of them.

Guanaco belong to the Camelidae, which consists of a several species: two in the Old World (camels,in Africa and Asia) and another four members in South America, the New World camelids: llamas, alpacas, vicuñas and guanacos (the last two were never domesticated). Today we will look into myths regarding two-headed camelids in Southern South America. Some of these myths are found in Patagonia, others are from further north, mostly from the "land of the Inca", in northern Chile, Argentina, and of course, Peru and Bolivia.

As we have posted elsewhere (Cryptids - including two-headed snakes of Inca origin), the Inca had a strong influence on the other natives (they invaded Chile and Argentina, incorporating part of their territories into their empire in the XVth century) and many of their myths were absorbed by the conquered people.

Despite this, I think that the remote Tehuelche, isolated in the Patagonian steppes were not subjected to this cultural influence, so the two-headed guanaco myth is most likely of pre-Inca origin.

The Pushmi-Pullyu

Perhaps the older readers will remember a 1967 film, Dr. Dolittle starring Rex Harrison and Samantha Eggar. In this movie, there was a pushmi-pullyu, an imaginary breed of llama, which was two headed.

Its name, which sounds Inca, is a pun (combining the English words "push me" and "pull you") about the difficulties the creature faces when walking, as both heads want to lead the way.

dolittle two headed llama
Movie still from Dr. Dolittle, 20th Century Fox, 1967.

Native two-headed llama in Chile.

The natives of Northern Chile (and this is well beyond Patagonia), in the Lasana Valley, in Antofagasta, depicted two-headed llamas in their rock-art. The following examples are from Pona (22°17'S, 68°38'W), they show these creatures (one of them apparently carrying a person):[2]

Chile llama with two heads
Two-headed llamas - Chile. From [2]

This mythical creature must have permeated into Chile from Peru, the home of the Inca people.

Qarqacha de Peruvian bicephalic llama.

Peruvians (in the Huancavelica region) believe in a similar monster, the Qarqacha or Jarjaria.

It gets its name from its strange laugh ("qar qar") -while "chas" means dirt. It is a human that has been punished by God for some evil sin (mainly incest) and at night morphs into a deformed llama (mostly two-headed) or some other bizarre beast.

Without any doubt, this monster myth is intended to frighten people to keep them on the "straight path" and avoid the temptation of incest in small communities.

Argentina's two headed camelids.

In Argentina, at the Peña Colorada site, in Antofagasta de la Sierra, Catamarca province, there are also representations of bicephalic llamas. These date back to the formative period (ca. 500 BC).

Argentina bicephalic llama
Two headed camelid - Argentina. From [4]


[1] Musters, G. (1873). At home with the Patagonians. pp.192.
[2] Aballay Y., E. and Rojas V., J. El arte rupestre del valle de Lasana
[3] Cavero Carrasco, R., (1990). Incesto en los Andes: las "llamas demoníacas" como castigo sobrenatural. Ayacucho: CONCYTEC. pp 171
[4] Podesta, M., Rolandi, D., Raffinio, R., Proaño, M. (2005). El arte rupestre de Argentina indígena: Noroeste Grupo Abierto Communicaciones. Chapter: Pastores y Argicultores Tempranos. La diversidad en el arte. Fig.4.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity  Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Neater Blog better viewing

Tidying up the blog.

Today I am going to resize images and go over the site to improve blog loading speed. It will make a better viewing experience for all and save bandwidth.

Patagonian monsters logo
sib logo

All new images. Copyright © 2010 by Austin Whittall

A quicker loading blog with smaller images

I have decided to improve the loading speed of my blog and have read up on what makes it slow and how to get it loaded faster. Image size, image location, javascript, CSS, and other factors contribute to speed. So I am doing away with some stuff but keeping most of the homepage elements. So far speed is about 74/100, my target is above 80/100. I will keep on trying.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia

2010 International Year of Biodiversity
Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall ©

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Chilean Harpy

The old Egyptians believed that men had souls, which they called "Ba" which after death, could move between our world and the world of the dead.

They depicted it as a "human-headed hawk (see following image), which shows "Ba" visiting the dead man.[3]

The Mummy and the "Ba". A vignette in "The Book of the Dead". From [3]

Our Greek legacy

The Greek took this same creature and distorted it, from being a good and caring entity, it became an evil creature.

