Collaborating on Presenting Reanimated Native Andean History

From the Series: Co-authorship as Feminist Writing and Practice

Photo by Ryan Anderson, licensed under CC BY NC SA.

Co-authoring Quechua Histories

Writing a co-authored piece within academia is a challenge and more so when only one party has access to the legitimated language of publication (in Pierre Bourdieu’s [1991] sense of “legitimated language”), particularly with speakers of oppressed languages such as Quechua in the southern Andes. Even a native Quechua-speaking scholar such as me has to make constant accommodations to fit the English analytical categories that are essential to the field of study. Quechua category relations do not match English ones on a one-to-one basis (Mannheim 2015), so I am forced to find equivalences that are often tendentious. Quechuas are aware of the pitfalls of translations from their experience interacting with domestic and foreign scholars and with officials of governmental institutions and NGOs. For instance, ñuñuchiy is understood as breastfeeding or lactancia materna by public and private institutions that seek to recover or reinforce the practice of breastfeeding infants. However, Quechua villagers are usually puzzled or confused by advertisements encouraging breastfeeding, given that Quechua moms usually breastfeed their children until they are three years old. Because they habitually breastfeed, an advertisement with a commanding phrase ñuñuchiy and a picture of a baby sitting on a woman’s lap can only be understood as a command to breastfeed right then. Another example is the translation of ñawpa and qhipa. They are translated as past and future or as the Quechua equivalents of the Spanish words adelante and atrás, respectively. Ñawpa and qhipa frequently are resemantized within English or Spanish frames without considering context and the layered meanings and interpretations within Quechua frames. In contrast, Quechua villagers have a very different sense of ñawpa, as we will see in a moment.

The production of experimental video documentaries allows Quechua villagers to participate as co-authors, circumventing the technology of writing and the issue of translation—at least up to certain point. Video documentaries aid, in particular, with the representation of Quechua history. Quechuas have been said to not have much interest in history in the European and “American” sense, in Marisol de la Cadena’s (2015, 28–29, 123–24, 129–30) account, the “stories” told by Quechua speakers are ahistorical or accessories to history. Quechua people are not interested “in constructing a theory of the real” (Strong 2017, 471) or a history of the “Indians,” and much less in assembling a series of events into a narrative with a beginning, key central point, and a final resolution. Rather, Quechua people have a keen and sensitive eye for the reanimation of the past (Ennis 2019), and in reanimating their history, details matter deeply for them. When I was gathering Quechua oral histories in the villages of Paqchanta (Quispicanchi, Peru), about the hacienda system of the 1950s and 1960s, villagers asked me to produce a video to document their lived experiences and practices. They wanted to reconstruct their histories by reanimating a past that is (effectively) always present, seeking to secure a Quechua historical rendition without the mediation of the colonial language. What is more, they sought to be sure that their history would not be understood as a folktale or cuento.

The Village of Paqchanta. Photo by Margarita Huayhua.

Paqchanta is a community that has a long history of agrarian struggle (Reátegui Chávez 1977) and a shorter history of ethnography and tourism. Its residents bring this past to the fore by reanimating (animutu quy) the history of their subordinated relationship with the hacienda of Lauramarca. They put the past on the front stage or ñawpaqpi, before their eyes; past events are there as part of the present. They live William Faulkner’s (2011, 73) famous dictum: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” The past is there for them to grasp, reflect on, and retell; details matter: ñawpaqpi.

The production of a collaborative documentary provides a medium for sharing authorship, allowing Quechua protagonists to recount their histories within a framework of their own practices of making history. The paradox is that the reanimation of villagers’ histories and their comments upon their reconstruction for the film are interspersed with my meta-commentaries, which I offer in order to fit their histories into “our” practices, to make them legible to Euro-American, primarily academic audiences. Here I would like to discuss my experience doing so in the case of Paqchanta.

From Where Do “We” Speak?

