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Quechua culture is related to the Aymara culture. They both arose in similar regions of South America. Quechua was the official language of the Inca Empire, who ruled much of the Andes region from the mid-1400s until the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in 1532. The Spanish banned the Quechua language and culture from politics and education. During the 1820's, the Spanish colonies of South America rebelled against Spain and succeeded in establishing themselves as independent republics. These new Andean republics did little to change conditions for the Quechua people. Although the population eventually recovered from the drastic effects of European diseases, most Quechua continued to endure poverty and racial discrimination.

Those who speak Quechua as their first language are called Quechua Indians by the dominant Spanish-speaking cultures. However, most Quechua speakers, who live in numerous distinct cultural groups, prefer to identify themselves with their Inca heritage. The Quechua refer to themselves as Runa, 'the people'.

Quechua language and culture were found in some cities of the Andean highlands, including the old Inca capital of Cuzco in Peru, as well as Cochabamba in Bolivia. Later, millions of Quechua families migrated from the countryside to such national capitals as Lima, Peru, and Quito, Ecuador. Communities of Quechua origin have also sprung up in places like Washington D.C.; New York City; Madrid, Spain; and Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Many people mistakenly assume that the Inca Empire spread the Quechua culture throughout the Andes region. In fact, Quechua culture originated in central Peru at least a thousand years before the rise of the Inca Empire in the early 1400's. Most scholars believe that the Quechua language spread up and down the Andes as a trade language, long before the Inca adopted it.

Quechua farming techniques have adapted to the ecological demands of the varied Andean landscape, a steep continuum of warm valleys, high plains, and cold upper slopes. They use sophisticated irrigation systems to water their fields and often preserve food by freeze-drying it in the cold mountain air. Llama and alpaca herds supply meat, wool, grease, fertilizer, fuel, and leather. These animals also serve as beasts of burden. Quechua-speaking groups built bridges and roads throughout the Andes, many of those routes are still in use today. Quechua artisans produced high-quality textiles and pottery. Traditional religious practices include the ceremonial use of coca leaf and pilgrimages to sacred mountains, known as Apus.

One of the most well known features of the Quechuan culture is that it is a culture that places great emphasis on community and mutual help (ayni). The social system is based on reciprocity: you help your neighbors, they do something for you in return.

The following are some common dances and rituals of the Quechuan culture. Qamili is a dance is practiced on a grand scale with a huge chorale and special dresses. It comes from the cities of Maca and Cabanaconde. Saratarpuy is a special variation of Qamili and it is practiced when people are sowing corn. To celebrate that special event they dance the saratarpuy, hoping they will have a good harvest.

A llamera is a Quechuan girl who takes care of the llamas. Llamera dances are very pretty, and were composed by the llameras who dance and sing while pasturing their animals or while traveling with the llamas along the lonely mountains. In the present, it is not just the mountain girls who sing and dance this but also girls in every city of the Andes in any major event or celebration.

The Quechua culture is a strong culture with its own unique history and life-style that has lasted for many years. Despite earlier oppression by the Spanish, the Quechua culture still remains strong in many areas today.


“The Bolivian Quechuans” (Sept. 10, 1999)

“Cultures of the Andes” (Oct. 29, 1998)

"Quechua," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2001 © 1993-2001 Microsoft Corporation.

“Fun facts to know and tell about Quechua” The Quechua People (Dec. 9, 2000)

Additional Reading

 Inca Culture
 Inca Myths
 Languages of Peru

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