Myths or Legends?

Claudia Chambi

Since ancient times, there have always been myths and legends, and they have been considered part of a people’s culture. But, often we ask “what’s the difference?” or “do they mean the same thing?” The word ‘myth’ comes from the greek ‘mythos’ which means ‘story’ or ‘tale.’ Legend, which is more commonly used in Latin cultures, comes from ‘legere,’ a latin word translated as ‘choose and read.’

Myths are beliefs of a culture or people, and are often viewed as true stories.

In turn, when we speak of legends, it’s possible to think that some things are not real or they could be produced by one’s imagination. However, some people will assure you that some legends are true. According to American folklorist Richard Dorson, a legend is defined as an updated story told as if it were true. So, we can say that a legend is a popular narrative which is told like a true story, passed down from generation to generation. Usually, this narrative doesn’t have as much veracity as a myth.

There is a variety of legends in Bolivian culture. Since ancient times, our ancestors would retell these stories from one generation to the next and we can be sure that rural populations believe in the supernatural more than people from the cities. For example, like when a child falls and gets hurt, it’s said that their ajayu (soul) is driven away and the child may get sick or even die. That’s why calling the ajayu back to the child is the first thing that has to be done. Using clothes or a possession belonging to the child prevents the spirit from getting far away from the body. This example can be considered a mythical belief.

There are some amazing legends in Bolivia that people swear are true since they are generally stories related to their region or their culture. In this category we have a never ending list of examples in both literature and oral narrative. One example is “The Legend of the Amantala Bridge” which recounts the story of a village located in northern La Paz. Here, there was a bridge that would fall apart and the people were sure that it had it’s own energy and spirit. Another example, “The legend of the Coca,” tells about the rule of the Inca Atahuallpa, who was critically injured by the invading Spanish. In his suffering, he asked his god to make his enemies disappear, but his god told him that this was impossible. Nevertheless, he said that he would make a special plant sprout from the earth, who’s leaves would make him forget about the hunger and pain of his people.

At the same time, there are also urban legends nowadays. These kinds of stories are more intriguing for young people since they are more contemporary, like the stories told about Jaén street, right in the heart of the city. With it’s colonial look, this street is perfect for creating a supernatural atmosphere and generating stories about ghosts who roam the streets, dressed in typical colonial garb and haunting the people who live there. Because of this, there is a famous green cross hanging at the entrance of the street to chase away the evil spirits.

And there you have a small sample of stories and beliefs reflecting Bolivian culture and tradition.


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Bolivian culture / myths and legends / Latin cultures / The legend of the Coca / Jaén / American folkloriststreet