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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

"I don't think they killed those men, Tomasito," Lituma said at last. "They probably took them away to the militia. The three of them may even have been terrucos. Does Sendero ever disappear people? They just kill them and leave their leaflets behind to let everybody know who did it."

"Pedrito Tinoco a terrorist? No, Corporal, I guarantee he wasn't, " said Tomas. "And that means Sendero is right outside the door. The terrucos won't sign us up in their militia. They'll chop us into hamburger. Sometimes I think the only reason you and I were sent here was to be killed."

In the above quote, Lituma (the protagonist) is addressing Tomas Carreno, his deputy. Both are in Naccos—a Peruvian village—to investigate the disappearance of three men. The men are a mute (Pedro Tinoco), an albino (Casimiro Huarcaya), and a foreman of a blasting crew (Demetrio Chanca). Demetrio, once Don Medardo Llantac, manages to survive a Sendero massacre before he disappears.

The word Sendero in the novel refers to Sendero Luminoso: the Shining Path. The Sendero were Peruvian communists who espoused the beliefs of Marxism, Leninism, and Maoism. They revered the principles behind Mao's Cultural Revolution, which saw the killing of millions of Chinese civilians, and the Khmer Rouge regime's Cambodian purge, which saw the killing of millions of Buddhists, Christians, and minorities.

The Shining Path, the Khmer Rouge, and the Maoist revolutionaries executed anyone suspected of having connections with westerners. All three regimes believed that violent revolution was the only path to a proletariat global rule. What they really espoused was a sort of worldwide communist new order, devoid of any capitalist influence. In Llosa's novel, Sendero revolutionaries murder some French tourists and a group of humanitarian ecologists in cold blood. The word "terruco" is a colloquial term for the Sendero terrorists.

You can read all about Sendero Luminoso (or the Shining Path) in the link below.

"Maybe they got rid of Casimiro Huarcaya because they thought he was a pishtaco," said Dionisio the cantinero. "He spread the rumor himself. I don't know how many times I heard him bellow like a wild board, right there where you're standing: 'I'm a pishtaco and so what? One of these days, I'll slice up your fat and suck out your blood. All of you.' Maybe he was a little high, but everybody knows drunks tell the truth..."

The above quote is an interesting one. In the novel, the serruchos (mountain people) of Naccos are portrayed as a superstitious people. Llosa weaves legends about apus (mountain spirits) and pishtacos (vampires) into the story. Combined with Dionisio, whose very name is evocative of Dionysus (the Greek god of wine), the effect is a striking one. It also gives us some clues as to why the three missing men are eventually murdered.

As we know, Dionysus' bacchanalian feasts were often preceded by human sacrifice. The bacchantes or female worshipers of Dionysus participated in the orgy of killing. You can read all about it from the link below. Llosa's use of Dionisio as a character and the mentions of apus and pishtacos are connected: if the original Greek god Dionysus represented the lifeblood of nature, then it follows that the spilling of human blood would have been a necessary means of appeasing him. In Llosa's story, human sacrifices or killings are seen as necessary to the Sendero's plan for a full-fledged communist new order.

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