Ancient Incan Language Thrives on the Streets of Lima
Walking the streets of Lima, the past and present interact like a pair of lovers in a graceful dance. Modern skyscrapers stand beside 16th century churches built by the Spanish conquistadors; third-generation farmers brush shoulders with businessmen, and paved roads cover dirt trails where the Inca once walked. If you listen closely in Lima, you will hear two languages being spoken. Mixed in with Spanish is Quechua, an ancient Inca language that is spoken by about a third of modern Peruvians.
Quechua (pronounced Ketch-Wa) dates back to pre-Spanish times. When the conquistadors conquered the indigenous people in 1572, they forced them to give up their colorful way of dress, but they did not succeed in eliminating the native tongue. Quechua has persevered through the centuries and today is considered an official language of Peru, along with Spanish. (It is also spoken in Ecuador and Bolivia.)
Primarily spoken in the Andean Highlands, Quechua is the language of a group of people, also called Quechua, who today live much like their Incan ancestors, making a living as farmers and nomadic herders. In the past five decades many of these people have migrated to Lima where there is now a large population of mestizo- or mixed race people.
The Quechua language is known as Runa Simi or the language of the people. Several Quechua words have found their way into English including puma, condor and llama. Though 8 million Peruvians speak the language today, it was not preserved in literature because the Inca did not write. Several 20th Century Peruvian writers, including Jose Maria Arguedas and Ciro Alegría, have written about the Quechua life, which has included much hardship and oppression.
Anyone curious about the Quechua people should take a trip to the ancient city of Cusco during the Inca Sun Festival â€” a celebration where Quechua Indians dress in colorful Inca tonics and reenact an ancient sun worshiping ritual.
Also worth exploring, Quechua has its own unique music called huayno, which tells the story of mountain village life. Listening to the sound of pan flutes and mandolin drifting across the mountains, it is easy to be transported back to a simpler time. For a modern take on this ancient music, listen to Simon and Garfunkel’s 1960’s classic “El Condor Pasa”, a huayno song that won the hearts of the American public.