Sangama

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La primera vez que leí Sangama, la gran novela de aventuras en la selva de Arturo D. Hernández, quedé perturbado para siempre. Justo tendría mis ocho o nueve años de edad y me encontraba en las sierras de Marca, el hermoso pueblo de mis padres en Ancash. Y ahí, envuelto por los relatos fantásticos de tías y abuelos que contaban del gigante Canlín,[1] la cabeza voladora de la Qeqi,[2] las tribulaciones de Juan Oso,[3] las risueñas aventuras del Ichic Ollco[4] o las apariciones y desapariciones de los auquish y chacuas, esos viejitos guardadores de los cerros, de pronto me encontré con un libro igualmente fascinante, fabuloso, encantador.

La literatura oral y la literatura escrita me envolvían suavemente, y los personajes andinos y amazónicos empezaban a latir en mis venas sin ninguna dificultad, acaso con la misma naturalidad que las figuras selváticas del otorongo, monos y serpientes de la selva emergían de la iconografía andina de Chavín y de la costeña de Caral.[5] Sangama me atrapó de inmediato.

Abel Barcas, joven explorador en el alto Ucayali, llega al pueblito de Santa Inés donde conoce la tiranía del Gobernador y sus secuaces el Toro y el Piquicho. Y conoce también al gran Sangama y se enamora, cómo no, de su bella hija Chulla, la de ojos verdes, la de piel suave.

Pero Sangama no es un hombre propiamente de la selva. Más bien es un descendiente de los Andes que guarda una profunda sabiduría que le fuera transmitida por generaciones. Busca el “ídolo”, para conocer las claves del regreso del imperio incaico mientras vive y desmadeja los misterios de la vida amazónica, las costumbres de los animales y los hábitos particulares de los pueblos originarios.

Pero es una novela al gran estilo de las novelas. Es decir, una narración que nos envuelve con historias sencillas pero sugerentes, hasta que los elementos maravillosos se hacen naturales y la acción termina por atrapar nuestra atención con sus anécdotas fulgurantes, plenas de secretos revelados, amores inconclusos y magia verbal para articular las diversas historias de esta gran historia.

¿Qué es Sangama? Es la búsqueda del pasado, del sentido de nuestra existencia, de lo inalcanzable.

Sangama es la apuesta amazónica por la cultura andina, donde el personaje vislumbra la matriz cultural que da vida a casi todo el continente sudamericano. Y lo hace con un referente inmediato, caro a los peruanos: la vuelta del imperio incaico.

Una primera lectura de la novela nos induciría a pensar que Arturo Hernández, el escritor, se pone a la cola del indigenismo para destacar el valor andino mediante los incas, acaso sus últimos representantes autóctonos. Pero cada vez que leo nuevamente la novela, año tras año, son sueños e imágenes distintos los que me asaltan. Antes que el discurso ‘incaico’, veo el comportamiento andino-amazónico de Sangama como un valor fundido y complementario.

Por eso resalta, muy nítido, lo que ahora llamaríamos un comportamiento ecológico, una visión equilibrada hacia la naturaleza y sus recursos, incluso un cariño igualitario hacia las naciones originarias cuyos secretos conoce gracias a la confianza compartida. Pero no olvidemos algo importante: la exigencia de la crítica amazónica de encontrar un “personaje amazónico” en la novela encontraría en Sangama a alguien totalmente lejos del ideal requerido, porque, en última instancia, el personaje lleva a cuestas su sabiduría andina en plena selva, y se constituiría en un híbrido cultural antes que en símbolo original y propio de lo amazónico.

Sin embargo, quedan para siempre las imágenes de un concurso de anécdotas que nos embrujan y dominan. Desde aventuras con animales hasta encuentros mágicos con brujos que envenenan y matan por codicia, celos y venganza. ¿De qué otra cosa se mata en la literatura, o acaso en la vida real?

