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Tunupa is among the oldest gods of the people of the southern Andean and Qollasuyu region and is associated with the creative and destructive forces of fire and volcanoes, thunder and lightning. In the classic version of Tunupa’s story, an elderly male figure travels from the north to the south of Lake Titicaca. He is imprisoned, then cast away on a raft on the lake. As his raft drifts, it opens up the Desaguadero River, on which it then floats farther south, giving distinct features to the Andean landscape.

The version recounted here, based on Ramiro Molina Rivero’s contemporary ethnographic research among indigenous people on the southern altiplano, reverses Tunupa’s gender and generational identity. In the southern reaches of the Desagua-dero River, Tunupa becomes a beautiful young woman, associated with the Uyuni salt lake, who is caught up in fraught relations with the masculine sacred forces of the surrounding volcanoes. After fleeing from her abusive marriage with a jealous old mallku (native lord) incarnated in the Asanaques mountain, she travels with her children, along the way shaping the Andean landscape of the region and defining the historical territory of the Quillacas, Asanaques, Aullagas, Uruquillas, and Sevaruyos-Aracapis federations. Her activities represent Andean women’s daily domestic routines, which involve food storage, preparing and cooking quinoa, and feeding and caring for children.1 The surrounding mountains, imagined as fierce young warriors and powerful chiefs, attempt to conquer Tunupa for themselves, but they fail. Today, the mythic heroine Tunupa has taken the shape of a graceful volcano overlooking the Uyuni salt flat.

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