The legend of Guajojó: a Bolivian lament

9 May 2023


Could the legend of Guajojó be considered a Bolivian variation of Swan Lake? Although the young woman is also transformed into a bird, this is not a majestic white swan but an ibijau (guajojó), with large yellow-green eyes and grey plumage that enables it to camouflage itself in the tropical regions of Bolivia.

This nocturnal bird from the forests of South America is so atypical that it is easy to recognise, which is why it is the source of a popular legend in the country. It is precisely in the plains of Gran Chiquitania, to the east of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, that Thaki Voyage is heading to tell you this tale, featuring one of the peoples of this region: the Chiquitanos.

The legend recounts the love story between a young girl and a man from the tribe. Her father turned her into a bird, refusing to accept their budding relationship. Today, her song, el lamento, still echoes in the heart of the Amazon. So, in a hostile, thorny setting, go and listen to the cry of the Guajojó and discover for yourself all the tragedy of this legend, so famous in Bolivia!

Thaki Voyage, tell us the legend of Guajojó !

This centuries-old legend tells the story of a young Indian girl, the daughter of the chief, from a group in the Chiquitania region.

One day, she fell in love with a young man from the same tribe, who unfortunately was not of her rank. But love was stronger than spite, and their relationship continued in secret. Unfortunately, the young woman’s father discovered the love affair between his daughter and the boy, so he decided to put an end to the affair as he did not consider the man worthy of marrying his daughter.

Using trickery, the young woman’s father, who was also a magician, deceived the young suitor by taking him into the jungle. Deep in the forest, the cacique used his shamanic powers to murder her.

After the prolonged absence of her lover, the young woman suspected an unfortunate meeting between her father and his beloved and set off in desperate search of him. Indeed, it was in the jungle that she found him lying lifeless beside her father. With the evidence so clear, the young woman threatened to expose his crime to the whole village.

To prevent her from acting, the old sorcerer chose to transform her into a night bird: el Guajojó, so that no one would know what had really happened. By using magic, he did not kill his daughter, but before the metamorphosis was complete, she managed to pronounce the name of her beloved. It was through the bird’s throat that the unfortunate young girl cried out her grief. To this day, she mourns the death of her beloved through this lament.

The nights in the jungle are long, which is why after sunset you can hear the song of the Guajojó, a sad, heart-rending sound emitted by this cursed bird, which symbolises the young girl’s painful lament after the death of her lover.

Please draw me a Guajojó

The Guajojó is a very popular bird in Bolivia. It is not very pleasing to the eye, compared with other more colourful species of bird in the region. However, it is its grey colour that allows it to be mistaken for the dry trunks of the Amazon rainforest and helps it during the various attacks it faces.

It is an elusive and solitary bird, with a thin, narrow beak and a unique characteristic: a strange song called El lamento del pájaro Guajojó. You’ll be amazed when you hear this melodious but above all very sad song, which is reminiscent of human lament.

Animals are often chosen to illustrate Bolivian stories, and here it’s interesting to understand the choice of this bird in this legend. Through the Guajojó bird, the men speak of love, and precisely of an impossible love.

If a love does not unfold, the consequences can be disastrous, like the bird whose wings are cut off. It loses what it was born to do: fly. The bird will die because it will not be able to fly.

Legend inspires artists in Santa Cruz de la Sierra

Bolivian myths and legends have never ceased to be a source of inspiration for the locals, not least the legend of Guajojó, which comes to life in a region boasting a fantastic natural environment and a wealth of wild animals.

Our March article on Santa Cruz de la Sierra and Gran Chiquitania already refers to the many places where you can discover these species, such as the Parque nacional Amboró, the jewel of this tropical region, which takes its name from the Chiquitanos, one of the original peoples of this area.

This tribe lives mainly in the tropical savannah of Chiquitania, near Santa Cruz de la Sierra, which is why the legend continues to influence the country’s children.

Both born in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, the composer Percy Ávila immortalised the sadness of this story in a song in 1968, entitled El Guajojó, and it was also this eponymous title that artist Kenia Almaraz Murillo chose in 2021 for one of her weavings, paying homage to this bird.

With piercing eyes made from neon LEDs and scooter headlights, the visual artist transcribes her vision of this bird in a way that is both traditional and contemporary. We invite you to read or re-read the article from April to find out more about her connection with Bolivia!

Keep your ears open when you visit the jungles of the Bolivian Amazon. Thaki Voyage will be delighted to guide you to the Guajojó to discover its incredible song, and while you’re waiting for a new legend, contact us to plan your trip to Bolivia!

Mathilde Leroux