Friday, November 20, 2009

Pishtaco

A horrifying story in the weird news today raises the specter of the pishtaco, a vampire-like demon in Andean folklore. Peruvian police have arrested 3 (or by another acount, 4) members of a gang of at least 9 people accused of killing peasants and selling their body fat for use in cosmetics. The suspects have confessed to 5 such murders, but are believed to have killed dozens of people over several decades. At a press conference, police displayed 2 bottles of what was confirmed to be liquified human fat, carried by the suspects when they were arrested in a Lima bus station. Said to be worth $16,000 or more per gallon for use in anti-wrinkle cream, the fat had been extracted from the thorax and thighs by dismembering the body and suspending it above a candle to allow the fat to drip into a vat below.

Pishtacos were characterized as white foreigners who found their Indian victims on dark lonely roads, killed them with machetes, and extracted their fat to make soaps, lubricants, healing salves, and beauty creams. A review of Mario Vargas Llosa's 1996 book Death in the Andes explains the myth and quotes from the book: Pishtacos, half-gringo ghouls who are said to live in caves, lurk along the highways, and suck the fat out of anyone foolish enough to travel the Andean roads at night. Pishtacos "needed human fat to make church bells sing more sweetly and tractors run more smoothly....They not only slit their victims' throats but butchered them like cattle, or sheep, or hogs, and ate them. Bled them drop by drop and got drunk on the blood."

The Peruvian police have not charged their suspects with cannibalism - that's another (recent) story altogether: Police in Perm, Russia, have arrested 3 homeless men for attacking a 25-year-old with knives and a hammer, eating part of his body, and selling parts to a kebab and pie kiosk...reminiscent in this case not of myth, but of Sweeney Todd.

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