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Pistaku, Peruvian Retablo, Ayacucho.

A pishtaco is a mythological boogeyman figure in the Andes region of South America, particularly in Peru and Bolivia. Some parts of the Andes refer to the pishtaco as kharisiri, or ñakaq, or lik'ichiri in the Aymara language.[1]

Legend and its effects[edit]

According to folklore, a pishtaco is an evil monster-like man—often a stranger and often a white man—who seeks out unsuspecting Indians to kill them and abuse them in many ways. The legend dates back to the Spanish conquest of South America[citation needed]. Primarily, this has been stealing their body fat for various cannibalistic purposes, or cutting them up and selling their flesh as fried chicharrones. Pishtaco derives from the local Quechua-language word "pishtay" which means to "behead, cut the throat, or cut into slices".[2]

The preoccupation with body fat has a long tradition in the Andes region. Pre-Hispanic natives prized fat so much that a deity, Viracocha (meaning sea of fat), existed for it. It is also natural for the peasant rural poor to view fleshiness and excess body fat as the very sign of life, good health, strength and beauty. Many illnesses are thought to have their roots in the loss of body fats, and skeletal thinness is abhorred.[3] With this, the conquistadores' practice of treating their wounds with their enemies' corpse fats horrified the Indians.[4] Spaniards are also said to have killed Indians and boiled their corpses to produce fat to grease their metal muskets and cannons, which rusted quickly in the humid Amazon.[5]

Andean Aboriginals feared Spanish missionaries as pishtacos, believing the missionaries were killing people for fat, thereafter oiling church bells to make them especially sonorous.[6] In modern times, similar beliefs held that sugar mill machinery needed human fat as grease,[7][8] or that jet aircraft engines could not start without a bit of human fat.[9]

Pishtaco beliefs have affected international assistance programs, e.g. leading to rejection of the US Food for Peace program by several communities, out of fears that the real purpose was to fatten children and later exploit them for their fat.[9] Natives have attacked survey geologists working on the Peruvian and Bolivian altiplano who believed that the geologists were pishtacos.[10] The work of anthropologists has been stymied because measurements of fat folds were rumoured to be part of a plot to select the fattest individuals later to be targeted by pishtacos.[8] In 2009, the pishtaco legend was cited as a possible contributory factor in the apparent fabrication of a story by Peruvian police of a gang murdering up to 60 people to harvest their fat.[11]

In popular culture[edit]

The pishtaco is prominently referenced in the novel Death in the Andes by Mario Vargas Llosa. In the book, two members of the Peruvian Civil Guard investigate the disappearance of three men, trying to determine if they were killed by the Shining Path guerilla group or by mythical monsters.[12]

Pishtacos were primary plot source drivers and antagonists in the ninth season episode "The Purge" of the TV series Supernatural. This version of the Pishtaco have a lamprey-like appendage emitted from their mouth which feeds off fat. A human male marries a pishtaco female and the two start a weight-loss retreat so the female could sustain herself while helping those who wished to lose weight only for her brother to decide that he preferred killing those he fed from. A minor running gag was the near homophony of the word "pishtaco" with the phrase "fish taco". The male pishtaco is killed by Sam and Dean Winchester and the female pishtaco is given a one-way ticket back to Peru.[citation needed]

Pistacos are also featured in the Gail Carriger novel "Competence," the third book in her Custard Protocol series. The crew of the Spotted Custard travel to the Peruvian Andes in search of a supposed newly discovered breed of vampire that is on the verge of extinction. The pishtacos in this story are described as being very tall, incredibly thin, shock-white haired, and red eyed with a single columnar tooth for fat-sucking instead of the traditional elongated canine teeth of vampires for blood-sucking. This appearance is a result of the transformation from human to pishtaco.[13] The pishtacos in this story also feed on fat.[13]

In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the pishtacos appear as mythical creatures who hunt the organization of Trinity.[citation needed][further explanation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Canessa, Andrew (2000). "Fear and loathing on the kharisiri trail: Alterity and identity in the Andes". Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. 6 (4): 705–720. doi:10.1111/1467-9655.00041.
  2. ^ Benson:xx
  3. ^ Weismantel:199-200
  4. ^ McLagan:216. Marrin:76
  5. ^ Anderson, Jon Lee (8 August 2016). "The Distant Shore". The New Yorker. Retrieved 12 September 2016.
  6. ^ Kristal
  7. ^ Franco
  8. ^ a b Nordstrom:122
  9. ^ a b Scheper-Hughes:236
  10. ^ Gow
  11. ^ Collyns, Dan (2 December 2009). "Peru human fat killings 'a lie'". BBC News. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  12. ^ Vargas Llosa, Mario (1997). Death in the Andes. Penguin Books.
  13. ^ a b Carrigerr, Gail (2019). COMPETENCE. ORBIT US. ISBN 9780316433853.


External links[edit]

Pishtaco texts in Quechua[edit]

  • S. Hernán AGUILAR: Kichwa kwintukuna patsaatsinan. AMERINDIA n°25, 2000. Pishtaku 1, Pishtaku 2 (in Ancash Quechua, with Spanish translation)
  • RUNASIMI.de: Nakaq (Nak'aq). Wañuchisqanmanta wirata tukuchinkus rimidyuman. Recorded by Alejandro Ortiz Rescaniere in 1971, told by Aurelia Lizame (25 years old), comunidad de Wankarama / Huancarama, provincia de Andahuaylas, departamento del Apurímac. Alejandro Ortiz Rescaniere, De Adaneva a Inkarri: una visión indígena del Perú. Lima, 1973. pp. 164–165 (in Chanka Quechua).