For the ancient Greeks, Harpies were invariably winged women, a "bird-woman" who originally were a "group of wind deities".[1]

Their name, derived from Greek "Αρεπυια" (snatcher), implies that "they are the Snatchers [...] women-demons [...] carrying all things to destruction"[2]

They not only snatched souls and took them to death, they also brought forth life, making mares pregnant. [2]

The following image shows the famous "The Harpy tomb", ca. 470 BC, in the British Museum. The creature is carrying off a baby.

Harpies Xanthus
Harpy Tomb at Xanthus.

These monsters with faces of maidens had, according to Virgil, obscene habits. They were ravenous and stole the food from Aeneas at the island of Strophades on his long journey from Troy to Italy.

Later Greeks transformed the Harpy into the "Siren", which can be seen in depictions of Odysseus on his long trip home from Troy.

Sirens and Odysseus
Odysseus and the Sirens. Greek Red-Figure Stamnos Vase, ca. 480 BC. British Museum.

South American Harpies

South America also has its harpies; the American Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja), which lives in the Tropical and Subtropical areas of South and Central America, from southern Mexico to northern Argentina and the south of Brazil.

It is the only member of the genus Harpia (besides the mythical Harpy) and it is the largest of all eagles (with a wingspan of 2.4 m - 8 ft.).

But, there are accounts of Harpies (the Greek kind) in Chile, quite close to Patagonia (For the full text in Spanish, see reference [4] below).

This alleged discovery of a harpy in Chile in 1784, led to a fashion, and the "harpy costume" in France during the reign of (later guillotined) King Louis XVI. [5]

The following is the text (in French) [6]

The context of the 1784 harpy.

These were revolutionary days, the Female Harppy found in the "Royal Province of Chile" was bestial and had mixed genders: she/he was mustached and bearded. Her breasts were surrounded by hair.

The beast feasted on eels, fish and a daily sheep. The first report was a pamphlet by the Count of Provence (Description historique d'un monstrue symbolique pris vivan sur les bords du lac Fagua [*], pres de Santa-Fé, par les soins de Francisco Xaviero de Meunrios, Comte de Barcelone.).

This pamphlet intended to mock the royal family and its lavish ways. So it is not surprising that the beast took on a more femenine appearance to resemble Queen Marie-Antoniette (hated by the populace and depicted as a harpy).[7]

The beast was thus an act of pre-French Revolution hatred to the royal family and not a real Chilean entity.

Tagua Tagua lagoon monster

It was placed [4] in Lagoon Tagua-Tagua (which now does not exist, as it was dessicated in the 1830s). Don't confuse it with the Lake Tagua-Tagua in the Reloncavi Fjord area which is also home to a lake monster (one was a lagoon, the other is a lake).

Charles Darwin visited it in 1834 before it disappeared, and who wrote about it in his Beagle diary:

Darwin on Tagua Tagua

The lagoon was about 10 km (6 mi) from the town of San Vicente de Tagua-Tagua in the Chilean province of Cachapoal. Egg shaped, it measured about 10 km long and 13 km (8 mi.) It was shallow (only 5 m deep - 16 ft.).

Chilean author, Orestes Plath [8] mentions a monster in this lagoon: an aquatic winged being with two tails and scales which carries away the cattle.

Surprisingly, a Patagonian monster, the Llaima Volcano monster resembles a harpy, clawed, bird like and with a human face it is harpy-like.

Tagua Tagua is also one of the oldest sites archaeological sites in America, with clear indication of human activity dated to about 12,000 years ago.[9]


[1] The Journal of Hellenic studies. (1893). London: Soc. for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies. v.13, pp. xlii and 106.
[2] Harrison, J., (1991) Prolegomena to the study of Greek Religion. Princeton Univ. Press. pp. 101+
[3] Edwards, A., (1891). Pharaohs Fellahs and Explorers. New York: Harper & Brothers. pp. 187+
[4] Picasso, F. (2006). Estudio sobre las supuestas arpias capturadas en Chile (1784) y Perú ( 1829).
[5] Augustin Challamel, John Lillie. (1882). The history of fashion in France: or, The dress of women from the Gallo-Roman period to the present time. Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington. pp.174
[6] Hatin, Eugene, (1864). Histoire politique et littéraire de la presse en France: avec une introd. historique sur les origines du journal et la bibliographie générale des journaux depuis leur origine. Poulet-Malassis et de Broise, v.8. pp. 104+
[7] Landes, J. (2003). Visualizing the Nation: Gender, Representation, and Revolution in Eighteenth-Century France. Cornell University Press. pp. 215.
[8] Plath, O., (1994). Geografía del mito y la leyenda chilenos. Grijalbo. pp. 124.
[9] Weber, G. Laguna Tagua Tagua site (Liberador, Chile) Online.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Japan sells whale meat

Today BBC published an article informing that Japanese whale meat 'being sold in US and Korea'.

