During the economic crisis of the s, when rural residents immigrated to urban centers, the pishtaco reappeared as the sacojos, white medical technicians in dark suits who steal and dismember children. Others say that the Army puts such stories about in the hope that outsiders in a community may be attacked What is interesting about the recent spate of pistacho stories is their location: All this, I suspect, leaves open the distinct possibility that assuming the Peruvian police have the story straight at all these modern pishtacos did not acquire their nickname from a mere coincidental resemblance to beings from an old Andean legend. Anyway, since the term has become so debased of late, and with relatively little information about the pishtacos readily available, it seems worth repeating my original FT article here, if only for the purpose of comparison. University of Chicago Press, , notes that such stories "often begin with the dangerous moment when a stranger appears on Indian land" and tells another tale in which the killers are Francsican monks, hooded and robed, and the fat they take is used to grease church bells — apparently so as to improve their tone.
It seems considerably more likely that Peru's new fat-stealers have spent the past 30 years or so quite consciously apeing the bogeymen's reputed modus operandi, for reasons that are no doubt horrifying, but which at present still elude us. Tarea, , argues that t he genesis of the legend goes back several centuries, and may pre-date the Spanish conquest. De Verdugos a Sacaojos Lima: Stories of Race and Sex in the Andes Chicago: Anthropologists suggest that the current endemic unrest in Peru — where a bloody state of near-war exists between the authorities and Maoist 'Shining Path' guerillas — may account for the return of the pistachos. University of Chicago Press, , notes that such stories "often begin with the dangerous moment when a stranger appears on Indian land" and tells another tale in which the killers are Francsican monks, hooded and robed, and the fat they take is used to grease church bells — apparently so as to improve their tone. As described by the local Indians, they greatly resemble the picture of the stereotypical Spanish landowner. Pistachos are folk-devils, white-skinned men dressed in broad-brimmed hats, greatcoats and riding boots who steal children from the streets at night. They are voracious, preferring human flesh when it can be got, drinking large quantities of milk, and are notorious rapists. One Portuguese journalist went so far as to define 'pistachos' as "vampires who feed on fat. The sixteenth century Peruvian chronicler Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala , who wrote on the appalling treatment meted out to South America's indigenous peoples and drew - he was a remarkable artist [his depiction of a wizard consorting with the devil can be seen left] , describes a variety of sorcerer who mixed human fat with gold and feathers to cast spells. This ties in well not only with the common modern legend of the organ-snatcher but with other bits of commentary; it is mentioned, for example, that the pishtaco's purpose has evolved over the years, so that now their main aim is to sell fat to the government, which exports it to help write down the enormous foreign loans that burden the country. Its origin may have been the practice of colonizing Spanish soldiers who took Indian fat to help heal their wounds. It seems possible this latter detail is another more modern addition to a centuries-old story capable of multiple interpretations; my own first guess was that the pishtacos may have had their origins in a combination of old fertility rites and the sort of desperate measures resorted to in order to stay alive in horribly impoverished areas during times of dearth and drought. Others say that the Army puts such stories about in the hope that outsiders in a community may be attacked The legend is actually very well-known in Peru and throughout much of South America, but it seems to have been new to some of the journalists who wrote up the murder case, several of who explained that the word is used nowadays to refer to any murderer for hire. On occasion they allow their female victims live in order to give birth to pishtacquitos, who grow up to accompany their father on his travels. For one thing, the rendering methods described by the captured gang members are so lo-tech that the product which might theoretically have some applications in filling and plumping products would be dangerously impure. The pishtaco's modus operandi, Tauro del Pino adds, is to strangle his victims, after which he eats their meat and sells their fat. What is interesting about the recent spate of pistacho stories is their location: In the eighteenth century, the pishtaco appeared as a priest with a knife, and then evolved into a man on horseback or in a powerful car. An innocent man was beaten to death in Ayacucho , and our source, the Independent of 29 Dec , mentions that the son of a British diplomat narrowly escaped lynching, in some indeterminate place, at some time or another. The pishtacos, we learn, worked "by removing the head, arms, legs and organs, then suspending the bodies above candles to allow the fat to drip down into tubs". Here, then, is the legend of the pishtacos as it appeared in print two decades ago, at a time when Peru was far more troubled than it is today: For one thing, according to the gang members detained by the local police, their group has been in existence for a surprisingly long time. That idea is supported by some scholars, but other interpretations are possible. Anyway, since the term has become so debased of late, and with relatively little information about the pishtacos readily available, it seems worth repeating my original FT article here, if only for the purpose of comparison.
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