Terrifying Legends of Peru #6: El Tunche

(Photo: La Habitacion de Tutogo/Facebook)

When you hear the whistling of the Tunche, pray and run for your life…

No one knows for certain what the Malignant Tunche looks like.  There is only one thing that everyone knows: it reveals its presence by a whistling sound, a sound people fear throughout the Peruvian Amazon.

You may be walking home alone through the forest, past a cemetery, even down the road in your own village when you hear the whistling of the Tunche.  At first, you may think it is a bird or animal in the distance, but then it draws closer, and closer, and closer UNTIL…

Thanks for joining us again for another round of Terrifying Legends of Peru.  If you enjoy these tales, please like, comment, and share with your friends to let us know if you want some more.  Now get your popcorn ready and prepare for the kinds of chills only the boogeyman of the jungle can induce!

The Legend

This tale is not a personal experience.  I wrote the story in 1st person for artistic effect. It is adapted from ‘true’ stories found on Youtube and around the internet.  

My grandmother used to tell all kinds of stories when my siblings and I were young. As I grew older I stopped believing all of them, except one: the story of the Tunche. It seems that every time I think I’ve forgotten it, it has always come back to haunt me.

(Photo: Pxhere)

There were always two kinds of spirits in her stories. One was the soul of a recently deceased person, walking the same steps over and over. You knew it by the whistle; it gave out long, muffled blasts like “fffffip….ffffip…ffffip” to let you know it was coming.  She said they were usually harmless as long as you got out of their way and never said anything bad about them.  Otherwise, they would come later to haunt your dreams.  Still, no one ever disappeared or died from these ghosts.

The other kind of tortured soul my grandmother talked about was the Malignant Tunche.

“He is the soul of the cruel, violent man who will never find peace.  No one has ever seen him, and few who have ever heard his whistling live to tell the tale.  You will know him by his whistle; short and persistent, it cuts the night air and chills the bone.  Beware the malignant Tunche; never journey far into the jungle alone, and never ever mock him or imitate his sound,” she warned.

That’s why she never showed us how the whistle sounded, but it didn’t matter because if we ever heard it, we would know by the dread that we felt when it came near.

A few years later, when my grandmother was very ill, I could have sworn I heard a faint whistling outside as I slept, and I felt a tingling down my spine although I didn’t know why. The next morning, they told me my grandmother had passed away.

My Uncle’s Encounter

When I was in my teens, my uncle came closer than any of us to being taken by the Tunche. As a young woman, I had stopped believing in most of the legends people told about our jungle.

(Photo: Pxhere)

My uncle worked for the National Police and was stationed at the prison near our town, located in the department of Loreto. A few prisoners had escaped and so they sent my uncle and three other officers to look for the runaway.

They came to a stream carving its path through the jungle floor and the canopy became very dense. So dense, that the late afternoon sun barely penetrated.

Then, they heard a sharp whistle approaching.

The officers looked to see what appeared to be an orb of light approaching them from upstream. They didn’t know why but the sound filled them with the most horrible fear, so they began to run back the way they had come. Later, my uncle told us all what happened and I remembered my grandmother.

Little did I know I would soon have my own encounter with the Malignant Tunche.

Several Months Later

In my last year of secondary school, I would often sneak out at night to see my friend Luis who ran the town’s only cabina with his two older brothers. A lot of the town boys liked to go and play video games on the computers until really late at night  I didn’t play much because I thought it was a waste of money, but I liked to hang out, watch, and talk to Luis.

They closed down extra late that night – around 3 o’ clock in the morning and all the boys went home. Luis offered to walk me home but I told him not to worry, it was only 2 blocks away after all.

“Careful Karla,” he teased, “the Tunche might come for you.”

I felt a shiver of fear as I remembered what my uncle told me, but I didn’t want to show Luis that.

“Oh, real scary,” I laughed.  “See you in class tomorrow.” We said goodbye and I walked the opposite direction of Luis.  Two blocks, I told myself, only two blocks.  I reached the intersection where to one side only a field with a lone tree separated me from the dark jungle beyond.

Then I heard it.

fip fip fip fip fip fip fip fip fip

The sinister and persistent whistling coming toward me. I walked more quickly, turning from the sound as my heart filled with a horrible dread. I could see my house now.  The sound approached more quickly and I looked back quickly.  I saw nothing, but the whistling had reached the lone tree in the field.

fip fip fip fip fip fip fip fip fip

The door of my house was locked I knocked frantically hoping one of my parents would open quickly. Now the sound came from the edge of the field where it met the street.

fip fip fip fip fip fip fip fip fip

(Photo: Pxhere)

The sound was only meters away and approaching up the dark road. In that moment, my mother opened and I ran inside, slamming it shut. I told her what happened.

“Karla, didn’t your grandmother ever tell you to beware of the Tunche?” she reproached.  Of course, she would have heard all the same stories.

I didn’t see Luis the next day at school and he didn’t come the day after either.  I went to ask his brothers after school and they told me he was ill and wasn’t seeing guests.  He had lost all recognition of everyone and everything.

No one else knew what had happened to him, but I knew.

He shouldn’t have mocked the Tunche.

The True Story?

Just like our previous story about the Condemned of the Andes, it is difficult to even speculate where exactly the Tunche comes from. People still tell the legend of the Tunche throughout the Peruvian Amazon and are always inventing new stories.

The Tunche, like the Condemned, is loaded with symbolism about death and many stories seem meant to teach respect for the dead.  The Tunche leaves those it attacks without the ability to recognize their friends and family or their home in many stories.

What didn’t I figure out? Is there only one Malignant Tunche or many?

Diario Correo gives some insight into the true nature of the Tunche legend. They even suggest that the spirit originated as a“Protector of the Forest,” which only harms those who disrespect or damage the jungle. They remark that in recent years films and those who like to tell scary stories like myself have overly demonized this guardian.

Or perhaps in recent years, the Tunche is taking its anger out on humanity more often for the harm we are doing to the jungle through oil drilling and deforestation.  Either way, if I hear a whistling next time I visit the Peruvian Amazon, I’ll definitely be running the other way.

Whats next on Terrifying Legends of Peru?  Tune in next week to find out!


Sources and Related Links:

La Leyenda del Tunche – Selva Peruana (Youtube)

El Tunche – experiencia verdadera (Youtube)

El Tunche – Guardian de los Bosques 

Historias Perdidas en el Tiempo – El Tunche

© Michael Lee Dreckschmidt, 2017.  Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Lee Dreckschmidt and Living in Peru with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



Mike grew up and eventually attended university in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He graduated in Integrative Leadership Studies with an emphasis in Urban and Regional Planning and has been a part of planning projects in three different countries. Mike’s passion is reading; he devours both literature and nonfiction. His favorite author is Peru’s own Julio Ramón Ribeyro.