Student Defends Thesis In Ancient Andean Quechua Language
Quispe Collantes has become the first person ever to write and defend a thesis on Peruvian and Latin American literature, in Quechua, the ancient language of the Inca which is still spoken by around 8 million Andean people today.
The thesis greatly focused on Quechuan poetry and her work was awarded “top marks" from Lima’s San Marcos University, the oldest educational institution in the Americas. And according to a report in The Guardian the student’s presentation began with a traditional thanksgiving ceremony with coca leaves and chicha, the traditional corn-made alcoholic drink, before she presented her study titled Yawar Para, or Blood Rain.
Roxana Quispe Collantes began the Quechua presentation with a thanksgiving ceremony. (YouTube ScreenShot)
Quechua Was Deemed Good For Godliness
Long before the expansion of the Inca Empire Quechua had already spread across the central Andes and in the Cusco region it was influenced by neighboring languages such as Aymara causing a range of diverse dialects to develop in different areas. However, it was the Inca Empire who implemented Quechua as the official state language. After the Spanish conquest of Peru in the 16th century, because most of the common folk continued speaking the language, the leaders of the Catholic Church adopted Quechua to help in their evangelization program.
According to writer Alfredo Tororo in his 1983 book La familia lingûística quechua, the oldest written records of the language were created by missionary Domingo de Santo Tomás, who learned the language and published his Grammatica o arte de la lengua general de los indios de los reynos del Perú (Grammar or Art of the General Language of the Indians of the Royalty of Peru) in 1560. And even though Quechua remains the most widely spoken indigenous language in South America, this is the first time ever in the university’s 468 year history that a thesis has been written and defended when questioned by examiners entirely in the native language.
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The whole thesis was defended to the panel in Quechua. (YouTube Screenshot)
Resurfacing Ancient Ways
The thesis greatly looked at the Quechua poetry of Andrés Alencastre Gutiérrez (1909-84), a landowner from Cusco who wrote by the name Kilku Warak’aq, and by combining Catholicism with ancient Andean traditions wrote the original Yawar Para, or Blood Rain. According to an article published on Poesías, in 1952, when his first book Taki Parwa / Song in Flower was published, scholar José María Arguedas considered Alencastre “the greatest Quechua poet of the 20th century” and added that his poems can be considered “the most important contribution to Quechua literature since the 18th century”.
Andrés Alencastre Gutiérrez (1909-84) (Goodreads)
Quispe Collantes was raised speaking Quechua by her parents and grandparents in the Acomayo district of Cusco and to complete her thesis she ventured to highland communities in the Canas to verify words used in the Collao dialect of the language, which is spoken in the Cusco region. And talking about her seven year investigation Quispe Collantes said that Quechua is today mixed with Spanish and that she hopes her example will encourage young people, especially women, to follow her path “rescuing our original language”. Why she “especially” wants women is unclear, when over 4 million men also speak the ancient language.
Quechua Pop-Cultural Vindication
In 2016 Peru registered its indigenous names as part of the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages which aims to revive “2,680 at-risk indigenous languages around the world” with 21 being native to Peru. This year, Peru promoted the official registration of names from its 48 indigenous languages and Dr. Gonzalo Espino, Quispe Collantes’s doctoral adviser, said her presentation was “hugely symbolic“ representing “the humblest people in this part of the world: the Andeans, who were once called ‘Indians’ and that their language and culture has been vindicated”.
Quechua throughout the Andes Mountains. Map showing the distribution of Quechua I, yellow, and Quechua II, turquoise, languages. (Huhsunqu / CC BY-SA 4.0)
While Peruvian linguistic experts are celebrating this attempt to immortalize Quechua, surprisingly, Hollywood directors have been making efforts to do so for decades. Perhaps the best example of Quechua in movies is in episode IV of Star Wars when Han Solo meets Green Greedo, an alien mercenary who works for the gangster Jabba the Hutt on the planet Tatooine.
During this tense meeting Han Solo speaks in English while Greedo's alien dialect has been identified as Quechua. Eduardo Varas is a journalism professor at UDLA and in an article on Elcomercio.com he says Greedo’s language is “a compilation of certain elements and key Quechua words like ‘qhenchalla’ which means ‘bad luck’ and ‘q’enqo’ - the Quechua word for ‘labyrinth’”.
With all this effort being made to save both the language’s cultural and pop-cultural aspects, it looks like Quechua will be here long into our future, and maybe on other planets too.
Top image: Roxana Quispe Collantes is the first person ever to present and defend her thesis in Quechua. Source: Facultad de Letras y Ciencias Humanas - UNMSM
By Ashley Cowie