The Guardian – Dan Collyns

Broadcast targeted speakers of language still spoken by 4 million Peruvians, symbolically ending centuries of marginalisation

 Co-presenter Marisol Mena, right, said Monday’s debut broadcast was a ‘historic achievement’.Co-presenter Marisol Mena, right, said Monday’s debut broadcast was a ‘historic achievement’.

For the first time in Peru’s history, a national news broadcast has been aired entirely in Quechua, the indigenous language of the Inca empire, which is still spoken by 4 million Peruvians.

Called Ñuqanchik – which means “all of us” in Quechua – the daily news programme that launched this week targets speakers of the language some historians trace back to Peru’s earliest civilizations 5,000 years ago.

For co-presenter Marisol Mena, Monday’s debut broadcast was a “historic achievement”, symbolically ending centuries of marginalisation. “We’ve struggled for a long time to see this initiative, and now we are broadcasting information to our Quechua brothers and sisters,” she said.

About 13% of Peruvians speak Quechua fluently, but usage as dwindled over generations as many parents deliberately did not teach the language to their children, fearing they would be rejected or mocked for using it.

Yet with around 8 million speakers in the parts of Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Argentina and Chile once dominated by the Incas, Quechua – in all its regional varieties – remains the most widely spoken indigenous language in the Americas.

In Peru, studies indicate while 4 million people speak Quechua fluently, up to 10 million – around a third of Peruvians – understand some of the language.

But the language that gave us words such as puma, condor, llama and alpaca is rarely – if ever – heard on national television or radio stations.

Even though it became one of Peru’s official languages in 1975, “Quechua was synonymous with social rejection – and thus became synonymous with discrimination,” said Hugo Coya, director of Peru’s television and radio institute and a driving force behind the initiative.

“Why was this [a Quechua news broadcast] not done before? I’m ashamed that I have to answer that question,” he said.

“Speakers often didn’t want to admit they spoke Quechua in order to be accepted by Spanish-speaking society,” he said.

Quechua speakers are disproportionately represented among the country’s poor: of Peruvians without access to health services, 60% speak Quechua, according to a 2014 World Bank study.

Children watch the broadcast in Loreto, Peru.
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Children watch the broadcast in Loreto, Peru. Photograph: Alamy

Peru has seen robust economic growth over the past decade – but the boom in mining and extractive activities has also seen a rapid rise in land conflicts with indigenous or peasant communities over the past decade. In October alone, the country’s human rights ombudsman logged 212 such disputes.

Ñuqanchik is an attempt to broach the economic and cultural gap between the Quechua and Spanish-speaking worlds, said prime minister Fernando Zavala at the programme’s inaugural broadcast.

“This, we believe, will transform the relationship between the government, the state, and those people who speak a language different from Spanish,” he said.

Produced and written by journalists who speak Quechua as their mother tongue, Ñuqanchik aims to transmit the news from the perspective of a Quechua speaker – complete with the Andean “cosmovision” – said Alfredo Luna, Peru’s vice-minister of intercultural affairs.

“Conflicts arise when there’s no dialogue; understanding each other we will be able to resolve these misunderstandings,” Luna said.

Against a bright orange and yellow backdrop reminiscent of the Inti or symbol of the sun worshipped by the Incas, the programme’s presenters simultaneously translate a Spanish autocue feed into Quechua, as many words in the indigenous language are too long to fit on the screens. The programme is simultaneously on state television and radio.

Luna said that news broadcasts are planned in other languages, including Aymara – spoken in Peru and Bolivia – as well as the principal languages of the Peruvian Amazon such as Ashaninka and Awajun.

Peru has 47 indigenous languages, and its culture ministry has been working since 2011 to provide bilingual education as a public service.

“Peru has to make sure its people can access public services and be citizens in their own languages,” says Agustin Panizo, director of indigenous languages at Peru’s culture ministry.