Most people coming to Peru for the first time quickly realize that its rich indigenous heritage is what makes the country so beautifully diverse. For those hoping to learn more about and connect with the Andean indigenous communities and their culture, learning the Quechua language is a good first step.
We must note that there are many dialects of Quechua across Peru and the rest of the Andes. This is a Quechua lesson for those who find themselves in the Cusco area. If you find yourself in the jungle, or in the central or southern part of the Andes, you will find that the language varies.
Where else to start but with a typical Quechua greeting. Allianchu (pronounced: Eye-eee-anch-ooo) is a way of saying, “Hello, how are you?” If you are to learn one Quechua phrase, we recommend this one. In response to this question, you’re likely to hear, allianmi, (pronounced: Eye-eee-on-meee), meaning: “I’m well, thank you.” Now, you’re able to greet locals, and respond to them, as you stroll through Cusco.
Love makes the world go ’round, doesn’t it? If you listen to people speaking Quechua, you’re likely to pick up on the fact that people speak a lot about love in this language. You’ll find many different variations of this word within the Quechua language, but if just say munay (pronounced: moon-eye), people are going to know what you’re talking about. Say it to someone whose outfit you love, or someone who does you a favor. Say it to a weaver whose textiles you truly admire!
Where would we be without the wonderful food from the Andes? There are a lot of tasty things to eat, so why not learn how to compliment your Quechua-speaking cook? When you say somaq mihuna (pronounced: so-mak meehooona), you’re saying that, “this is amazing food.” If somebody hears you say this at their restaurant or food stand, they’re likely to be happy, and very surprised.
Okay, this one is more difficult than the others, but it’s a helpful one to know. If you haven’t yet been to the Andes, maybe you haven’t noticed that Andean community life feels very much like family life. Without surprise, the Quechua language deeply reflects this. It is common for friends to refer to themselves as brothers or sisters. You can do the same, if you feel a sense of closeness with somebody you’ve met. If you are a man speaking to another man, you can call him brother by saying waykay (prounounced: Way-kay), but if you are speaking to a woman, be sure to call her panay (pronounced: pan-eye). If you are a woman speaking to another woman, call her ñañay (pronounced: neean-neee-eye), and if you are speaking to a man, refer to him as turay (pronounced: tour-eye).
This is the word for work, and if you haven’t noticed while spending time out in the countryside, most people living the Andes work their butts off in the fields growing their own food, building their own houses, and often carrying heavy loads across long distances on their backs. Give Andean locals the recognition they deserve for their impressive work ethic by saying llankay (pronounced: yank-eye), which means work.
This one is pretty difficult to say, but once you learn how to say it you’re going to impress most people who hear you. One of the most sacred and important traditions of the Andes is the sharing of the coca leaf. The gesture of sharing this sacred leaf, known as a quintu (pronounced: kin-two), is a way to show gratitude as well as respect. If you find yourself sitting beside somebody on the bus who you feel an affinity with, go ahead and offer a few coca leaves while saying this phrase to them: Japlaykusinchis (pronounced: halpay-koos-in-chis), which means “let’s chew some coca together.”
Where would we be without a please or a thank you? We wouldn’t get very far without these words. With that in mind, consider learning this fundamental Quechua word, sulpayki (pronounced: sool-pay-ki), which means thank you.
All good things must come to an end. There always comes a time for parting. When you realize it’s time to say goodbye, say tupananchikama, (pronounced: two-pan-anchis-kama), which means goodbye.
In Quechua, this word (pronounced: cow-say-pak) means to live. If you feel the need to make a cheers to someone or something, speak these words. Cheers to life, to health, in honor of the sacred land, Andean people and the beautiful language that they speak.
Cover art: Wikimedia
This article has been updated from its original version published on August 23, 2018.
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