The Legend of Iquitos
The Story of How Iquitos Got it's Name
By Juan Maldonado

Many years ago the land that is now the City of Iquitos was inhabited by the Iquito natives who gave their name to the city. However the Iquito natives left long ago and lived in the area near the village of Nina Rumi on the Nanay River. Over the years the Iquito natives stayed there speaking their own language keeping to themselves. Now nearly 200 years later there are only a few Iquito natives left and they are getting old. In 10 to 15 years time there will be none left.

One of the last 24 people on Earth that speaks the Iquito language

The question is why did they leave their land on which Iquitos now stands and move away?

This is the legend of why they left...

Many years ago, the natives lived happily near the area which is now Iquitos until there appeared a sorcerer who took pleasure in sleeping with married women. He tricked them and convinced them unwittingly with his magic. The men finally discovered who was the offender and surrounded him in the night and killed him with their spears. They placed his remains in a “Tinaja”, a clay pot, and buried it beneath his family's house. One day the family heard sounds coming from under the house and so they dug up the Tinaja. They took out the clay pot and opened it. Instead of the remains of the sorcerer, inside there was a jaguar cub. They took it into their house and began to raise it.

As the jaguar grew it began to go out at dusk to hunt, returning the next day full of its prey. It began to eat people, men most of all, and the people became terrified and decided to escape. One rainy night they all fled up the Nanay River in canoes to escape the Jaguar. They had forgotten and left behind an old grandmother and her two grandchildren, a boy of 10 years old and a girl of 12. They had been fishing in the lake and when they returned to the evacuated village, they guessed that everyone had fled in fear of the jaguar.

One of their ancient customs was to go to the toilet on the shores of a lake, a stream or a river, never in the forest. So when the grandmother and her grandchildren had to go to relieve themselves, they sat on the shore of the lake, the three of them together. The jaguar appeared, saw them and approached to eat them, but backed away when he could smell the human excrement. He told them in his language that he could not eat them, but would wait and eat them one by one when they had finished. Their grandmother, having heard and understood him, covered herself in her own excrement, all over her body, and the jaguar would not approach them. The three of them did this every day.

After several years the young boy, then a young man, told his grandmother that his sister was pregnant and that he did not want to cover the baby in excrement as they had to do every day. So they went to the lake and brought back the only canoe, an old one with cracks in it and in need of repair. They dried it and boiled the sap of the copal tree to fill the cracks and strengthen the canoe. The jaguar saw the grandmother boiling the copal sap in a clay pot and asked her what she was doing. She responded that she was preparing an herbal medicine to treat her eyes as she was old and could not see very well. The jaguar told her that he too was old and could not see as well as he used to, then he ordered her to give him the medicine first. She said that she would not because he would eat her if she went close enough to give it to him. Then the jaguar told her to tie him up firmly to a tree with a vine with his claws tied above his head. So she tied him well, then bathed themselves for the first time in years. The jaguar tried to free himself but could not. They emptied the pot of boiling resin over the jaguar’s head and killed him, then they pierced him with spears and cut him into pieces.

They cut off his paws, made four necklaces, and placed them around the necks of four blue headed parrots. These they told to fly off in search of the other iquito people and to tell them that the jaguar had been killed and they could return to their land. When the parrots came back they told them that the iquitos natives were happy in the highlands of the Nina Rumi area, and were very content there. Some returned but others stayed and a few are still there to this day.
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