The Calafate is a bush that grows in Patagonia. There is a legend that anyone who eats the berries from this bush will always return to the region. Here are two tales relating to this; one from the Ona people that used to live in Tierra del Fuego and the other from the Tehuelches, a nomadic people that lived further north. Sadly both of these peoples are no longer with us.
There was once a tribal chieftain of a race that lived at the bottom of the world and is now completely lost to us. He had a beautiful daughter called Calafate who had jet black hair and huge yellow-golden eyes, and he was very proud and very protective of her.
One day a young man named Selk’nam from another tribe happened to pass by where the young girl lived. He spotted Calafate walking on the shore and approached her; their eyes met and they were both immediately smitten. They met once again, and that day they pledged undying love and a lifetime together.
But their tribes warred with each other and the young lovers knew their elders would never accept them marrying, so they decided to run away together. The chieftain heard of their plans and was very upset. After long thought he decided that his daughter must have become possessed by the evil spirit Gualicho; why else would she consort with his enemies? In his anger he consulted his shaman and told him to do whatever was necessary to stop Calafate and Selk’nam escaping.
The shaman was not a bad person but he was obedient to his chief, and he used his magic to turn the young girl into a bush with yellow flowers, the bush that we know today as the Calafate bush. She would be going nowhere now.
Selk’nam soon found out that she had been transformed and was now covered with sharp thorns. He could look at her, but could never touch her. His frustration was overbearing. Each yellow flower reminded him of her deep, golden eyes. Heart-broken, he died in the night of grief.
When the shaman heard of Selk’nam’s death he felt bad and caused the flowers on the bush to change into delicious purple berries, formed from the heart of the brave young man. These are the berries that appear each year in the Autumn, and it is said today that anyone who eats these berries is bewitched by the shaman’s spells on Calafate and Selk’nam, and once they have tasted the fruit they will always be drawn magically back to Patagonia.
The Tehuelche people were indigenous, nomadic tribesmen who inhabitated the Patagonian pampas where today are the Provinces of Chubut and Santa Cruz. Tourists visiting the region today may have seen the caves filled with painted hands that their ancestors left hundreds of years ago.
One day, many moons ago, the chief of the tribe decided it was time to move north. Winter was approaching and they needed to be further away from the snow and ice that would soon arrive. An elderly woman in the tribe realized that she was too old and weak to travel with the others, so when the time to leave came she hid and was left behind to endure the hardships of winter alone. Some women in the tribe left for her a tent made from guanaco skins and some wood and food to keep her alive, but her companions didn’t think she would survive the harsh winter weather.
But the old woman did not die. Not exactly. Through some kind of magic, and it is not clear whose, she was mysteriously transformed into a bush with yellow flowers; the bush we know today as the Calafate. The bush provided shelter for the birds, protecting them from the cold wind and ice. And each year, as winter approached, the bush bore berries which provided them with food. Year on year the birds would return to safety of the the magical calafate bush.
Indeed, some birds stopped migrating altogether and as the news spread many of those who had left returned to try the new fruit. So did the Tehuelches when they returned the following spring, and they quickly adopted this new plant as part of their diet. Slowly the plant propagated throughout the region and now it can be seen everywhere, And they say that for ever after, like the birds and the Tehueches of old, for they are long gone too, “whosoever eats of the Calafate berry will always return to Patagonia”.