Quechua language endures in Peru despite centuries of discrimination

Leila Ccaico walked slowly to the front of her class in a rural village in the Andes. Reluctantly, she faced her classmates, obeyed her teacher’s orders and started to sing softly in Quechua.

This is the first year that the sixth-grader has been taking reading and writing lessons in the Indigenous language she learned from her parents, one that has survived despite centuries of laws and discrimination that discouraged its use.

Halting efforts to revive and promote the language hit the spotlight last month when Peru’s newly appointed prime minister surprised the nation by delivering a speech in Quechua to Congress for the first time in Peru’s history.

Translation into Spanish was unavailable, angering politicians who couldn’t understand the speech — a fact that illustrated Quechua’s status as a second-class language in the South American country.

But the incident also raised hopes among Quechua speakers that Peru’s new government, led by a rural schoolteacher from an Indigenous region, will give their language more visibility and increase funding for bilingual education in villages where children are often reluctant to speak the ancient tongue.

“I feel strange speaking Quechua; it’s embarrassing” said 11-year-old Ccaico, whose name is pronounced something like “Hai-Ko” in English.

Talking in Spanish, she said that children who speak Quechua at her school get bullied and added that parents in her village don’t want children to learn the tongue because they think it will not help children when they move to the cities for work.

Ccaico, whose parents are alpaca herders, said she stopped speaking Quechua fluently at the age of 6. She said she she was visiting a city and started to speak in Quechua, but her older sister told her to stop because passersby would make fun of them.

It’s a situation commonly faced by Quechua speakers in South America, even though the language is used by an estimated 10 million people in the region — largely in Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia, all of which have made it an official language in recent decades.

Five hundred years ago, Quechua was the lingua franca of the Inca Empire, which stretched from what is now southern Colombia to central Chile.

But the language’s status began to decline following the Spanish conquest of Peru. Though Spanish authorities initially tolerated Quechua, they banned it following an Indigenous rebellion in 1781.

In 1975, a nationalist military government turned Quechua into an official language in Peru, along with Spanish. But legal recognition did not stop discrimination against Quechua speakers, who come mostly from poor and rural areas.

During the conflict between Peru’s government and the Shining Path guerrilla group in the 1980s and 1990s, some Indigenous people were tortured by the military and accused of being rebel collaborators merely for speaking Quechua, a truth commission found.

Thousands of Quechua-speaking women were enrolled in forced sterilization campaigns in Peru during the 1990-2000 government of Alberto Fujimori and were denied medical attention in their native language.

“We have suffered for 500 years. We walked slowly through hills and snowy peaks to arrive here in Congress, and have our voice heard” Prime Minister Guido Bellido said during his Quechua language speech on Aug 26.

Read more: NWA Online

Broadcasts in a Native Language, Speaking to Every Corner of Peru

The language of soccer games is ripe with phrases, metaphors and clichés that reflect modern life: a coach who parks the bus, a midfielder who shoots rockets, a striker who scores with a bicycle kick. But at 11,000 feet in the Peruvian Andes, the vocabulary changes. That is where Luis Soto, who hosts a daily sports program on Radio Inti Raymi, is narrating Peru’s first appearance at the World Cup since 1982 in his native language, Quechua.

Soto captures the action on the field with references closer to his home in Cusco, Peru. When a midfielder controls the ball and neutralizes attacks, he is hoeing the land. When a player kicks the ball with power, he has eaten a lot of quinoa. And when Edison Flores, one of Peru’s stars, scored an important goal against Ecuador to help the team qualify for the World Cup in Russia, he built roads where there were only narrow walking paths.

Before that, Soto had to clear a basic hurdle: finding a term for “soccer ball.” Quechua was developed by the ancient Incas, and the only word for ball that he knew was used in Cusco referred to a sphere made from pieces of llama neck leather and used in religious ceremonies.

“The term didn’t exist,” he said, “so we had to adapt.”

After canvassing local players, Soto settled on “qara q’ompo,” which means leather ball, or sphere. It is one of about 500 terms and phrases he has compiled over the last decade into what is probably the world’s only Quechua soccer dictionary. He shares it freely with anyone who is interested.

Quechua is an oral tradition that is written in Spanish transliteration and varies in different parts of the country and the continent. Soto, like most Quechua speakers, learned the language at home, not in a formal school setting. His soccer dictionary reflects only his experience and regional interpretation. Language experts from other parts of Peru, for example, say the words “ruyruku” and “haytana” have also been used to refer to a soccer ball.

To prepare for the World Cup, Soto, 44, spent months practicing with videos of games to hone his speed and tone, knowing that his listeners — hundreds of thousands of them — would be experiencing an important moment for Peru on the world stage in their native language for the first time.

Read more: The NY Times

Translating Spanish Masterpieces into Quechua, the Language of the Incas

Endina.com reports that works by such noted Nobel laureates as Mario Vargas Llosa and Gabriel Garcia Marquez will be translated into Quechua as part of the proposed “Latin American Literature Classics in Quechua” from the Decentralized Directorate of Culture of Cusco (DDCC).

Quechua, the language of the Inca civilization, is currently spoken by seven million people throughout Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina, with close to four million speakers in Peru alone.

Book titles have yet to be officially announced, but the list of works to be translated is also said to include books from Adolfo Bioy Casares (Argentina), Juan Carlos Onetti Borges (Uruguay) and Clarice Lispector (Brazil).

Read more: Publishing Perspectives