The Lakooma

The following passage in an excerpt from my upcoming book. Barring something unforeseen, my new book should be available this Fall.


Esteban Lucas Bridges (1874-1949), the son of an Anglican missionary, was the third white person born in Ushuaia, often called the “southernmost city in the world,” and capital of Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego province. Bridges chronicled his family’s experiences living in Tierra del Fuego in his book Uttermost Part of the Earth. In his book, he also wrote about the indigenous people of the region and their folklore. Among the native people peoples of the Southern Cone were the Yaghans.

The southernmost people of the Americas, the Yaghans, have legends of a strange creature called the Lakooma; the fearsome predator snatches unsuspecting victims who pass by. These creatures dwell in caves, lakes, and bays where they wait for their prey. The Lakooma resembles a giant hand that bursts out of the water and grabs its victim, dragging them under where they are devoured.

Lucas Bridges recounted an experience that he had in an area known by the natives to harbor a Lakooma. However, he seemed to believe that the legends were rooted in natural phenomenon. On pages 164-165 of his book, he said the following:

Some six miles east of Harberton is a nest of bluffs about five hundred feet high. They are called the Guanaco Hills, and among them are numerous lakes, five of them of considerable size. During the winter these lakes freeze over, and for two or three months, if the ice is covered with snow, herds of cattle can pass over them without danger of breaking the ice.

In one of these lakes lurked a Lakooma. It was said by the Yahgans that any person venturing near the bank ran the risk of being seized by a gigantic hand, which would be thrust out of the water to grab the unlucky one and drag him into the lake to be devoured.

One winter, when everything was frozen hard, I was crossing that same lake alone, with a load of guanaco meat on my back. Suddenly I realized that I was walking on thin ice, when all should have been thick and solid. Right ahead of me was a large hole. I made a wide detour, and crossed the rest of the lake with the utmost caution. I had been on the brink of the Lakooma’s lair.

…there are strong springs, that coming from a great depth underground, that seem warm in winter and icy cold in summer. It is highly likely that the Lakooma lake contained a comparatively shallow area, below which was a powerful spring that, by forcing up water of a higher temperature, prevented ice from forming evenly on the surface.

Possibly the local legend arose through some native less fortunate than I being drowned there; or maybe the sight of a hole in that thick surrounding ice gave some fanciful Indian the notion that it was a breathing place for an under-water monster. There are many other places in Yahga-land where Lakooma are said to dwell. One I know of is where a rock and current have caused a whirlpool, which may, at some time, have been responsible for the loss of a canoe with all on board.

Present-day reports of the Lakooma are lacking if they exist at all. Perhaps this should not be surprising given that its lair resides in a remote location at the “end of the world.” Moreover, a giant hand that grabs victims, is most certainly a myth…It must be—right?

 

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