Birds in Guaraní Myth and Legend

Birds feature heavily in the folklore of the indigenous peoples - the Guaraní - with conversion into a bird a surprisingly common occurrence! Take for example the Striped Cuckoo - legend has it that it was once a little indigenous girl, playing with her brother Crespín. She climbed a tree for one reason or another, and her naughty brother cut down all the branches so she could no longer descend to the floor. Pleased with how mischievous he was, he ran away, leaving her to call his name mournfully “Crespiiiin” - supposedly an onomatopaeic rendition of the bird´s melancholy call. She waited so long for him return that she turned into a bird.  Similarly the Sayaca Tanager is said to be the reincarnation of a little Indian boy killed in a fatal accident, and converted into the bird by his mother´s love.
The Southern Screamer never featured very prominently on the menu of the indigena despite being a conspicuous, large bird easy to hunt. Legend has it that the god of the moon was walking in the hot sun one day when he saw two mortals washing their clothes in a river. When he asked them for a drink of water, they gave him their dirty, soapy water and returned to their work laughing. Angered by this the god turned them both into Screamers (known as Chajá), a bird whose flesh supposedly tastes of soap. Always in pairs, the unfortunate ex-humans lament their fate with their wailing call in the dirty waters of the marshland. The Giant Wood Rail represents another mortal punished by conversion into avian form, this time a mean old man who refused to share his yerba with a poor old woman. Its call supposedly resembles the Guaraní for “There´s no yerba left!”
Paraguay´s National bird, the Bare-throated Bellbird was once the only bird in the forest without a voice or a purpose, wandering aimlessly looking for a reason to live. One day he came across a goup of gold-miners swinging their picks at rocks and began to imitate their sound. From that day on his purpose was to show men where to mine.
If you´re a woman, you may want to avoid the Great Kiskadee, a common bird almost ubiquitous in Paraguay. Legend states that a bout of frenzied calling is a harbinger of a coming pregnancy. Men can breathe a big sigh of relief! Adolescents on the other hand should steer clear of the Picazuro Pigeon, a bird that calls only when its molar teeth are hurting. The bad news is that the pain is contagious and listening to a cooing Picazuro is a sure-fire way to start your own molars throbbing. Finally if you see a Black Vulture circling above your house, then it´s probably time to start tying up your loose ends, as your number is up!!

For a fuller treatment of birds in Guaraní legend check out Aves en la Mitologia Guaraní by Tomás L Micó.
Designed by Paul Smith 2006. This website is copyrighted by law.
Material contained herewith may not be used without the prior written permission of FAUNA Paraguay. Photographs on this web-site were taken by Paul Smith, Hemme Batjes, Regis Nossent, Lars Hansen and Huguito Cabral and are used with their permission.