Peasant Autonomy
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Story 70

Mountain region in Peru – around 1920 (1)


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(Photo: JohnnyC)


It is a pitch-dark night. Barking loudly, five sturdy dogs leap over the fence of the sheep-fold, and run out onto the field. They surely have heard a wild animal, and will attack it now. Simón Robles, an older peasant with a pencil-thin moustache and little grey goatee, goes together with his wife and two children to the sheep shed, and sits down there to protect their animals. Foxes are cunning; when the dogs are gone, they can seize the opportunity to catch a chicken or a lamb. Perhaps even a puma is roaming about, who wouldn't mind killing a sheep.
In the sheep shed, it is even darker, if possible, than outside, although the eyes of the sheep light up like small yellow lamps. Simón puts a few coca leaves in his mouth, chews a bit, and starts, as he often does, to tell a story. “Long ago, our great forefather Adam lived in paradise. He lacked for nothing. Everywhere hung the most delicious fruits, and he had only to reach out his hand to pick a few. Still, he wasn't content, you know how people are. When, one day God dropped by for a visit, Adam lamented, 'Why does it always become night? Can't it stay day forever?' 'The night is to sleep,' God answered. 'I am afraid during the night,' Adam said, 'the beasts can attack me.' God had to laugh about that: 'I created the animals in such a way that they don't harm anybody, you know that, don't you?' 'But still, I am afraid,' Adam insisted.”

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(Photo: Vanessa Smetkowski)


God settled down comfortably and then pointed toward an enormous black puma behind Adam. Adam was frightened, because the puma stood ready to pounce, his mouth stretched wide open. His white teeth gleamed in the sunlight. Then, the puma jumped. But, he didn't jump on Adam, but over him into the sky, and then he was gone. ‘Look,’ God said with a smile, ‘it was not a really puma, only a shadow-puma. And you are afraid of that?' God shook his head gently.”
“It's the same way with us,” Simón goes on, “how often are we not scared about a puma, who is actually no more than a shadow-puma.” When after a long time the dogs come back, without having fought, Simón is obliged to say, “It must have been a shadow-puma.”


The book The hungry dogs (1939) from the Peruvian writer Ciro Alegría tells about the peasant life in the Andes Mountains.

Go to:
= part 2: Famine - mountain region in Peru – around 1922 (2), story 73.
= the next page: The founding of a union - a small village near a fjord in Iceland – 1921, story 71.
= the Table of contents, story 70.