Quechuan Proto-Science Fiction

We know that modern science fiction is considered to have begun with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, yet despite this there are a lot of older stories that might be considered science fiction too. Those books are halfway between fantasy and explorations of human curiosity about natural phenomena. These authors used fiction to find explanations and to tell exciting adventures.

Many ancient cultures have texts which contain elements that could be considered science fiction: Plutarch wrote in his essay ” The Face in the Moon” (72 AD) all the various theories about the moon of his time and Lucian wrote in his True History about an interplanetary trip. But not only the Greeks have such stories. The Japanese tale of Urashima Taro involves travelling forwards in time to a distant future, something that can be also found in the 18th Sura in Qur’an.The novel Fadil ibn Natiq (c. 1270), by the Arabian writer Ibn al-Nafis (1213-1288) also knownas Theologus Autodidactus, can be described as science fiction with elements, where end of the world scenarios, resurrection and afterlife are predicted and scientifically explained

But usually it is hard to find stories with science fiction elements in Andean literature. Quechuan languages (to give one example) do not have have an endogenous writing system and many speakers were not literate so it wasn’t until the post-conquest era that these stories and legends were written down. The bibliography of written texts in Quechuan and some other languages from the Andean region is slowly growing. However, it is possible to find collections of ‘classic texts’ collected by different scholars.

A story that could be considered a Quechuan proto-science fiction story is “The young man who went to heaven,” which was collected by Jorge A. Lira, a Quechua language scholar and author of numerous books of collections of oral narrations. The text was translated into Spanish by José María Arguedas, celebrated Peruvian author, poet and anthropologist.

The text tells the story of a boy, his parents’ only son. The boy’s father has a particularly good potato seed but has never managed to harvest them because his field is constantly attacked by unknown thieves. So the young man is sent to the plantation far away from his house to watch it overnight. After several nights where he couldn’t catch the thieves despite having only closed his eyes for a few seconds, he was finally he is able to discover that the thieves were beautiful girls who came down from the stars. He fells in love with one of them and manages to capture her to make her his wife. Against the will of the girl he takes her home, there she is dressed in normal clothes and he marries her. After a while, the girl becomes pregnant, but the child dies before birth. Finally one day the girl manages to get out of the house and returns into the sky. The boy is sad by her absence, and he meets a condor who asks him about what happened. The condor pities him and promises to help him. In exchange for two llamas, the condor takes him where the girls lives. During the trip, which lasts one year, the young man has to feed the condor with his own flesh once the llama meat is gone, but when they finally arrive they find a strange sea where they bathe and recover lost strength. The young man finally finds his beloved, and she decides to hide him. He is hidden for a year with his wife visiting him and bringing him food, but finally his wife stops coming to his hiding place. The boy, sad once more, finds the Condor at the edge of the mysterious sea. They both are old and tired. The condor agrees once more to take him back to his home. Before leaving they bathe in the sea and recover their youth. The trip lasts one year and when they return home, he finds that his parents have grown elderly, sad and old by his absence. He decides to stay to help them although he is still in love with the girl from the stars.

The love affair between this man and this . . , alien, daughter of the stars, is similar to many other romances between humans and mythical beings, but there are some science fiction elements that make it interesting: The girl is not described as fairies but as young girls from the stars arriving at night to steal the potato harvest. The trip on the back of a condor lasts a year, longer than any imagined distance at that time. The different foods discovered in that planet; The boy discovers strange foods there, similar to familiar ones like cereal grains of which just a handful are enough to feed him, but a slightly larger portion overflows the pot; and finally the different times experiences on earth and on that mysterious place. Despite having spent only years in total when he returns he finds his parents have grown old.

At the end, the text collected by Jorge A. Lira could be read as a fantasy story but reveals earlier interests in travels to the stars where human beings could be found and the long distances separating us from those places. This elements make the text one of the few examples of proto-science fiction in a Quechuan language.

About Miguel Esquirol

Miguel Esquirol is a writer and journalist from Bolivia. Currently he lives and writes from Montréal. He has published two short story anthologies, Ángulo Muerto and Memorias de Futuro, and several stories online and in anthologies.
This entry was posted in March 2011 and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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