Quechua Heritage: Colombia’s Rich Cultural Legacy

The Quechua diaspora includes people from many South American countries, with about twenty-five thousand in Colombia.

At the time of the Spanish conquest of South America, the imposition of the Spanish language produced the Quecha Mestizo population, which refers to people of mixed Spanish and Indigenous heritage.

Mestizos now make up the majority of the population of the Quechua. Today, pure Quechua people can only be found in far-flung communities in their respective countries.

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The history of the Quechua people is directly linked with the Inca Empire. It was the Incas that conquered the many different Quechua tribes in South America and assimilated many into their culture.

However, after the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, the Quechua were slain in large numbers and perished from foreign diseases. The Spanish colonizers enforced encomienda (hacienda style) systems in their colonies, forcing the Indigenous populations to modify their ways of life to produce crops for the Spanish.

This was just one of the ways that the Quechua and other Indigenous peoples were assimilated into Spanish culture.

Today, as in times of old, Quechua still find themselves subjected to persecution, often as a result of being seen as inferior peasants, especially in the remote villages. The Quechua Mestizos are treated differently as indeed are the modern Quechua people who have adopted the Quechua language merely for convenience.

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The Quechua tongue is spoken as the solitary language by about half of the population, while almost all understand it.

Ancient Quechua culture and entertainment are linked to the traditions of the Inca. Modern Quechua people and Quecha Mestizos have been greatly influenced by Spanish cultural elements that were introduced by the conquistadors.

Traditional clothing is still worn in many Quechua communities, even in the cities and townships. Gatherings, weddings and festivals all constitute part of Quechua traditional entertainment.

For the Quechua, family is very important. They typically remain close to their extended family, with several siblings and their spouses and children all living under the same roof or in communal compounds.

One of their highest values is ayni or mutual help. They believe that community members must help one another. If someone helps you, you return the favor.

Traditional folk beliefs are very strong among the highland Quechua. They have many fascinating spiritual beliefs and a strong tradition of herbal medicine. Coca leaf is important in both of these activities – it is used as a medicine and as a ritual offering for the ancestors. Shamans at times also use the coca properties to predict the future.

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The Quechua people of today do share some comparisons in their lifestyle, however only to a limited extent. The lowland and city Quechua people have almost entirely been influenced by modern culture, initially introduced by the Spaniards. Modern-day Quechua often now live in townships, homesteads and communities.

However, other Quechua still practice centuries-old traditions in their central Andean highland villages. They subsist on agriculture including pastoral farming and the cultivation of arable crops. The Aymara, along with the Quechua, who also practice ancient cultural traditions, are closely connected. They will often live in clay brick houses with straw roofs, weaving naturally dyed cotton and wool into fabrics for clothing and handicrafts.

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Quechua people are most famous for their beautiful textiles. Women weave stunning, brightly colored shawls and blankets from alpaca and llama wool. Since most Quechua are subsistence farmers, textiles provide an important source of additional income to many families. They are well known and recognized for their quirky bowler hats, the origins of which remain somewhat of a mystery.

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