The Legend of Tunupa: Origin of the Salar de Uyuni

March 13, 2019

The Legend of Tunupa: Origin of the Salar de Uyuni

Once known as the Salar of Tunupa and now called the Salar of Uyuni can be seen from the moon, holds the world’s largest supply of lithium plus many other minerals, and serves as habitat for many life forms. Most of Bolivia’s quinoa production is cultivated on the cold, dry salty soils around the salt flats. There are many legends told by the Aymara culture about the origin of this region, here’s one of them.

Long ago, the volcanoes of the altiplano walked and moved to meet and have conversations. In this desert region, at 12,000 feet above sea level, there was only one female volcano: Tunupa. She became pregnant and bore a small volcano whose father was unknown. All of the volcanoes that had courted her wanted to be the baby’s father. All night they fought. Finally they took the baby volcano away from his mother and hid him in Colchani.

The gods were furious and to punish the volcanoes they took away their right to move and talk. Tunupa had nursed her child, the baby volcano, and now she could not find him. Volcano Tunupa, like the others, was pinned to the earth and silenced. She did not know that in Colchani, there is a small volcano that looked much like her. The mother volcano cried and cried. Her tears and her mother’s milk ran over the arid land that ever since has been white and salty: Salar de Uyuni.

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