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History of the Quechua-Speaking People

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Lee, Won Jae
Term Paper, AP European History Class, October 2008

Table of Contents

I. Introduction
II. History of Independent Republics in South America (until today)
II.1 Quechua History
II.2 Overview : History of Independent Republics until today
II.2.1 Overview : History of Bolivia
II.2.1.1 Political History of Bolivia
II.2.1.2 Demographics of Bolivia
II.2.2 Overview : History of Peru
II.2.2.1 Quechua History in Peru
II.2.2.2 History of Modern Peru
II.2.2.3 Demographics of Peru
III. History of Spanish Conquest and Viceroyalty of Peru
III.1 Quechua History
III.2 Overview : History of Viceroyalty of Peru
IV. History of the Inca
IV.1 Quechua History
IV.2 Overview : History of Inca
IV.2.1 Inca Emergence and Expansion
IV.2.2 Inca Empire's Society and Economy
V. Pre-Inca Period
V.1 Quechua History
V.2 Overview : History of Pre-Incan Peru and Bolivia
VI. Conclusion

I. Introduction
            Quechua is a South American indigenous language. Originated before the establishment of Inca Empire, Quechua is still used nowadays in countries like, but not limited to, Bolivia, Peru, and in parts of Ecuador and Colombia. Today, there are about 46 dialects that are spoken (1). This paper will be describing the history of Quechua-speaking people in disparate cultural epoques and in a counter-chronological order: starting with the history of contemporary Quechua and culminating with the Pre-Inca period.

II. History of Independent Republics in South America (until today)

II.1 Quechua History
            Quechua has two main branches nowadays: Quechua 1 and Quechua 2. Quechua 1 refers to the language that today¡¯s Quechua speak in highlands of Peru. Quechua 2, which can be divided into 29 varieties, is categorized into three groups: groups A, B, and C with each group consisting of handfuls of dialects. (2) Spanish language's dominance in South American institutions led to a diminution of Quechua in urban areas. However, Quechua still remains intact as a spoken language which 90 % of population living in the highlands of Peru and Bolivia understand and 50 % speak. Most contemporary Quechua-speaking people live in the highlands of the Andes as hacienda workers and are mostly comprised of Indians and mestizos. Yet, many Quechua-descents live in urban areas mixed up with many other ethnicities. As it was during the Spanish conquest, the life of native Quechua people remains deplorable. They are generally treated with racial discrimination. (4)
            As a result of the work of Spanish missionaries, the Quechua pagan religion was merged with Christianity, forming a unique religion. Today, the Quechuas living in the Andes gather at Qoyllur Rit'i every year during last days of May and first days of June to worship Quechuan deities and Christian God. Representative dancers from every Quechua towns throughout the country sing and dance during the celebration. (5) Along with such Quechua-Christian celebrations, Quechuas also celebrate Christmas and Easter.
            Adobe is predominantly used for constructions in the high Andes for Quechua shelters.
            Agricultural techniques used by the Aymara and Inca are still used by the contemporary Quechua. Since such steep-slope agriculture is highly time-consuming, other economic activities other than sales of textiles and pottery in weekly-markets are rare.
            Quechua have distinctive music called huayno. Using panpipes and mandolin-style guitar called charrango, Quechua in the Andes produce their characteristic sounds.
            During Spanish conquest, Inca tunics and wrap-around dresses were prohibited. Quechua therefore developed woven ponchos (or capes) for men and colorful shawls for women. Sandals are the most popular footwear. (6)
            It is important to note that many South American indigenous languages, of which Quechua is one of the most prominent, are in danger of disappearing. In many native ethnic groups, only adults of the parent generation speak native languages whereas their children generation go to schools in which they study in Spanish. (7)

II.2 Overview : History of Independent Republics until Today
            The Viceroyalty of Peru which covered most of South America, especially the regions that spoke Quechua, disintegrated into independent republics during the 1800s. Quechua, and a language closely related to it: Aymara, remained to be spoken mostly in Bolivia and Peru.

