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Quechua people

Total population
10–11 million
Regions with significant populations
 Bolivia 3,910,750
 Peru 2,610,198
 Ecuador 2,568,000[1]
Quechua languages, Spanish
Roman Catholicism, traditional Andean religion
Related ethnic groups

Quechuas (also Runakuna, Kichwas, and Ingas) is the collective term for several indigenous ethnic groups in South America who speak a Quechua language (Southern Quechua mainly), belonging to several ethnic groups in South America, especially in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Argentina.

The Quechuas of Ecuador call themselves as well as their language Kichwa–Kichwas or Quichuas. In Colombia, the Kichwa-speaking group calls themselves the Ingas. Other Quechua speakers call themselves runakuna (Quechua for "people", in Junín and parts of Ancash, Peru: nunakuna; singular: runa or nuna).

Some historic Quechua peoples include:

  • Inca; Tawantinsuyu Empire (largest Pre-Columbian Empire)
  • Chancas (in Huancavelica, Ayacucho, and Apurímac, Peru);
  • Huancas (in Junín, Peru; spoke Quechua before the Incas did); and
  • Cañaris (in Ecuador; adopted the Quechua language from the Inca).


  • Historical and sociopolitical background 1
  • Material culture and social history 2
  • Examples for recent persecution of Quechuas 3
  • Mythology 4
  • Contribution in Modern Medicine 5
  • Traditional clothing 6
  • Further reading on Quechua-speaking ethnic groups 7
    • Colombia 7.1
    • Ecuador 7.2
    • Peru 7.3
    • Bolivia 7.4
  • Gallery 8
  • Notable people 9
  • See also 10
  • Notes 11
  • External links 12

Historical and sociopolitical background

The speakers of Quechua, who total some 2.5 million people in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, Colombia and Argentina, have so far only slightly developed a common sense of identity. The various Quechua dialects are in some cases so different that no mutual understanding is possible. Quechua was not only spoken by the Incas, but in some cases also by long-term enemies of the Inca Empire. These include the Huanca (Wanka is a Quechua dialect spoken today in the Huancayo area) and the Chanka (the Chanca dialect of Ayacucho) of Peru, and the Kañari (Cañar) in Ecuador. Quechua was spoken by some of these people, for example, the Wanka, before the Incas of Cusco, while other people, especially in Bolivia but also in Ecuador, adopted Quechua only in Inca times or afterward.

Quechua became Peru’s second official language in 1969 under the military regime of HCJB, "The Voice of the Andes" (La Voz de los Andes).[2] The term “Quechua Nation” occurs in such contexts as the name of the Education Council of the Quechua Nation (Consejo Educativo de la Nación Quechua, CENAQ), which is responsible for Quechua instruction or bilingual intercultural schools in the Quechua-speaking regions of Bolivia.[3] Some Quechua speakers claim that if nation states in Latin America had been built following the European pattern, they should be a single, independent nation.

Material culture and social history

Quechua woman with llamas (Cusco Department, Peru)

Despite their ethnic diversity and linguistic distinctions, the various Quechua ethnic groups have numerous cultural characteristics in common. They also share many of these with the Aymara, or other indigenous peoples of the central Andes.

Traditionally, Quechua identity is locally oriented and inseparably linked in each case with the established economic system. It is based on agriculture in the lower altitude regions, and on pastoral farming in the higher regions of the Puna. The typical Andean community extends over several altitude ranges and thus includes the cultivation of a variety of arable crops and/or livestock. The land is usually owned by the local community (ayllu) and is either cultivated jointly or redistributed annually.

Beginning with the colonial era and intensifying after the South American states had gained their independence, large landowners appropriated all or most of the land and forced the native population into bondage (known in Ecuador as Huasipungo, from Kichwa wasipunku, “front door”). Harsh conditions of exploitation repeatedly led to revolts by the indigenous farmers, which were forcibly suppressed. The largest of these revolts occurred 1780-1781 under the leadership of José Gabriel Kunturkanki.

Some indigenous farmers re-occupied their ancestors' lands and expelled the hacendados during the takeover of governments by reform-minded juntas in the middle of the 20th century, such as in 1952 in Bolivia (Víctor Paz Estenssoro) and 1968 in Peru (Juan Velasco Alvarado). The agrarian reforms included the expropriation of large landowners,. In Bolivia there was a redistribution of the land to the indigenous population as their private property. This disrupted traditional Quechua and Aymara culture based on communal ownership, but ayllus have been retained up to the present time in remote regions, such as in the Peruvian Quechua community of Q'ero.

Quechua woman with children

The struggle for land rights continues up to the present time to be a political focal point of everyday Quechua life. The Kichwa ethnic groups of Ecuador which are part of the ECUARUNARI association were recently able to regain communal land titles or the return of estates—in some cases through militant activity. Especially the case of the community of Sarayaku has become well known among the Kichwa of the lowlands, who after years of struggle were able to successfully resist expropriation and exploitation of the rain forest for petroleum recovery.

A distinction is made between two primary types of joint work. In the case of mink'a, people work together for projects of common interest (such as the construction of communal facilities). Ayni is, in contrast, reciprocal assistance, whereby members of an ayllu help a family to accomplish a large private project, for example house construction, and in turn can expect to be similarly helped later with a project of their own.

In almost all Quechua ethnic groups, many traditional handicrafts are an important aspect of material culture. This includes a tradition of weaving handed down from Inca times or earlier, using cotton, wool (from llamas, alpacas, guanacos, vicunas) and a multitude of natural dyes, and incorporating numerous woven patterns (pallay). Houses are usually constructed using air-dried clay bricks (tika, or in Spanish adobe), or branches and clay mortar (“wattle and daub”), with the roofs being covered with straw, reeds, or puna grass (ichu).

The disintegration of the traditional economy, for example, regionally through mining activities and accompanying proletarian social structures, has usually led to a loss of both ethnic identity and the Quechua language. This is also a result of steady migration to large cities (especially to Lima), which has resulted in acculturation by Hispanic society there.

Examples for recent persecution of Quechuas

Hilaria Supa, human rights activist and Peruvian politician

Up to the present time Quechuas continue to be victims of political conflicts and ethnic persecution. In the Peruvian civil war of the 1980s between the government and Sendero Luminoso about three quarters of the estimated 70,000 death toll were Quechuas, whereas the war parties were without exception whites and mestizos.[4]

The forced sterilization policy under Yawar Mallku.

Perceived ethnic discrimination continues to play a role at the parliamentary level. When the newly elected Peruvian members of parliament Hilaria Supa Huamán and María Sumire swore their oath of office in Quechua—for the first time in the history of Peru in an indigenous language—the Peruvian parliamentary president Martha Hildebrandt and the parliamentary officer Carlos Torres Caro refused their acceptance.[6][7]


Practically all Quechuas in the Andes have been nominally Roman Catholic since colonial times. Nevertheless, traditional religious forms persist in many regions, blended with Christian elements. Quechua ethnic groups also share traditional religions with other Andean peoples, particularly belief in Mother Earth (Pachamama), who grants fertility and to whom burnt offerings and libations are regularly made. Also important are the mountain spirits (apu) as well as lesser local deities (wak'a), who are still venerated especially in southern Peru.

The Quechuas came to terms with their repeated historical experience of genocide in the form of various myths. These include the figure of Nak'aq or Pishtaco (“butcher”), the white murderer who sucks out the fat from the bodies of the indigenous peoples he kills,[8] and a song about a bloody river.[9] In their myth of Wiraquchapampa [10] the Q'ero Indians describe the victory of the Apus over the Spaniards. Of the myths still alive today, the Inkarrí myth common in southern Peru is especially interesting; it forms a cultural element linking the Quechua Indians throughout the region from Ayacucho to Cusco.[10][11][12]

Contribution in Modern Medicine

Quinine, which is found naturally in bark of cinchona tree, is known to be used by Quechuas people for malaria-like symptoms.

When chewed, coca acts as a mild stimulant and suppresses hunger, thirst, pain, and fatigue; it is also used to alleviate altitude sickness.

