UNM offers an exclusive opportunity for many scholars, including myself, to broaden our studies in very unique ways: We are able to study Quechua or K’iche’ Maya.
These two indigenous languages—found in the Andean region and Central America respectively—provide a special opportunity for students to deepen their understanding of world languages and distinctive world views in Latin America. Language learning provides students with new perspectives and a window into diverse world views. Each language has a unique perspective of how to relate to the world, demonstrated through distinctive syntax. How sentences are structured, the emphasis given to certain words and phrases, and the roots of vocabulary all provide clues to how its speakers interact with the world around them.
As I sat in our Quechua Class, taught by Yuliana Kenfield, I gradually gained more and more introspection into the lives lead by quechuahablantes (Quechua speakers). Through personal anecdotes from Kenfield’s life experiences, specially formulated class projects, and using the text Kasway Vida, our understanding of Quechua and its perspective on the world grew exponentially.
Yuliana Kenfield provided crucial introspection into how Quechua functions between family members and communities. Growing up in Cuzco, Peru, Kenfield is able to weave how Quechua influenced her personal life and the importance of the language within Cuzco—as well as within the surrounding rural areas. We would work together as a class to forge our mutual understandings of the language with Kenfield’s guidance. For instance, we discussed the cultural constructions behind the song “Yaw Yaw Puka Polleracha” and how the phrase Chakray ukhupi Pukllasqaykita has a double meaning. We forged cultural comprehension through understanding the phrase meaning, “they are playing in my field.” In Quechua, chakrapi pukkllay or “to play in the field” is along the same lines of the idiom “roll in the hay.” Depending on where an individual is in their life, the phrase means two different things. Children will understand the phrase much differently than adults.
Beyond forging interpersonal cultural understanding, we worked with the text Kasway Vida. This book is the first English-Quechua textbook that presents Quechua in a very particular light. Beginning with greetings, chapters 1-10 demonstrate the conversational tools necessary for individuals living within rural areas as one of the runa (people). Communities in the Andes are close-knit and therefore always getting your fellow community members is essential. Moreover, the early focus on where are you from, where are you going and where are you coming from provides an interesting look into the migratory nature of many individuals in the Andes.
Kasway Vida, also, vibrantly demonstrated the important forms of economic production in rural areas that are often attributed to traditional life styles in the area. We learned the names of animals, clothing, and important verbs (such as to plant, weave, heard, etc.). Unfortunately, I found that this particular textbook limits the portrayal of Quechua speakers in the Andean world. Kasway Vida confines the Quechua experience to rural areas. The language is mostly spoken in rural areas, but this predominate focus denies the existence of the language in other areas (towns, cities, etc.). Everything that the text displays is important to understand in order to know the general function of the language, but it is lacking a more nuanced presentation representing the diversity of Quechua speakers throughout the Andean Region.
Moreover, this text relies heavily on memorization in the early chapters and does not provide an experience as interactive as I would prefer for my personal learning experience. The classroom environment, however, does provide much of the important interaction crucial to language learning. Kenfield diversifies her approach to the language through many multimedia outlets. We watched several movies to help increase our understanding of the culture, lifestyles, and use of the language in daily life. Moreover, we listened to traditional and modern music produced with Quechua lyrics. Music is a wonderful way to introduce language to new learners: the rhythms, notes, instruments, and words meld together to create a profound portrayal of language and culture together. UCHPA, a band from Ayachucho, Peru that sings in Quechua provides a fascinating look into the progression and continued use of Quechua.
Originally, UCHPA sang Quechua covers of Nirvana and 1960s-1970s classic rock before the band recreated itself in the early 2000s. Their song “Pitaqmi Kanki?” or “Who are you?” dramatically combines traditionally singing with their modern rock use of Quechua to critique Sendero Luminoso and demonstrate how broken many communities became in their wake. Using this song, along with many others during class and for class projects assisted my understanding of Quechua and allowed me to understand the usage of the language on a more profound level.
We also conducted research covering important cultural items in Peru. Selecting one particular item, we spent a week researching the item to understand its historical background, the cultural implications, and current uses of the item. I researched the Toritos de Pukará (handmade terracotta bulls), while my classmates took on the siku (panflute), ch’uspa (small woven bag for carrying coca leaves), and the kero (ceremonial cup), amongst others. Our presentations helped us to not only practice a little Quechua, but to share our discoveries with our classmates. We grew in our understanding together and by the end of the class we demonstrated significant progression in comprehension and usage of Quechua.
Besides opening my eyes to a new world view, Quechua also helped me to better conceptualize monographs utilized in my other classes. In one of my classes—Gender and Human Rights in Cold War Latin America—we read Intimate Enemies by Kimberly Theidon. This text presents a rural and gendered perspective of Sendero Luminoso from the ethnographic research of the women living through 1980s Peru. Theidon uses many Quechua phrases and terms throughout her book that add significant detail and legitimacy to her text, when the reader has a decent grasp of Quechua. For the average reader the phrases do not contribute too much to the overall presentation of the book. However, even with my beginner understanding of the language, I felt more immersed in the narrative Theidon provided and I felt that I understood the realities facing Quechua speaking women in rural Peru during this time period.
Learning Quechua this past semester has provided me with many opportunities and challenges that I would not find in any other class. This language is beautifully unique with a powerful history. I feel honored that I was able to partake in the opportunity to learn Quechua and I encourage students of all ages to expand their knowledge of the world around them through learning a new language, especially a less commonly taught language.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OtIsCtyE00k: UCPA Pitaqmi Kanki?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZ5VTWy01Wg Yaw Yaw Puka Polleracha