Please join expat author Tom Larsen, Wednesday, April 10 at 7 p.m. at the Escuela Central / Museo de la Ciudad (Corner of Gran Colombia and Benigno Malo) for a free and fun cultural event. The first 150 attendees will walk away with a free copy of his beautifully illustrated paperback, published (in English) by the City of Cuenca.
Cuenca cantón is the largest cantón in Azuay Province. Besides its namesake capital city, the cantón is made up of twenty-one rural parroquias (parishes). In 2017 the municipality took on an important project. Representatives from the Dirección Municipal De Cultura, Educación Y Deportes (Francisco Abril Piedra, Director) visited all the parroquias and collected local stories and legends. Some of these stories are quite old, while some are more recent, but they are all important to the history and culture of the cantón.
The municipality published these stories in a series of pamphlets entitled, “Memorias Parroquiales Rurales.” Cuenca expat Tom Larsen partnered with the municipality to translate these stories into English, and the municipality has graciously agreed to have some of the translations published here.
The story below is from the parroquia of Turi, known for its fantastic views of the city, and tells the tale of the red and blue devils that used to live beneath the surface of the town, and why you won’t see any diablitos in Turi today.
While some words or phrases have been substituted to make this story more accessible to English speakers, every effort has been made to stick to the original story.
Pupo Del Diablo
(The Devil’s Belly Button)
Author’s note: Boquerón has a few definitions in Spanish. In this case it refers to a large deep opening in the surface of the earth.
“To be a diablito of the Boquerón doesn’t necessarily mean that you are bad. We have been created to keep the people of Turi in line, and to stop those fugitives who want to escape from the city. The only thing that you need to pay us is a bit of your riches for our civilization. If you don’t agree to pay, well then, a little mischief will befall you.
Thus, spoke Maxilium, the commander of the devil town, which was known as, “The Devil’s Belly Button,” similar to “The Devil’s Nose.”
Here, the exit to the surface of the earth is through the Boquerón de Turi, but not every diablito could come to the surface. They had to undergo a long training process to learn how to frighten the humans, to carry heavy objects and breathe air without sulfur. Only the biggest and reddest devils successfully passed, while the smaller blue ones were good for other purposes.
Many of the diablitos that lived here had families and had to feed their little ones. That is why all the devils worked based on a single moment: midnight. It was in that moment and only in that moment, when the bravest went to the surface to search for food, to gather treasures and frighten the curious people of Turi. Only at this moment could the diablitos, using an improvised system of ropes and pulleys, open a hole in the surface and escape.
The little blue diablitos were the smartest. They figured out how to bring electricity to the underground and built a portal right through the Boquerón. In order not to be detected, they designed the portal so that it could only be opened from inside, and only from midnight until the first three hours before dawn.
Each one exited in order, but they made a lot of ruckus. They loved the city even though the air was not good for them, much less the cold. Arriving at the Turi overlook they would look out over the city with a bit of melancholy. The diablitos always liked Cuenca. They took photos and used them in the design and construction of their underground city, so that it resembled Cuenca. They built some stairways decorated with flames, their houses resembled those of the historical center, but one thing was a little different—the four rivers of fire.
On the surface, the diablitos went about gathering up everything they could. They didn’t have much time, so some went directly to the people’s homes, while others stole things from the hardware stores. Some gathered dry wood to make charcoal, which served as both food and fuel for them.
They worked very fast and were well-organized, having done this soooooo many times that nothing could go wrong.
But, with the passing of the years the diablito’s society changed a lot. The blue-skinned ones were more organized, intelligent and patient. They were much better strategists, but that’s not to say that they were the same as the red ones. The red devils became more aggressive amongst themselves. They became clumsy and fat because they ate more junk food, not the healthy charcoal like the rest. I believe that such contact with the humans began to turn them to flesh and bone.
The government of The Devil’s Bellybutton was administered by the blue, horned devils, and they became concerned with this problem. The order was given to send the biggest and reddest devils to the surface so that they could live together with the humans. In addition, it was necessary to help the families of the evacuees, and to take charge of the upbringing of the little ones. The betrayal wasn’t viewed badly in The Devil’s Bellybutton. It was rather the lack of loyalty that bothered them a little. So, no one informed the red devils what was happening.
Good Friday arrived, and they asked to come back through the portal as they had done hundreds of times before. Some of the red devils began to appear pink, and some had lost all their color. They even began to sweat from the heat. The diablitos noticed that the city was becoming smaller. All the people wanted them gone.
But as they neared the Boquerón, they saw that the elevator platform had mysteriously disappeared, and that they had a very serious problem. Most of the red diablitos had lost their horns, and in place of them a sort of rug now adorned their heads. Many of them began to go crazy from the heat, which left only their feet unburned.
One of the diablitos managed to find an emergency stairway a few meters from them. You just had to slide carefully along the rock edge. This he did, and so did all the rest. But just when they poked their heads out of the Devil’s Bellybutton, some men were waiting with clubs and shotguns, followed by the police and a mob of villagers.
“What a welcome!” thought the diablitos. The inhabitants of Cuenca were frightened to see the devils—now humans—appearing there naked, thinking that something perverse was happening. Then they called the village priest to bless them and to bless this place. When the priest sprinkled holy water over the diablitos they felt refreshed.
When the drops fell back into the Boquerón, they ended up flooding The Devil’s Bellybuton, causing great damage.
That is why you never see devils prowling around this town, be they red or blue.