II.2.1 Overview : History of Bolivia

II.2.1.1 Political History of Bolivia
            Simon Bolivar proclaimed Bolivia independent in 1825. Since its independence, Bolivia continuously lost its territory in war against its neighboring nations. Under Andres Santa Cruz, Peru-Bolivia confederation was formed in 1836. However, this federation was broken in 1839 in the Battle of Yungay against Chile. Throughout the administration history of Bolivia, the Spanish-speaking minority has taken dominance. Indigenous groups speaking Quechua or other native languages were mostly excluded in politics and society. In 1899, the Treaty of Petropolis with Brazil and Peru partitioned Acre, a rainforest region famous for rubber production. However, larger share was occupied by Brazil. Bolivia experienced series of coup d¡¯?tats in mid 1900s and remains one of the poorest nations in South America. (8)

II.2.1.2 Demographics of Bolivia
            About 56-70 % of Bolivias population is considered to be indigenous Americans and 30-42 % Mestizos and 10-15 % Caucasians. The indigenous groups consist of Aymaras and Quechuas. The majority of white Bolivians are of Spanish descent. Bolivia¡¯s poor economy has led to many Bolivians fleeing to comparatively wealthy nations like Chile, Brazil, and Argentina. Bolivia recognizes Quechua and Aymara as official languages along with Spanish.

II.2.2 Overview : History of Peru

II.2.2.1 Quechua History in Peru
            In 1975, Peru recognized Quechua as co-official language along with Spanish. Since then a special writing system dedicated to Quechua was used instead of Spanish orthography to write down Quechua. In 1985, the three vowel system was adopted to Quechua. Academia Mayor de la Lengua Quechua, an institution concerned with maintaining the purity of Quechua language, was founded in 1990 (10). In the 1980s, a communist organization aimed to overthrow Peruvian government called Shining Path massacred many Quechua as apart of its terrorist campaign. This led Quechuas living in highland Peru¡¯s to form political self-defense like village militias. (11)

II.2.2.2 History of Modern Peru
            Jose de la Serna proclaimed Peruvian independence in 1821. Battle of Ayacucho in 1824 was the decisive event that ensured Peru¡¯s independence from Spanish rule. Exporting guano under the rule of Castilla, Peru gained a certain degree of stability. Under president Leguia¡¯s rule, Peru drew US investment which later turned out to occupy most of Peruvian industries. With a population of 28.7 million (2007), Peru exports potatoes, maize, and metals such as copper and zinc. (12)

II.2.2.3 Demographics of Peru
            "Its population is composed of Amerindians (Quechua and Aymara) 45 %, Mestizos 37 %, Whites 15 %, and Asians, Afro-Peruvians, and others 3 %.. Amerindians are found in the southern Andes, though a large portion are also to be found in the southern and central coast due to the massive internal labor migration from remote Andean regions to coastal cities, during the past four decades. While the Andes are the "heart" of indigenous Peru, Whites are mostly found in the coast and are of Spanish, Italian, British, French, German, Irish, Croatian and others." (12 a) Amerindians have inhabited this land long before the Spanish have arrived. Due to influx of European cultures and regimes, this indigenous population decreased to an estimated number of 9 million in 1520s and 600,000 in 1620. Peru recognizes both Quechua and Spanish as its official language. Of the indigenous languages, Quechua remains the most spoken, and even today is used by some 16.2% of the total Peruvian population, or a third of Peru's total indigenous population. The cultural assimilation of the indigenous groups into the Spanish-mestizo cultures are causing drastic decline in the use and knowledge of indigenous languages. (13)

III. History of the Spanish Conquest and the Viceroyalty of Peru

III.1 Quechua History
            The missionaries of the Catholic Church used Quechua to spread Christianity and to evangelize the Incans. Furthermore, the oral tradition of Quechua was elaborated by the introduction of the Latin alphabet; Thenceforth, whenever Quechua was used for administration, it was written down using the Latin alphabet. The native Quechua speaking people were considered guaranteed slaves for industries like silver mining during this period and were thus severely exploited. Cultural destruction caused by the Spanish and measles imported from Europe killed about 80% of the indigenous population. Spanish rulers used the Incan policy mita to force South Americans to labor. (14)