Pero Sangama, la novela, es también una dulce y encantadora trampa para cualquier lector que desconozca la selva. Recuerdo haber visto en el avión, mientras viajaba a Iquitos, Pucallpa o Tarapoto, a lectores con su Sangama en mano, atrapados por la historia, imaginando que apenas pisen la selva le saldrían al encuentro serpientes u otorongos o que los llevarían al hotel en frágiles canoas. Nada más alejado de la realidad.

Más que un reflejo de la selva, de Sangama hay que destacar el gozo por la aventura, el mismo placer que sentimos al releer Los tres mosqueteros de Dumas. Y comprender que la narrativa, antes que experimento con las palabras, es ejercicio con las historias, con los sueños, con la magia de los mundos que nos toca inventar tal como Sangama nos lo muestra de manera natural y sencilla. El mundo de la ficción.

[1] Canlín, según la leyenda, es el lugar donde en tiempos muy remotos existía un gigante ogro antropófago que se alimentaba solamente de sangre humana, dicho lugar está situado en el Distrito de Marca, Ancash.

[2] La Qeqi (o Uma) es una bruja se divide en dos: la cabeza voladora, donde se concentra toda su vida, y el cuerpo, que permanece inerte mientras dura el hechizo, pero mantiene una vida latente que se manifiesta en el burbujeo que hace la sangre en el cuello.

[3] Juan Oso, or John the Bear, is a legend common in the folklore of Latin America, Europe, and Asia, about a hero who is the offspring of a woman and a bear. In the version from Ancash, Juan Oso kills his father, helps his mother escape, and they return to the village where he has trouble fitting in, eats more than others, and whom the mayor wants to kill.

[4] El Ichik Ollco es un hombrecillo o duende en la mitología andina, sobre todo en Ancash, que vive en los manantiales o bajo las caídas de agua. Cuando las mujeres caen en poder del Ichik Olljo, llegan a tener hijos, semejantes a su progenitor: Tez excesivamente blanca; cabello rubio; ágiles y hermosos.

[5] Chavín es un sitio arqueológico en los Andes de Perú, que existió entre 900 y 200 a. C. y Caral es un sitio arqueológico en la costa de Perú que tiene una antigüedad de 5,000 años—es considerada la ciudad más antigua de América.
Arturo D. Hernández

Sangama

The first time I read Sangama, the great book of adventures in the jungle by Arturo D. Hernández, I was permanently dazed. I had just turned eight or nine, and I was living in the mountains of Marca, the beautiful town where parents were from in Ancash. And in that place, I was surrounded by the fairy tales of uncles, aunts, and grandparents who told stories about the giant Canlin,[1] the flying head of the Qeqi,[2] the tribulations of Juan Oso,[3] the humorous stories of Ichic Ollco,[4] or the appearances and disappearances of the auquish and chacuas, the old ones that protected the mountains. Suddenly I had found a book that was just as fascinating, mythical, and delightful as those other stories.

Oral and written literature gently surrounded me, and the Andean and Amazonian characters began to flow through my veins without resistance, almost with the same naturalness that jaguars, monkeys and snakes of the jungle emerged from the Andean iconography of Chavin and the coastal iconography of Caral.[5] Sangama immediately fascinated me.

Abel Barcas, a young explorer of the upper Ucayali, arrives at the town of Santa Inés where he encounters the tyranny of the Governor and his henchmen, Toro and Piquicho. He also meets the great Sangama and falls in love (Who wouldn’t?) with his beautiful daughter, Chulla, who has green eyes and smooth skin.

But Sangama isn’t a man from the jungle, strictly speaking. Rather he is a descendent of the Andes who holds a profound wisdom that has been passed down to him through the generations. He looks for the “idol” to learn the key to the return of the Inca Empire, while he lives and unravels the mysteries of life in the Amazon, the habits of the animals, and the extraordinary customs of the  Indigenous communities.

But it is a novel in the great style of novels. In other words, it is a narrative that surrounds us with simple but intriguing stories. Even miraculous elements become natural, and the action traps our attention with its stunning anecdotes, full of secrets revealed, unfulfilled love, and verbal magic to articulate the various tales in this story.

