Final Week in Cusco

I spent my final week in Cusco finishing my Quechua course and doing last-minute fieldwork and research before my departure for Lima.  Last Monday, I made a trip to the Dirección Regional de Cultura in Cusco to interview Juan Julio García Rivas, the director.  I asked him to offer his personal opinions and knowledge on a variety of issues related to my project, such as the meaning of Quechua in Peru today, the agenda of the Academia Mayor de la Lengua Quechua, and issues of writing and translation.  His responses contained an interesting mix of fantasy and wisdom; while he did describe Quechua as “one of the few cultural and material manifestations that remains of our pre-Hispanic past” (translated), he also expressed a need to equalize Quechua and Spanish in Peruvian society and eliminate the double standard that designates Quechua in certain instances as a symbol of Incan glory and in other instances as a marker of racial and socioeconomic inferiority.  He also denounced the preoccupation with the writing of Quechua as a “Western problem” and advocated the revalorization of Quechua as a viable, living language that provides benefit to the speaker rather than the language of remote Andean communities.  It was a useful interview for the insight it provided on official stances on Quechua and the various factors at play in modern-day Cusco and its relationship with the Quechua language.

I also spent some time browsing book shops in Cusco (largely targeted towards tourists); not surprisingly, the majority of the material sold in Cusco that relates to Quechua is either published by the Academia Mayor de la Lengua Quechua or promotes its ideals, specifically the idea that the Quechua of Cusco is the Quechua of the Incas and that this association somehow attests to the greatness of Cusqueño culture.  Though I have some qualms about economically supporting an organization with such an elitist and racist agenda, I broke down and spent 18 soles (approximately 6.50 USD) on a book titled Origen cusqueño de la lengua quechua: Homenaje al Qosqo con ocasión del reconocimiento constitucional de su capitalidad histórica, written by AMLQ member David Samanez Flórez and bearing the seal of the Municipalidad del Qosqo.  Like much of the material published by the AMLQ, the book insists upon a direct correlation between Cusco Quechua, the Incas, and the “superiority” of the city of Cusco in a modern context.  The presentation given by former AMLQ president Juan Antonio Manya Ambur describes it as “the indestructible Quechua or runasimi, which remains unscathed and in all of its splendor in its birthplace, Cusco, more than in any other part of Peru, during the half millennium of Hispanocastilian domination” (7, translated).  The author of the book goes on to offer evidence for the idea that Quechua originated in Cusco in order to demonstrate the superiority of that particular variation, directly contradicting evidence that pinpoints the origins of Quechua outside of Cusco.

Finally, on my last full day in Cusco I attended the famous Inti Raymi festival, a reconstructed Incan religious ceremony that honors the winter solstice.  This is one of the finest examples of the way in which Cusco presents itself as the direct inheritor of an Incan past and uses Quechua as a symbol of that past.  The festival (which, interestingly, was not celebrated after the collapse of the Incan Empire until 1944) begins at Qoricancha (a monastery constructed on top of an Incan temple, which I also visited this past week) at 9:00 a.m. with music and dance and then proceeds to the Plaza de Armas, where the “Incan ruler” honors the mayor of the city and the women pay homage to the sun.  The procession then goes to Sacsayhuaman, an Incan ruin higher up on the cerro of Cusco, where a mock llama sacrifice is made, fires are set, and the celebration continues until approximately 4:00 p.m.  The ceremony is conducted entirely in Quechua, such that you are forced to either buy a booklet with translations or fail to understand the rituals unless you happen to speak fluent Quechua (and not many tourists or residents of the actual city of Cusco do).  It is no coincidence that the end of June, coinciding with Corpus Christi and Inti Raymi, is the most popular season for tourists; the city sells the festival as a claim to an authentic Incan heritage.  With the centennial of the rediscovery of Machu Picchu approaching in July, these sorts of associations are especially heavy in advertisements and similar forums. 

I arrived in Lima on Saturday and have begun my research here.  Today I visited the central library and the social sciences library at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú to collect more bibliographical information, and tomorrow I will do the same at the Instituto Francés de Estudios Andinos.  Wednesday is a holiday, so I will likely spend it as a reading day, and on Thursday and Friday I will visit more libraries and/or museums and am in the process of setting up an interview at the Ministerio de Cultura.