III.2 Overview: History of Viceroyalty of Peru
            In 1532, two sons of Huayna Capac, Huascar and Atahualpa, were engaged in civil war over Inca territory when the Spanish Conquistadors led by Francisco Pizarro arrived to the South America. On declaring war to Inca, Pizarro captured Atahualpa and assassinated Huascar, accusing Atahualpa as the one who ordered the assassination. Atahualpa was executed. The Viceroyalty of Peru was founded in 1550 with Lima as its capital. (16)
            Social hierarchy was formed with peninsulares (Spanish born Spaniard) at the top, Creoles (whites born in American colonies) in the middle, and natives at the bottom.
            In 1545, a silver vein at Potosi (in modern Bolivia) was found and soon became a prominent source of wealth of the Spanish Empire. In 1568, the first coins were minted in Peru, Lima.
            Fight for independence in South America began in the late 1700¡¯s. After the Battle of Ayacucho 1824, Spain lost control of South America. (18)

IV. History of the Inca (19)

IV.1 Quechua History
            The Inca civilization emerged around 1200 CE. Inca absorbed Tiwanaku culture and along with it the Quechua language. For this reason, Inca history is interpreted as the Quechua history from 1200s to 1500s CE. Inca recognized Quechua as its official administrative language of the Empire. Its expansion campaigns helped spread Quechua throughout South America. Incans are thought to have believed in Sun God Inti. This God is assumed to be he son of the God Viracocha, the God of Tiwanaku, and therefore supports the connection of Quechuan culture between the ancient Quechua people and the Incas.

IV.2 Overview : History of Inca

IV.2.1 Inca Emergence and Expansion
            Lack of writing resulted in ambiguous myths on Incan foundation. It is generally believed, however, that Manco Capac, the leader of the Incas, founded Incan kingdom at Cuzco, Peru. Beginning as a city-state at Cuzco, Incans began to expand its territory by peaceful assimilation, a method of persuading other regions to join Inca peacefully. Under the rule of Pachachuti, Inca Empire extended to occupy nearly entire Andes mountain range. Pachachuti implemented a federalist system in the Inca Empire. With central government located at Cuzco, four provincial regions Chinchasuyu (NW), Antisuyu (NE), Contisuyu (SW), and Collasuyu (SE) were located.
            Every time a new leader was chosen, a new building was constructed for the family of the new royal family
            Under Tupac Inca and Huayna Capac, Inca extended its territory to modern day Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, Colombia.

IV.2.2 Inca Empire's Society and Economy
            The direct descendants of the Cuzco Inca kingdom were not enough in number to administer the vast lands of Inca Empire. Children (boy 13 years old, girl at first menstruation) throughout the empire were required to take a state exam and when successful was sent to Cuzco to receive administrative education. This education comprised of learning to understand quipu, knots generally used to represent numerical figures, leadership skills, and mathematics. Elevation of social status was not possible during one's lifetime. The only possible way was to expect one's child to pass the state examination.
            All Incas, notwithstanding hierarchical status, were subject to rule of law, a principle that no one is above the law.
            Boys at the age of 14 underwent a manhood-recognition ceremony and received a loincloth. Boys from noble families endured more rites of passage and received earplugs and weapons, whose color represented rank in society.
            Trial marriages were practiced; a man and a woman could choose to live a few years together before deciding to actually get married. Instead of being considered a ceremonious event, marriage in Inca was more of a business-agreement; women¡¯s household chores were viewed as economic contribution to family life.
            Incas had an extensive road system. Two roads connected the North and South of the empire. This road system measuring about 40,000 km when linked together provided Incas with rapid communication and logistical support.
            Incas had a distinct architectural technique on forging rocks. When building any constructions, Incas piled intricately-carved rocks like a puzzle. The perfect precision rendered stability to construction.
            Instead of a taxation system, Inca Empire employed a system called mita, mandatory public service in form of labor to the state. All citizens were required to participate in community-driven projects like road constructions.
            Incans believed in reincarnation and mummified prominent figures. Incas cultivated potatoes, sweet potatoes, maize, and chili peppers.

V. Pre-Inca Period

V.1 Quechua History
            The origin of the language is not precisely known due to lack of written documents. However, it is thought to have originated about millennia before the Inca Empire and is often grouped as Quechumaran with Aymara language (20). Large amount of shared vocabulary between the two languages is believed to be the result of long-term contact through trade; this long-lasted contact and geographical proximity render possible, with speculation however, the equalization of ancient Quechua history to the Aymara history. Once established, Quechua began to spread throughout the Andes regions as a lingua franca. The language did not have a writing system and therefore relied on oral tradition. (21)