US prosecutors filed charges against the owners of a Californian restaurant.

Scientists say they have found clear proof that meat from whales captured under Japan's whaling programme is being sold in US and Korean eateries.

Full text here

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia

2010 International Year of Biodiversity
Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall ©

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Lake Vichuquen - lake of the week

lake of the week

Lake Vichuquen, Chile
Lake Vichuquen, Chile. From [2]

Lako Vichuquen is a shallow body of water (35 m deep - 115 ft.) , with a surface area of 40 km2 (15.6 sq.mi.) and barely 18 m (60 ft.) above sea level.

Its water is slightly salty and tepid, it is surrounded by pine forests.

The lake's name is a combination of the Mapuche words vilu = snake and lafquen = lake. It is the lake of the snake. Apparently the name is due to the lake's long and winding shape.

It measures about 8 km long (5 mi.) and not more than 2 km wide (1.2 mi.), it is located beyond Patagonia's northern tip, in Chile (34°50' S, 72°05' W).

It flows into the Pacific Ocean through a 6 km (3.8 mi.) long river by the town and port of Llico.

In this lake, according to Plath there is an enormous monster whose body is white and transparent, that appears on full mooon nights.[1]


[1] Plath, Orestes, (1973). Geografía del mito y la leyenda chilenos. Ed. Nascimiento.

Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia

2010 International Year of Biodiversity
Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall ©

Double-headed Condor

Charles I crest
Two headed eagle - Crest of Charles I (King of Spain), V (Emperor Germany).
From [4]

The Spanish Conquistador who advanced south from Peru into what is now Chile to conquer it, Pedro de Valdivia, fought against the native Mapuche in a vain attempt to subdue them (he managed to push south of the Bio-Bio River but this territory would remain in the hands of the natives until the 1870s).

During his campaing into northern Chilean Patagonia, Valdivia founded a city in 1552 which he named “El Imperial” (The Imperial) in honor of his king and emperor, Charles the Vth of Germany (and Ist of Spain).

He gave it that name because, there he had “discovered certain rudely-carved figures, with somer resemblance to the double-heade eagle of Austria” (Charles was a Hapsburg, of Austrian blood). [1]

The interesting fact is that these “eagles” had been carved by the local Mapuche natives and therefore had no connection whatsoever with Europe or the House of Austria. It is likely that they were not even eagles, but “condors”.

The two-headed condor motif is quite common among the Andean cultures such as the Inca in Peru and the Diaguita or Kakan people of northwestern Argentina. Perhaps the bicephalic condor symbol was introduced into the area during the period of Inca domination (ca. 1430-1530).
two headed condor
Two headed condor - Diaguita culture, northwestern Argentina.
Copyright © 2010 by Austin Whittall

Or it may have been a pre-Inca symbol, part of the Mapuche mythology.

Another option is that the Spaniards assigned an “eagle” morphology to a non avian sculpture, believing that they were two-headed eagles, when they may have been something else.

The two headed eagle is also found among the Alaska natives, but it is very likely that it was acquired from the Russians, whose imperial coat of arms bore a two headed eagle. [2]

However, the two headed condor motif exists among the Mapuche people.
In Neuquén, Argentina, there is a legend about Domuyo Volcano involving a native princess, Pirepillan, who was held captive on its summit by a jaguar and a “two headed condor”. [3]

[1] Smith, E., (1855), The Araucanians.New York: Harper. Bros. pp. 142.
[2] Northwest Coast Archaeology. Two Views of Double-Headed Eagles. 01.03.2010.
[3] Melantoni, E., Las termas de Copahue pp. 3.
[4] Camprubí Bueno, L., (2010). Viaje alrededor del Imperio: rutas oceánicas, la esfera y los orígenes atlánticos de la revolución científica. El Catoblepas, 95. 01.2010. pp.1.

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Patagonian Monsters - Cryptozoology, Myths & legends in Patagonia
2010 International Year of Biodiversity Copyright 2009-2010 by Austin Whittall © 
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