What is Sangama? He is the search for the past, and the reason for our existence: what is unattainable.

Sangama is the Andean culture making an Amazonian wager, where the character gets a glimpse of the cultural matrix that gives life to nearly the entire continent of South America. And it does this with an immediate reference, at the expense of the Peruvians: the return of the Inca Empire.

The first reading of the novel induces us to think that Arturo Hernández, the writer, is following the example of Indigenous literature to highlight Andean validity via the Incas, perhaps his final Indigenous model. But each time I read the novel, year after year, different dreams and images strike me. Rather than an “Inca” speech, I see Sangama’s Andean-Amazonian behavior as merged and complementary.

That is why an ecological behavior, as we’ll call it, clearly stands out—a balanced vision of nature and its resources, even an egalitarian care towards the Indigenous communities whose secrets he knows thanks to the confidence they share. But we shouldn’t forget something important: the “Amazonian character” that is a requirement in criticism of the genre is completely missing from the archetype, because, as a last resort, the character carries the weight of his Andean knowledge in the thick of the jungle, and becomes a cultural hybrid rather than an original and typical symbol of the Amazon.

Nevertheless, the images of a concurrence of anecdotes that bewitch and dominate us remain forever: from adventures with animals to magical encounters with witches that poison and kill out of avarice, jealousy and vengeance. What else is one killed by in literature, or even in real life?

But Sangama, the novel, is also a sweet and enchanting snare for any reader that is unfamiliar with the jungle. I remember seeing readers with Sangama in their laps on the airplane, traveling to Iquitos, Pucallpa, or Tarapoto. These readers were enraptured by history, imaging that hardly would they step out of the airplane that they would find snakes and jaguars, or that they would be taken to their hotels in fragile canoes. Yet, nothing is further from the truth.

Sangama is more than just a reflection of the jungle; rather it is delight in adventure. This is the same pleasure we feel when we reread The Three Musketeers by Dumas. We understand that the narrative, before being an experiment with words, is an exercise with stories, with dreams, and with the magic of the worlds therein. Now it is our turn to create these worlds the same way Sangama did, naturally and simply: the world of fiction.

[1] Canlín, according to legend, is a place in the District of Marca, Ancash where a giant ogre used to drink human blood from poor travelers who passed by his abode at night. The townspeople eventually attacked him, dismembered him, and buried his body parts in different areas.

[2] The Qeqi (or Uma) is a witch that splits in two: its head flies away, terrorizing people at night or on certain days, while the body remains on the ground, blood bubbling from its neck. If salt or ash is sprinkled on the neck, the head can’t connect again, and it will fly through the countryside looking for a new body.

[3] Juan Oso, or John the Bear, is a legend common in the folklore of Latin America, Europe, and Asia, about a hero who is the offspring of a woman and a bear. In the version from Ancash, Juan Oso kills his father, helps his mother escape, and they return to the village where he has trouble fitting in, eats more than others, and whom the mayor wants to kill.

[4] The Ichik Ollco is a small, elf-like creature in Andean mythology, particularly in Ancash, that lives under waterfalls and seduces lone women into having his child. The children, like the Ichik Olljo, will tend to have fair skin and hair.

[5] Chavín is an archaeological site in the Peruvian Andes, from 900 to 200 BCE, and Caral is an archaeological site on the Peruvian coast, the oldest urban center in the Americas, between the 2,600 and 2,000 BCE.

Literaturas Amazónicas, Editorial Pasacalle, September 3, 2020 | Top image 1952 French Edition

About the author

Ricardo Vírhuez Villafane is a Peruvian writer. He was born in Lima in 1964 and studied at the National University of San Marcos. When he was sixteen he won his first national prize in story and essay, and he has since published numerous books and essays on the Peruvian Amazon and beyond. He is a reknowned academic and is editor-in-chief the small press, Editorial Pasacalle.

Further reading

El Gigante Calín y Juan Osito de Óscar Colchado Lucio

El Ichic Olljo de Roberto Rosario

Testimonio de Arturo Hernández: novela Sangama y su vida

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