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A Pishtaco is a fantasy figure, a boogeyman, in the Andes region of South America, in particular in Peru.


According to folklore, it is an evil monster-like man, often a stranger and often a white man, who seeks out unsuspecting Indians, to kill them and abuse their bodies in disgusting ways, primarily by stealing their body fat for various nefarious cannibalistic purposes or cutting them up and selling their flesh as fried chicharrones. Pishtaco is derived from the local language Quechua word: "pishtay" which mean to "behead, cut the throat or cut into slices"

Preoccupation with body fat has a long tradition in the Andes region. In pre-Hispanic times, fat was so prized that a deity for it existed, Viracocha (Sea of fat). It is also natural for the peasant rural poor to view fleshiness and excess body fat as the very sign of life, good health, strength and beauty. Many illnesses are thought to have their roots in the loss of body fats and skeletal thinness is abhorred. The Indians were horrified when they saw the practice of the Conquistadores of treating their wounds with fats taken from enemy corpses.

Spanish missionaries were feared as Pishtacos by the Andean aboriginals, who believed they were killing people for fat with which to oil churchbells to make them specially sonorous. In modern times similar beliefs held that human fat was needed to grease the machinery of sugar mills or that jet aircraft engines could not be started without a squirt of human fat. Pishtaco beliefs have affected international assistance programs, e.g. leading to rejection of the US Food for Peace program by several communities, out of fears that the real purpose was to fatten children, and later exploit them for their fat. Survey geologists and other Europeans working on the Peruvian and Bolivian altiplano have been attacked by natives in the belief that they were Pishtacos. The work of anthropologists has been stymied because measurements of fat folds were rumoured to be part of a plot to select the fattest individuals later to be targeted by Pishtacos. In 2009 the Pishtaco legend was cited as a possible contributory factor in the apparent fabrication of a story by Peruvian police of a gang murdering up to 60 people to harvest their fat.

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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Pishtaco

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