The Origin of Lake Pátzcuaro and the Egret
Based on the Purhépecha Legend
In ancient times on a dark night, before migrant peoples had evolved into the splendor of the Purhépecha nation, an enormous ball of fire appeared in the skies. It grew and grew and then hurtled down into the mountains of the region that is now known as Michoacán. The earth shook mightily, terrifying the inhabitants of the fertile valley where the fireball crashed. At the place of its impact, a spring of crystal clear water gushed up and filled a large area, thus forming Lake Pátzcuaro and its islands.
On the island called Yunuén there came to live a respected noble who had a daughter named Hapunda. The people of Yunuén were devoted to the Princess Hapunda because of her beauty and her sweet nature. Hapunda devoted much time to contemplation of the beautiful lake, conversing intimately with each ripple on its mirror-like surface. The lake was the center and king of its pueblos. The princess and the lake became so close that Hapunda made a promise to the lake never to leave it.
One afternoon the smooth surface of the lake became very agitated at the crossing of a boat from the shore to the island of Yunuén. This vessel carried an old and repugnant warrior who approached Hapunda’s father first with rich gifts and then with threats to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Even though his life was in danger, Hapunda’s father replied that it was up to his daughter to choose her own destiny. He would not force her into such a marriage. But in order to save her father’s life, Princess Hapunda accepted the unwonted proposal.
As preparations for the marriage were made, the princess wept a torrent of tears into the waters of the lake. Hapunda recounted her sorrows at the thought of leaving the lake and her fear that she would soon no longer have even her elderly father to protect her. The voice of the lake rose from the deep, reminding Hapunda of her promise and offering her a way to stay with the lake forever. The voice told Hapunda to dress herself in white and on a moonlit night to throw herself into the lake’s waters.
So on a night illumined by a large silver moon, Princess Hapunda took a boat out to the center of the lake that lay as still as a mirror. There she plunged into the watery depths where she became a guardian of the lake for all time. A ray of light from the moon beamed down to where Hapunda had entered the water and from this place emerged a large bird totally covered with white feathers. This bird was called the egret and it always flew to Hapunda’s favorite place by the water on Yunuén. Today the egrets return to the island of Yunuén every evening as day turns into night.
It is said that the day that the egrets disappear, so too will Lake Pátzcuaro.