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Sunday, 12 August 2018

Elves in the Andes ?

     Overlooked books are often sources of anomalies which are easily lost to our collective memory. Thus, a couple of Sundays ago, a friend of mine called Trevor casually referred to what he labelled the "leprechauns" of South America. Readers of this blog will be aware that I no longer automatically scoff at such stories. (Why, this time last year I was translating newspaper articles about a plague of goblins in Argentina.) Trevor mentioned how they had been seen by Brian Fawcett (1906-1984), the younger son of the explorer, Percy Fawcett, who disappeared in the Amazon jungle, almost certainly murdered by Indians, while searching for the Lost City of Z. Now, Trevor has provided extracts from Brian Fawcett's 1958 book, Ruins in the Sky, relating to his time working on the Peruvian railways, and the events took place near what was then the highest railway station in the world. The relevant extract is from pages 65 and 66.
      A check-up of car inspectors' stock in Galera kept me up there close under the snows at the summit of the main line one winter evening at dusk.  A blizzard was raging, the fallen snow reflecting a weird light from the still luminous sky. I was emerging from an inspection of used brake shoes scattered along beside the track inside the Galera tunnel when a little human figure accompanied by an animal of some kind moved across the mouth, ten yards ahead of me. They were partially silhouetted against the light, but something of their detail was visible; and I see in a letter to my mother describing the event that the figure was that of a little man 2 feet high with slit eyes and dressed like 'Robinson Crusoe'. The animal with him resembled a large rat or stoat, about the size of a cat, but my glimpse was brief, for the little man saw me and made off. Tracks in the snow were mere holes and told me nothing.
    A few days later, at Anticona [11° 35' S, 76° 11'W] - our highest point - I wandered from the train while waiting for a meet with another train. Ragged mist blotted out the surrounding peaks and gave only slight visibility from time to time at ground level, but in a moment of partial clearness I caught a glimpse of two of these 'Robinson Crusoe' mannikins with their rat-like companions beside a small pool amongst the rocks. It was for a second only, and then the mist obscured them.
     The Indians who work in the mines above Ticlio [same as Anticona] will tell you - once you have won their confidence - that certain of the adits of the old Spanish diggings are haunted by muquis [pronounced moo-kees], which from their description I take to be similar to the 'knocker' of the Cornish miner. No one could ever relate to me a first-hand experience of seeing one of these Muquis, but any amount of hearsay cases were forthcoming, and the general opinion was that the little men were well disposed if not molested, often indicating by the knocking of their picks where rich seams of mineral were to be found. Where my little figures muquis? If so, their tracks in the snow were anything but ghostly.
     Here is an article about the popular beliefs concerning muquis.

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