The Nunkui Story

Nunkui: The Earth Goddess, Giver of Life
The Legend of Nunkui

Nunkui: The Earth Goddess, Giver of Life

In the worldview of the Shuar nationality, Arutam is the God of the Gods. He lives in the waterfalls and reaches the Shuar through the rivers. Arutam represents the supreme, protective, transcendent and supernatural Spirit that transmits a special force to man. With its divine power it impregnates the Earth and the Universe to produce concrete effects in reality. This is the root and mindset of the Shuar world.

Arutam does not have a body and manifests itself in a wide range of higher beings related to phenomena such as the creation of the world, life, death, and diseases.

These higher beings include:

  • Etsa: Sun; creator of animals that live on earth.
  • Tsunki: Owner of the water animals; teacher of everything related to fishing and health.
  • Shakaim: Creator of the jungle; representation of the strength and ability for men’s work.

And, of course,

  • Nunkui: Deity of the orchards, crops, home and ceramics; carrier of the knowledge of the feminine world. Nunkui is the fertility goddess, linked to plants and food, as well as ceramics in which food is served. The women sing songs of praise as they plant and harvest in the Aja Shuar.

The Legend of Nunkui

years ago, when the Shuar were just beginning to populate the eastern lands of Ecuador, the jungle did not exist. In its place stretched a plain spotted only by sparse grasses. One of these was Unkuch, the only food of the Shuar.

Thanks to the Unkuch, people were able to withstand the aridity of the sand and the suffocating heat of the equatorial sun for a long time. Unfortunately, one day, the grass disappeared and the Shuar slowly began to disappear.

Some, remembering other misfortunes, blamed Iwia and Iwianchi, diabolical beings who stripped the earth, eating everything that existed; but others continued their efforts to find the desired food. Among these was a woman: Nuse. Overcoming her fears, she looked for the Unkuch among the most hidden and dark places, but it was all useless. Undeterred, she returned to her children and resumed the search with them.

Following the course of a river, they walked many days; but as time passed, the overwhelming heat of those lands ended up crushing them. Thus, one by one, the travelers lay on the sand.

Unexpectedly, small slices of an unknown food appeared on the river: cassava. Seeing them, Nuse launched herself into the river and took them.

As soon as she tasted this sweet soup, she felt her spirits rise mysteriously and immediately she ran to the aid of her children. Suddenly, she perceived that someone was watching her from the wind. Restless, she sunk her eyes in all corners, but only saw the leaden solitude of the desert.

Suddenly, from among those bursts that whistle far away, a woman of primitive beauty appeared. Nuse backed away scared, but when discovering the sweetness on that woman’s face she asked:

– Who are you?

– I am Nunkui, the owner and sovereign of the vegetation. I know that your town lives in a bare and sad land, where the Unkuch hardly grows, but …

– The Unkuch no longer exists! It was our food and it has disappeared. Please, do you know where I can find it? Without it, all of my people will die.

– Nothing will happen to them, Nuse. You have shown courage and therefore I will give you, not only the Unkuch, but all kinds of food.

In seconds, before Nuse’s surprised eyes, orchards of fragrant branches appeared. Nuse was ecstatic because she had never seen anything like it: the landscape was majestic and the music the forest sang stole her heart.

Nunkui continued:

– And for your people, who today fight against death, I will give you a prodigious girl who has the virtue of creating the Unkuch and the yucca that you have eaten and the banana and…

– Thanks Nunkui, thanks!

Nunkui disappeared and in her place the promised girl emerged.

Nuse was dazzled by what she had seen, and was still in awe when the little girl led her through the thicket. So comfortable did she feel with her that she wanted to stay there forever. However, the memory of her people saddened her. But then, the little one, the daughter of Nunkui – as she was later called – announced that there too, in the territory of the Shuar, the vegetation would grow majestic. Then, delighted, Nuse revived her children and returned to her town.

When they arrived, the girl fulfilled her offer and the life of the Shuar changed completely. The pain was forgotten. Plants rose in orchards and covered the ground with hope.