V.2 Overview : History of Pre-Incans
            The city of Tiwanaku is believed to have been the central area for the precursors of the Inca Empire. Though not strongly supported historically due to lack of written records, this ancient city is often related with the Aymara ethnic groups. According to Aymara legend, Creator God Viracocha rose from the Lack Titicaca and raised life and fostered civilization in the world. (22)
            The dwellers of Tiwanaku possessed advanced agricultural techniques. Due to Andean region¡¯s mountainous geography, its dwellers needed raised fields. Artificially raised planting mounds, called Suka Kollus, were divided by canals which supplied moisture to the fields and were used to raise fish. Llamas and alpacas were herded as carriage animals and suppliers of wool. (25)

VI. Conclusion
            Despite arduous history due to harsh treatments from the Europeans and their culture, Quechua speaking people managed to endure the test of time and preserve their language to a certain degree, though not properly. Lack of writing poses serious problems in dating back the history of these people. As one can see, the information concerning the ancient Quechua people becomes very speculative. Expressions like "it is believed", or "not precisely known" are applied for describing this time period. Besides, the accessible information can be found only in modicum amounts. The importance of writing system in making history ¡®time-proof¡¯ is very well illustrated by the Quechua.


(1)      Article: Quechua, from Wikipedia
(2)      Article: Quechua Language Family. from Ethnologue
(3)      Image Reference: Map of Dialects, from R unasimi
(4)      Article: Quechua, from World Culture Encyclopedia
(5)      Module 7 : Pre-Columbian Cultures-Andean Quechua Culture.
(6)      Article: Quechua, from World Culture Encyclopedia
(7)      Article: 12 native Peruvian languages in danger of disappearing from Living in Peru.
(8)      Ganse, Alexander. History of Bolivia World History At KMLA
(9)      Demographics of Bolivia, from Nation Master
(10)      Article: Quechua, from Wikipedia
(11)      Article: Quechua, from Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2008
(12)      Ganse, Alexander. History of Peru World History At KMLA
(12a)      Article?: Demographics of Peru from Wikipedia .
(13)      Article?: Demographics of Peru from Wikipedia .
(14)      Article: Quechua, from Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2008; Ganse, Alexander. History of Peru World History At KMLA
(16)      Article: Viceroyalty of Peru, from Wikipedia; Article: Spanish Conquest of the Inca Empire, from Wikipedia
(18)      Ganse, Alexander. History of Peru World History At KMLA
(19)      Article: Inca, from Wikipedia
(20)      Article: Quechua, from Wikipedia
(21)      Article: Quechua, from Wikipedia
(22)      Article: Aymara, from Wikipedia; Article: Tiwanaku, from Wikipedia ; Joli, Genry. Pre-Inca civilization.
(25)      Joli, Genry. Pre-Inca civilization. Article: Tiwanaku, from Wikipedia


Note : websites quoted below were visited in December 2007.
1.      Article?: Demographics of Peru, from Wikipedia,
2.      Article : Quechua, from Wikipedia,
3.      Article : Aymara, from Wikipedia,
4.      Article : Tiwanaku, from Wikipedia,
5.      Article : Inca, from Wikipedia,
6.      Article : Viceroyalty of Peru, from Wikipedia,
7.      Article : Spanish Conquest of the Inca Empire, from Wikipedia,
8.      Article : Quechua, from Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2008
9.      Article: Quechua, from. World Culture Encyclopedia
10.      Module 7: Pre-Columbian Cultures-Andean Quechua Culture. The National Foreign Language Center at the University of Maryland. May 29, 2007.
11.      Joli, Genry. ¡°Pre-Inca Civilization.¡± Lost Civilizations (
12.      Ganse, Alexander. History of Peru, from World History At KMLA August 29th 2008 (
13.      Ganse, Alexander. History of Bolivia, from World History AT KMLA August 30th 2008 (
14.      Florian Coulmas, The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Writing Systems, Oxford : Blackwell (1996)
15.      George Boeree's Homepage. Language. The Language Families of the World. November 2003. (
16.      Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (ed.), 2005. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth edition. Dallas, Tex.: SIL International. Online version (
17.      Articles: Aymara and Quechua under Languages of the World (
18.      Quechua Texts. Runasimi (Quechua, Quichua) June 2007. (
19.      Languages of South America, from Titus. (
20.      Article: 12 native Peruvian languages in danger of disappearing from Living in Peru. (
21.      Demographics of Bolivi, from Nation Master (

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