El Tio–A Biography

07 Oct

Larry Buchanan

     The Quechua of the Bolivian Andes believe in a multitude of gods.  The one most obvious to all and universally believed is the god of the Catholics.  But there are others, mostly Quechua and Aymara gods, such as the gentle and lovely Pachamama, the god of the earth.  There is her lover, Huiracocha, an old man with a long white beard who lives in the bottom of Lake Titicaca.  There are an unusual number of spirits, souls, saints, goblins and sprites of various types and personalities, some good, some quite evil.  And then there is El Tio, a particularly cruel and peevish god, who lives his entire life within the black interior of mountains guarding his precious veins of gold and silver, a god actually created by the Spanish. 

     El Tío was born as an adult around the year 1605 and over the centuries has lived his life beneath the surface of the earth, though he does come out from time to time, especially at night when he is hungry.  Even in the absolute black of his subterranean home, El Tío’s beard and mustache glow orange or yellow.  His eyes are blue; his face, Caucasian, resembling those of his creators, the Spanish overlords who ruled by the whip in the mines of the Andes.  In a blasphemous rewriting of Genesis, the Spanish molded a clay god after their own diabolic likeness and enthroned him to rule in this sunless underworld, telling the frightened workers that this hideous clay figure was El Diablo, their Dios of the underground.  This god guaranteed torture and death for any exhausted native who dreamed he could somehow escape his mita, the impossible quota of toil demanded of every indigenous male in the Andes.  The Spanish felt the workers’ fear of angering this hungry demon would be stronger than their desire to escape the smoke-filled mines, and the miners certainly did come to fear him for they soon learned the hard way that El Tío had an insatiable appetite for human flesh.  And he was always hungry.

        “Here you will work beneath the earth, beyond the touch of the Santa María and the Saints, here in the realm of the Devil,” the overlords said to the frightened workers.  “Obey us you must, and fear him you should, for if you do not, this devil, your Dios, will devour you.”  The rumor is that the Quechua could not pronounce the lisp in the Spanish “Dios.”   Over the years it became “Tíos,” then “El Tío.” 

        Time removed the Spaniards from the mines, their bones and blood an inadequate payment for their sins.  But gods remain forever, and this god, El Tío, had promised that he had hidden a gift for those who continued to believe in him, a gift to be unveiled in the year 2000.  The gift promised to change their lives forever.  But true to the perverse nature of this harsh god, in accepting the gift the people must also accept the strings attached:  the destruction of their village and loss of their entire way of life.

"The Gift of El Tio" by Larry Buchanan and Karen Gans


Larry Buchanan co-wrote the memoir The Gift of El Tio with his wife, Karen Gans, after discovering a HUGE silver deposit underneath a centuries-old town in Bolivia.  The read more about his book go to

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Posted by on October 7, 2011 in Uncategorized


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