Commentary

The Much Debated History of Quechua

Speaking Quechua in Cuzco (Photo: Walter Coraza Morveli)

Archaeological evidence is indispensable for understanding our history. Of that there is no doubt. Some questions, however, have not proven easily answerable through archeology. One such is the concern to understand the origin and history of our language Quechua. Nevertheless, many scholars have taken positions on the issue.

Manuel González de la Rosa, for example, in the nineteenth century held that Quechua originated on the central coast of South America and then spread throughout the Andes long before the Inca Empire, Tawantinsuyo existed.

In contrast Porras Berenechea argued the famous primeval thesis of Quechua and Aymara. The debate continues through today.

For example, Professor Armando Valenzuela-Lovón, member of the Quechua Academy argues that Quechua originated in Cuzco, in the valleys of the Vilacanota and the Watanay. He holds it was formed by ethnic groups of the Quechua ethnicity: The Qotakalle, K’illke, and Lucre in the Watanay and over time other peoples also became part of it, such as the Lares, Poqes, Wallas, Antasayas, Sawasiras, Ayarmakas, Alqawisas. Kopalimaytas, and Kulinchimas. He says they quickly developed a strong command of Runa Simi, or Quechua, even before the Incas arose. The Pre-Inca City of Aqhamama was Quechua speaking according to his argument.
While others disagree with him, there are elements of his argument that are indisputable, such as the existence of Pre-Inca societies. You can see evidence for these in the famous wall of Marcavalle in the City of Cuzco. This construction is very different from Inca constructions. If Valenzuela Lovón is right, these peoples spoke Quechua, also called Runa Simi.
With the arrival of the Incas from Tiwanaku on Lake Titicaca, new people joined this group of Quechua speakers. These include the Maras, Tampus, and Chillkis. It is said that the Incas brought Qhapaq Simi with them, the noble tongue which Garcilaso called a special tongue since it had a superior scientific and philosophic character. The Incas brought with them from Lake Titicaca the wisdom of the Tiwanaku civilization. Valenzuela-Lovón claims that Qhapaq Simi and Runa Simi became fused in the epoch when Cuzco was Inca and this ten expanded outward with the growth of Tawantinsuyo, the Inca Empire.
Other scholarly opinions also exist. The famous linguist Rodolfo Cerrón Palomino. Based on archeology and toponyms this scholar emphasizes certain issues. He notes that according tot he great chronicler from Cuzco, Garcilaso Inca de la Vega, the Incas elite spoke a language separate from Quechua and Aymara. He claims this was the Puquina, the third original language of the Inca period. He claims that Puquina has origins in the Altiplano, the plateau by Lake Titicaca, but it was not Aymara.
Cerrón Palomino holds that Aymara was spread in the central highlands of Peru thanks to the Wari empire. As a result, he cites evidence that when the Incas arrived in Cuzco there was a linguistic discrepancy: the people of Cuzco spoke the Aymara that came with the Wari Empire that had governed them. Their Puquina was not intelligible. As a result, he writes, the Incas had to learn Aymara.
Once they had conquered the Chankas from the Valley of Chincha, the Incas obtained Quechua, he affirms. The Emperor Pachakutec then was responsible for the spread of Quechua as the general language, the principle language of Tawantinsuyo.
Of course this did not mean that people forgot their original languages. When the Spanish arrived Quechua and Aymara were recognized as the most popular languages of the Empire. Nevertheless, Viceroy Toledo declared in 1575 that the three languages—Quechua, Aymara, and Puquina, had official status. According to this linguist there are words in our Quechua that show the importance of Inca Puquina.
During that last month of last year, the VIIth World Congress of the Quechua Language, organized by the Quechua Academy, was held. There these themes were argued and developed. The scholars arrived at the conclusion that Quechua was spread through the region thanks to the great Emperor Pachacutec. We can only hope that with time and hard work many questions of the origin and history of Quechua will be clarified and that we will come to know the history of our language.

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