Day 11 – The Legend of the Quinoa

Where did quinoa come from? This is an ancient Aymara legend that tells where quinoa came from as told by storyteller, Edgar Quispe Chambi (and translated by me).

In times long ago the Aymara people talked with the stars. They lived along the shores of Lake Titicaca where they first began cultivating potatoes on raised beds built along the shoreline. A young teenage boy guarded the raised beds at night to make sure no one stole the crops. He had a bell to ring in case he found someone there. One night he came upon what he thought was a group robbers, so he rang his warning bell. The “robbers” all left except for one, which he captured. It was a beautiful young maiden who glowed with starlight. (Remember the Aymara people knew how to talk with the stars.) The young maiden however, turned into a bird and went where the others had gone, up the sky to join the stars.


Andean Condor

As the farmers, woken by the ringing of the bell arrived, the boy stayed gazing at the sky, admiring what he had seen. He could not explain to the others what had happened. The next day he sought out a condor, a great Bolivian bird of prey and spirit animal. He climbed the highest mountain cliffs in search of this bird. He wanted the condor to take him to the stars. The condor understood and took the teenage boy to the stars on his back. They arrived at a star which was a land covered in fields of golden grains. There the boy found the young maiden from the night before. The two played together in the fields. Fields of quinoa! The star maiden invited the boy to eat the quinoa. The boy had never seen this grain before. “What is this?” he asked.

And so he stayed there and lived on the quinoa. But one day he wanted to return to earth to visit his parents. He wanted them to know he was OK and wanted to know that they were OK too. The condor sensing his wishes, returned. The teenage boy climbed on his back once more. Before the left, the star maiden gave the boy a sack of quinoa to bring back to his village. The boy left the star and soared over the land on the back of the great bird, scattering seeds of quinoa as he went.

Since then quinoa has served as a food for the Andean village, a product that until recently was unknown by the rest of humanity. Quinoa is life. Quinoa is hope. Quinoa is the past. Quinoa is the present. Quinoa is the future of humanity.