Quechua is a native language of South America that extends throughout the western part of the continent. It has a large number of speakers spread throughout the various Andean countries, some of which recognize Quechua as an official language.
The Quechua people, who descended from the ancient Inca Empire, began to inhabit the Andean Precordillera and Plateau in the fifteenth century. The official language was Quechua and the supreme leaders were called Incas. Their religion consisted of living in harmony with the environment, and for that reason they deified the forces of nature. The most popular deities of the Inca Empire were Pachamama (worship of mother earth), Viracocha (worship of the creator), and Inti, the Sun.
Regarding the number of speakers, it is estimated that between 7 and 9 million people speak Quechua. It is currently recognized as an official language in Ecuador (2 million speakers), Peru (2.7 million speakers) and Bolivia (2.4 million speakers), and, even though it is not an official language, it is also spoken in bordering regions of Argentina (130,000 speakers), Chile and Colombia (18,000 speakers).
Numerous myths and legends exist about the creation of the world involving the Inca rulers or the gods such as Pachamama or Inti.
Quechua dances originated during the time of Tahuantinsuyo (from the Quechua tawantin suyu, “the four regions or divisions”) during the Inca civilization’s greatest glory. The diverse themes include myths and religion, folk traditions, regional traditions, totemism, war, hunting, funerals, history, and agriculture, and the dances require the use of specific objects and masks in addition to special garments like ponchos (unkus) or beautiful shawls (llicllas). Some of the most popular dances that are still practiced today are the Achachillas, Mallkus, K’usillos, Kallawayas, Sikuris, Pujllay, Tinku, or the Diablada.
The instrumental music, which is still used today as a transmitter of human emotions, was considered universal knowledge in the Pre-Columbian era. Some of the musical instruments most used by the Quechua people are the charango, the quena, the tarca, the pingullo, and the zampoña. They were primarily made from stone, clay, bone, squash, metal, and especially sugarcane and wood.
The indigenous poetry and songs are known for their originality, simplicity, purity, and candid nature, and they normally talked about natural beings. One example of poetry is the wanka, with ritual, war-related, political themes. On the other hand, an example of a song is the wallawi, which references Pachamama as a cosmic goddess and the source of eternal youth. Songs related to sowing and harvest are also dedicated to Pachamama.
Indigenous theater used several types of lyrical forms. The most well-known dramas were Ollantay and Atahualpa, which were recovered after the conquest.
The food of the indigenous people is more evidence of their great wisdom. They used the fruits of the earth, respecting the natural cycles of planting and reproduction, and as a result were able to live in peace and harmony with Mother Earth, who they considered to be the source and protector of life.
On a colloquial level, Quechua is widely used, especially among families and in markets, buses, and public spaces in general; it is used both in conversations and to conduct business. In spite of being recognized as an official language in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador, in many cases, it is still not used as a second language, and for that reason it is necessary to revalue it and incentivize its use. On the other hand, in some regions, Quechua has been relegated to use only within the family because it is considered an indigenous language.
In terms of the government, in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru, efforts are being made to incorporate Quechua into different areas due to its importance and its status as an official language. For this same reason, it is now required to teach Quechua in schools and universities, and in Bolivia, it is even an important requirement to speak two or three languages in order to work in government institutions (depending on the geographic area, these languages could be Quechua, Aymara or Guaraní, Spanish, and English). As a result, there are now many official institutions that are training their employees in some of these native languages or hiring people who already speak the languages. Also, Quechua is being incorporated little by little into signage systems: in Peru, for example, on streets and in plazas, and in Bolivia, on signs and notices for many hospitals and some consulates. This is proof that Quechua is becoming more important and that it is necessary to continue encouraging its revitalization.
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