Intro: The Role of Quechua and Representations of Indigenous Culture in the Formation of Peruvian National Identity

The purpose of this project is to examine appropriations of the Quechua language as a symbol of the Incan past in modern-day Cusco, Peru and their contributions to the establishment of indigenous and Peruvian national identities, specifically in terms of the implications of education, language politics, and media in the promotion and/or marginalization of indigenous culture in Peruvian society.  Quechua (an oral indigenous language that was the official language of the Inca empire), despite its status as one of the official languages of Peru, exists with Spanish in a relationship known as diglossia, an unequal power relationship in which one language retains a sense of social prestige over another despite their apparent coexistence.  As such, efforts to legitimize Quechua (for example, through its systematic regulation and the protection of the “pure Incan” variation by the Academia Mayor de la Lengua Quechua and the translation of works originating in the dominant culture, such as Don Quixote and the Bible, into a written form of Quechua) have become fraught with contradictions and are inextricably linked to questions of interpretation and authenticity.  For instance, who possesses the authority to “claim” Quechua and establish standards of linguistic purity and authenticity?  Is the transcription of an exclusively oral language such as Quechua a necessary act of preservation or an act of violence in its assumption of culturally specific notions of language?  Does the translation of major works into written Quechua serve to endow it with academic and social power and hence elevate its status, or does it instead recirculate domination by endorsing non-indigenous cultural production?  How are these issues related to the deliberate selection or disregard of certain aspects of indigenous culture in the construction of national identity (related to Cecilia Méndez’s discussion of “Incas sí, indios no”, which claims that the Incan past is glorified and incorporated into national identity, whereas associations with the present indigenous population are severed and marginalized)? 

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