As a first-language Quechua speaker who grew up in a rural Andean village, my collaborations have had a different shape from those of my non-Quechua colleagues, whatever their nationalities. The expectations of me by my Quechua-speaking collaborators and my obligations to them are especially different. In addition, we worked entirely in our primary language, skipping the intermediation that usually takes place in working with a colonial language such as Spanish, as is most often the case in indigenous studies. The collaboration I discuss here is also unusual because I was familiar to the Paqchanta village prior to the work I discuss, in a different role—as the research assistant for an anthropologist. The products of our collaboration are first and foremost for them and for their children—as a living memory of their struggles for control of their land, their lives, and their livelihoods, and are only secondarily for ethnographic consumption. In collaborating with them, I want to contribute to envisioning new ways of moving beyond academia’s extractive industry. Up to now, my ethnographic research has been published in the usual scholarly venues (such as this article), not only for the usual professional reasons; but also because it allows me to build an intellectual position that addresses analytic problems that (in my opinion) have been inadequately developed in the ethnography of indigenous South America, and this article addresses one of them as well. However, as Ruth Behar (1990, 252–53) suggests the stories that I am carrying north are different from the ones that I am bringing back south.

Also, my collaborations are different because both the nature of the collaboration and the product were decided on by the villagers. Quechua historical knowledge works in fundamentally different ways from historical knowledge as it is understood in the academy. One does not tell the past in a third-person narrative that looks like a history book or even a courtroom testimony. One brings the past into the living present—it is ñawpaqniykipi, in front of your eyes or in front of the eyes. This meant that the product of our collaboration was a video made, of course, in Quechua. Villagers of Paqchanta scripted a reenactment of their political struggle in the first half and the middle of the twentieth century, with an eye toward accuracy of language and of dress, enacted in the very places that figured in the histories. This was not just a matter of medium. It also reflected different sets of assumptions about the world—different ontologies—and different understandings of the relationships between past and present.

Thus, for me, as a Quechua anthropologist who spends every day in a world different from the one in which I grew up, collaboration is not a matter of who gets assigned authorship or whether collaborations receive the same kind of credit in single-authored articles of the “neo-liberal” academy. Rather, collaboration is about the kind of recognition required of me, one that recognizes that knowledge is built differently, and that my job is to respect those differences.

Reconstructing Lived Experiences: Clothing and Language Matters

Villagers of Paqchanta were forced to work without pay within haciendas and began a protracted fight with the owners of the Lauramarca estate, starting in the 1920s (Reátegui Chávez 1977). For our video, they chose several events to reanimate. One of these was a clandestine meeting in a cave by senior villagers to plan the next moves in the struggle. After shooting the scene, I played it back; the villagers were disappointed with the reconstructed results. In performing the meeting, elders were concerned with the details of clothing and language that, according to them, should index the time and space of their struggle (in the sense of Mikhail Bakhtin’s [1981] notion of the chronotope). While examining their reenactment, a female elder, Mama Justa, pointed out: “Manama chhaynachu karan [It wasn’t like that].” When I asked why this was so, Mama Justa replied:

Kunan hinachu p’achakuwaq. Ñawpaqqa hina yanachallawan churakuranchis. Khunanma khaynata churakunchis. Khunanma kay hina llikllatapas hap’inchis. Hirgallama karan.

In those days, you couldn’t dress like now. Before we used to wear only dark hats, it is now that we use these colorful embroidered hats. It’s now that we can have this kind of colorful and machine-made blanket. Before, there were only blankets made of llama or sheep wool.

Mama Justa’s comment is further supported by Mama Liberata, another female elder, who stated:

Asinda timpupiqa llikllaykipis kanmanchu. Imaykipis kanmanchu. Khunanñama chhayna sumaq ruwasqatapas churakunchis. Ñawpaqri? Manas timpu imapaqpis alkakuranchu.

In the time of the hacienda estate, you wouldn’t have been able to have a shawl. You didn’t have anything. Now we can dress up with nice clothes. How was it before? I was told [by my father-in-law] that there was no time to do your own things.

Both Mama Justa and Mama Liberata asserted that during the time of haciendas, women wore plain black hats with a yellow ribbon and plain shawls without design. People did not have the time or the means to dress themselves as today. The kinds of hats and blankets that villagers used under the hacienda regime until the 1960s are considered key to indexing the dire conditions of their lives, in contrast to the well-designed and colorful clothing of today. Clothing is regarded as crucial in reconstructing the past struggle with the hacienda, as it indexes changes in the villagers’ lives, specifically, the end of the hacienda system.

The men commented on their dress in much the same terms. Male elders scolded each other for not being careful with their attire, even though they told each other beforehand what kind of outfit they should wear to perform their parts. Tata Aquilino, for instance, observed:

Imaraykutaq mana nisqanchisman hinachu p’achakamurankichisri? Chay timpuqa manama kuriyaqa karanchu, nitaq aqna punchuqa riki.

