The chullachaqui is a demon of the jungle, known to almost everyone in the Amazon, frightening and pathetic. He is characterized by having one or both feet deformed — either both turned backwards, or one shaped like that of an animal, such as a deer or jaguar; the name is Quechua, meaning uneven feet. The deformed foot is emblematic of his nature: turned backwards, it leaves false tracks; but it cannot be disguised, revealing his identity. He takes on the form of a friend or relative, or of an animal to draw in hunters, and lures people deep into the jungle, where they become hopelessly lost. People thus stolen away he then abandons, makes sick, enslaves, drives mad.
The poet César Calvo pictures chullachaquis as zombie-like creatures — creations of great shamans, sculpted out of the air, or formed from kidnapped children. If a kidnapped child is charged with evil powers, the right foot becomes deformed, self-contradictory — an animal foot when the chullachaqui is in human form, a human foot when in animal form. But there is also a second type of chullachaqui — benevolent, a person of the good, “a deceit in the service of the truth,” with no deformity. In either case, the kidnapped one does not return.
Chullachaquis are also known as yashingo, curpira, shapingo, and shapshico. Two generic terms are also applied to chullachaquis — supay, demons, and sacharuna, jungle people. The term sacharuna makes the chullachaqui the land equivalent of the yacuruna, the water people.
Yet there is something sad about the chullachaqui. He dwells alone in the inundated forest, where the chullachaquicaspi tree grows, or under lupuna trees, with which, Calvo says, he has an “indissoluble agreement of love.” He keeps a garden in which he cultivates only sachacaimito, and lives on its fruits. Sometimes he appears, comically, as a small man wearing huge red shoes, red pants, and a hat; he may be challenged to a wrestling match, and one who defeats him will be given good hunting and happiness.
The chullachaqui is also madre del monte, mother of the wilderness, the master of animals; by following the appropriate diet, one can propitiate the chullachaqui, who will grant success in hunting, but punish those who take too many animals. In this, the chullachaqui is like other madres of the jungle — the mothers of the trees, the mothers of the colpas — who protect their domains from foresters and hunters.
There has thus developed, in the last few decades, a new version of the chullachaqui, born out of an increasing awareness of commercial encroachment on the jungle — the chullachaqui as defender of the forest, enemy of lumber and oil companies: he heals wounded animals, and punishes those who cut down the trees and hunt animals out of greed. “The chullachaqui is a protective spirit of the jungle,” says one description, “who can harm or help people, depending on whether they mistreat or respect nature in the jungle.” This new chullachaqui “is generous with those who make rational use of the resources of the forest, but is harmful toward people who invade his space without permission and destroy its plant and animal resources.”
Don Agustin Rivas tells of a jungle encounter with a small man who had an aged face, curved nose, small brilliant eyes, and very small mouth, and was missing one foot. Although the man was dressed normally, don Agustin recognized him immediately as a chullachaqui. Don Agustin expressed his delight in finally meeting a real chullachaqui, and they smoked a pipe together; don Agustin mentioned that he had been having bad luck in hunting lately, and the chullachaqui said, “Those are my animals. You need to ask my permission first, and you have never asked me before shooting an animal. But today you’re going to kill an animal.” Don Agustin suddenly felt dizzy and fell to the ground in a faint; when he awoke, the chullachaqui was gone. Almost immediately, he came across a very large deer and shot it — a perfect shot through the heart.
So, with that background, I think you might find the following interesting: