In 1965 Spanish journalists, scientists, and media figures began receiving letters that claimed to be from alien visitors to Earth. These visitors came from the planet Ummo and were studying Earth culture. The Ummites said they had researchers in many countries and, in fact, many of the letters were mailed from outside of Spain. Ummites readilly answered questions about themselves and their technology, even diagramming the workings of an Umman space ship — a flying saucer! Further, in 1967, the Ummites announced that they would be landing a ship near Madrid and that spectators were welcome to watch. Many people came to witness the event. Several people took pictures of the ship and the prints left by its landing gear. On the bottom of the ship the Ummo symbol (curiously like that for Uranus) could be seen. Earth had visitors from fourteen light years away!
Ummo had become interested in Earth after picking up a morse code signal from a Norwegian ship experimenting with high frequency communication in the 1930s. After some debate among themselves over the desirability of contacting Earth, they finally sent a probe that landed in France in 1950. Since that time, Ummites had communicated with many Earthlings, though their communications were hedged with rules about publishing them. Those who broke the rules received no further letters.
There were many skeptics in the media and, outside of Spain, the Ummo phenomenon was pretty much ignored. A few who examined the Ummo documents proclaimed them to be scientific claptrap and a ufologist who attended the Madrid landing said that it was a fake. No one really read the Ummo documents in the correct spirit, however. For instance: the first Terran artifacts retrieved and studied by the Ummites were sheets of paper inscribed with ink and smeared with fecal matter — a copy of le Figaro used as toilet paper by a Basque peasant! No one laughed. Nor did people pay much attention to the words, “Do not believe me”, that were part of every Umman letter.
One person who may have chuckled a bit was Madrid psychologist Jordan Peña. It was Peña who dreamed up the Ummo hoax in order to test his theories about belief systems and paranoia:
There is nothing wrong with paranoia as long as it’s pursued with vigor and a sense of humor. The problem with most people is that they are not paranoid enough: they are naive enough to believe they are on their own side. Be paranoid about your paranoia…
He enlisted others — mainly artists and political dissidents — who used the hoax as a platform for their own ideas. Franco was still in power and it was dangerous to openly espouse anti-capitalist, anti-militarist views, unless you lived on a far away planet beyond the police powers of the Spanish state. A police agent, suspecting that they were spies for a foreign power, did infiltrate the Ummo group. In time, he became a docile adherent of the organization. There were no further problems with the government.
The Ummo story percolated for a few years, finally losing most of its steam after Franco died. But the Ummite message was spread by some who continued to believe and, in South America, it came to the attention of Juana Pordiavel and her husband, Carlos Opanova. Juana, a Peruvian, was fresh out of a mental hospital when she met Opanova, leader of a cult called The Deer of the Sixth Christ. He had his own mental problems but the couple married and managed to get along until 1963, when they moved the cult to Bolivia. They squatted in an abandoned bulding in Oruro that was tagged New Heavenly Jerusalem. Juana was taken back into custodial care, then released. Meanwhile, the authorities had become suspicious of the Deer and concerned about reports that children had disappeared around New Heavenly Jerusalem. In 1967, the group was forced out of their squat and scattered around Bolivia.
Juana and her husband took most of the Deer treasury and moved to La Paz. There, Opanova heard about Ummo. Very quickly the Deer of the Sixth Christ became the Daughters of Ummo. Juana changed her name to Florencia Dinovi Gutiérrez and Opanova announced that he was an Ummite and his name was Yiewaka. Their cult began drawing members from the poor quarters of La Paz. The Church was a little upset about this new cult but Guitiérrez took it on directly: she renounced Catholicism and had some of her members steal a chalice and some wafers from a church; in a public ceremony, she urinated on them. She was committed to an institution for a while in 1984 but otherwise has been the spiritual leader of the Daughters of Ummo for more than forty years.
Once again, in La Paz, there were rumors about missing children. The Daughters claim to bring in children as new members without the parents’ knowledge. They pledge to bring in a certain number each year but, so far as I can tell, there is no evidence of their kidnapping anyone. Even so, the cult is a frightening outfit that threatens those who disparage or debunk it. Generally the threats have to do with some kind of hell. An alien hell is something to exercise the imagination but I suppose every hell ever conceived is alien, yet familiar, to the humans threatened with it. Anyway, there were so many negative reports about the Daughters that, in 2000, Yiewaka announced that the prophesied translation of true believers to the planet Ummo in the year 2033 had been postponed indefinitely. Take that, Earthlings!
Ummites study the Owwa, a bible created by Carlos Opanova/Yiewaka that is a meld of his earlier writings from the Deer of the Sixth Christ and stuff gleaned from the Spanish Ummo documents. They work hard, follow an ascetic regimen, and are fed and clothed. The cult sells food and clothing on the street and replenishes its membership in an annual event that is supposed to bring in thirty new members a time. It is hard to say if the Daughters of Ummo are guilty of the crimes that they are supposed to have committed, ranging from theft to kidnapping. And it is even difficult to determine the present status of the group — if she is still active (and I can no longer find her web site) Gutiérrez will be a hundred next year.
In 1995, Jordan Peña finally admitted to the hoax that he had perpetrated. In 2006 he gave a lengthy interview explaining that he did so because a European Ummo group had begun mistreating children by branding them with the Ummo symbol. He was not happy about his confession; a skeptic himself, he believes that people are entitled to the beliefs that they need and that outing his hoax was like telling children that there was no Santa Claus. He says that his hoax was aimed at middle-class professionals and semi-professionals, people who suppose themselves to be rational, he kept telling them, “Don’t believe me”, but they did. He admitted that his grand scheme had done some harm, not much, but a little. On the other hand, he said, many had benefitted from the wisdom of the Ummites.