Why didn’t you dress up as we said? In the time of the hacienda there were no belts, nor colorful ponchos, like this [one].

During the time of the hacienda villagers did not wear belts or colorful ponchos. Male elders considered men’s clothing as key to illustrating the dire conditions of villagers’ lives during that time.

The Quechua lexicon used by the performers was also the subject of discussion. Watching the footage of their performance, Mama Justa said:

Chay timpuqa manama asambliya nikurankuchu, nitaq kuta nikuranchu

At that time people didn’t use the word “assembly” [asamblea in Spanish], nor did they use the word “quota/fee” [cuota in Spanish].

Tata Benito added:

Manama don nispapas rimakuranchu. Khunanñama chhaynata ninchis.

Nor was the title “sir” [don in Spanish] used. It is only now that we use these words.

They observed that in Quechua huñunakuy or rimanakuy is the word for asamblea; tanta for cuota; and tayta or tata for don, a form of address among men. The distinctions are important for villagers, for example huñunakuy indicates an obligation, a duty to make possible a general meeting in which every villager must participate, and rimanakuy also indicates the obligation to meet in order to converse and sort things out; in both cases, reciprocity is expected. Asamblea does not compel villagers to reciprocate.

Huñunakuyman. Photo by Margarita Huayhua.

They suggested that the Spanish words made their way into Quechua when people from Cuzco arrived to form a peasant union and called for community-wide asambleas during the 1950s and the 1960s. Both pointed out that nowadays such words are used in everyday spoken Quechua.

Clearly, then, clothing and language use are key indices of the events being performed, to present their reanimated history “on the record.” These are details that would vanish under Euro-American narrative history.


Quechua Native Andeans shared their histories from their own standing, discussing their struggles to maintain body and soul on their own terms. For villagers of Paqchanta their conceptualization of ñawpa and qhipa are exposed in the discussion of clothing and language, which are essential to reanimating villagers’ history for the documentary. They used their clothing to index the slave-like conditions of their lives under the system of haciendas. With respect to language use, the elders wanted their spoken Quechua to be as close as possible to its historical use to index the past events being reanimated for the film, avoiding the use of Spanish words that migrated into Quechua in later years.

In Paqchanta, villagers aim to reconstruct their lived experiences in the film from their own perspectives. They reanimated past events that they have chosen and framed them according to their own priorities and ideas. These events are presented as part of their historical reality. There is nothing ahistorical about it. Quechua historicity is asserted forcefully in the village, though it might not be legible, as Pauline Turner Strong (2017, 471) suggests, for “those inhabiting the ‘dogmatic’ lifeworld of [w]estern science” or those for whom relying on translation precludes them from grasping Quechua-speaking peoples’ ways of making history. As I have suggested elsewhere (Huayhua 2019), doing direct ethnography allows you to have tête-à-tête conversations on matters of lived experiences, life and death, or “existence” that offer glimpses into what matters to Quechua people.

A documentary built from a bottom-up approach allows villagers to put on stage or ñawpaqpi their lived experiences of a lifeworld in the presence of viewers. What of my part in the process? Although I, too, grew up as a Quechua villager, I have the task of moving from their world of reanimated history to a Euro-American world of narrated history, to make their history intelligible to my viewers and readers. I hope that the translation of our history to you of their struggles does not do violence to their reanimations. In the production of the documentary, authorship has been attributed to all participants. As it was suggested, the documentary is primarily for villagers’ children and future generations. Villagers are expecting recognition of their battles for their livelihoods through the viewing and sharing of the documentary in multiple venues. They are not seeking recognition by the academy; rather, they expect recognition as political and historical actors by their children, contemporary urban peers, and coming generations. For them, such recognition means that they are people advocating justice within Andean society.


This study was possible through a research grant from the Urgent Anthropological Research, Royal Anthropological Institute, London. Special thanks go to my Quechua speaking partners from Paqchanta and Ausangate. Hinallatapas. I thank Lydia Dixon, Mounia El Kotni, Jessica Lockrem, Bruce Mannheim, Barbra Meek, Veronica Miranda, and John Thiels for their comments on earlier drafts. Any errors remain mine.


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