Traditional clothing

Quechua woman and child in the Sacred Valley, Peru

Many indigenous women wear the colorful traditional costume, complete with bowler style hat. The hat has been worn by Quechua and Aymara women since the 1920s, when it was brought to the country by British railway workers. They are still commonly worn today.[13]

The traditional dress worn by Quechua women today is a mixture of styles from Pre-Spanish days and Spanish Colonial peasant dress. Younger Quechua men generally wear Western-style clothing, the most popular being synthetic football shirts and tracksuit pants. In certain regions, women also generally wear Western-style clothing. Older men still wear dark wool knee-length handwoven bayeta pants. A woven belt called a chumpi is also worn which provides protection to the lower back when working in the fields. Men's fine dress includes a woollen waistcoat, similar to a sleeveless juyuna as worn by the women but referred to as a chaleco. Chalecos can be richly decorated.

The most distinctive part of men's clothing is the handwoven poncho. Nearly every Quechua man and boy has a poncho, generally red in colour decorated with intricate designs. Each district has a distinctive pattern. In some communities such as Huilloc, Patacancha, and many villages in the Lares Valley ponchos are worn as daily attire. However most men use their ponchos on special occasions such as festivals, village meetings, weddings etc.

As with the women, ajotas, sandals made from recycled tyres, are the standard footwear. They are cheap and durable.

A ch'ullu is frequently worn. This is a knitted hat with earflaps. The first ch'ullu that a child receives is traditionally knitted by his father. In the Ausangate region chullos are often ornately adorned with white beads and large tassels called t'ikas. Men sometimes wear a felt hat called a sombrero over the top of the ch'ullu decorated with centillo, finely decorated hat bands. Since ancient times men have worn small woven pouches called ch'uspa used to carry their coca leaves.[14]

Further reading on Quechua-speaking ethnic groups

Distribution of Quechua people in Bolivia among the municipalities (2001 national census).
Quechua woman (Puruhá), Ecuador, neighborhood of Alausí (Chimborazo province)

The following list of Quechua ethnic groups is only a selection and delimitations vary. In some cases these are village communities of just a few hundred people, in other cases ethnic groups of over a million.








Notable people

See also


  1. ^ 2001 INEC census
  3. ^ Consejo Educativo de la Nación Quechua: Quienes somos, Consejo Educativo de la Nación Quechua / Qhichwa Suyu Yachachiymanta Umalliq: Currículo Regionalizado de la Nación Quechua, Sucre 2012
  4. ^ Orin Starn: Villagers at Arms: War and Counterrevolution in the Central-South Andes. In Steve Stern (ed.): Shining and Other Paths: War and Society in Peru, 1980–1995. Duke University Press, Durham und London, 1998, ISBN 0-8223-2217-X
  5. ^ Mass sterilisation scandal shocks Peru, 24 July 2002, BBC News,
  6. ^ Perú: Congresista quechua Maria Sumire sufrió presiones para juramentar en español.
  7. ^ Congresistas indígenas sesionarán en quechua. Diario Hispano Peruano, 10.08.2006.
  8. ^ Examples (Ancash Quechua with Spanish translation) at and (in Chanka Quechua)
  9. ^ Karneval von Tambobamba. In: José María Arguedas: El sueño del pongo, cuento quechua y Canciones quechuas tradicionales. Editorial Universitaria, Santiago de Chile 1969. Online: (auf Chanka-Quechua). German translation in: Juliane Bambula Diaz and Mario Razzeto: Ketschua-Lyrik. Reclam, Leipzig 1976, p. 172
  10. ^ a b Thomas Müller and Helga Müller-Herbon: Die Kinder der Mitte. Die Q'ero-Indianer. Lamuv Verlag, Göttingen 1993, ISBN 3-88977-049-5
  11. ^ (in Quechua)
  12. ^ Juliane Bambula Diaz und Mario Razzeto: Ketschua-Lyrik. Reclam, Leipzig 1976, pp. 231 ff.
  13. ^ La Paz and Tiwanaku: colour, bowler hats and llama fetuses. 05.08.2011.
  14. ^ A Guide to the Culture and Traditions of the Andean Communities of Peru, 05.08.2011.

External links

  • Quichua, Peoples of the World Foundation
  • World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Bolivia : Highland Aymara and Quechua, UNHCR
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