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  • Pastoral Quechua: The History of Christian Translation in Colonial Peru, 1550–1650
  • Jeffrey Klaiber S.J.
Pastoral Quechua: The History of Christian Translation in Colonial Peru, 1550–1650. By Alan Durston. [History, Languages, and Cultures of the Spanish and Portuguese Worlds.] (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press. 2008. Pp. xvi, 395. $42.00 paperback. ISBN 978-0-268-02591-5.)

Sixteenth-century missionaries to Latin America evangelized through music, ritual, and the spoken and written languages. Music and ritual were rather noncontroversial because they awakened sentiments that in a vague way communicated a sense of the sacred and transcendental. But language proved much more difficult, among other reasons because the missionaries were forced to be specific and precise. For this reason also the Church was especially concerned about the Indian languages: could they be proper vehicles to transmit Christian truths, particularly abstract concepts such as the Trinity, the Incarnation, and grace? As Alan Durston argues in a clear and convincing way, the decision to use Quechua to evangelize the area once conquered by the Incas was not made lightly. In fact, not any Quechua was chosen, but rather the Quechua of Cuzco became “standard colonial Quechua” and the prime instrument for evangelization. The author points out that there were several other important dialects of Quechua spoken throughout colonial Peru and even to this day. But the missionaries needed a uniform language with which to work. In the background there lurked an ideological [End Page 643] factor: control over the language required uniformity, and uniformity enhanced control over a huge geographical area. The Council of Trent was decisive in this decision-making process. Before Trent, the missionaries were less concerned about precision. But after Trent, even in America, so far removed from the great battles of the Reformation, churchmen feared that the Indians had not really been evangelized, even though they went to Mass and participated in processions.

The culminating moment in this process was the Third Council of Lima (1582–83), during which Archbishop Toribio de Mogrovejo and all the bishops of Spanish South America, assisted by the Jesuit theologian José de Acosta and several linguists, carefully composed a universal catechism and other books on ritual for the entire Andean region. From that point on, all other catechisms and texts not approved at the Lima council were disavowed. But the story did not end there. By the seventeenth century the regional dialects began to reassert themselves. Tight control over the use of language and correct translation fueled resistance among mestizo authors such as Garcilaso de la Vega and the mendicants, like the Franciscan Luis Jerónimo de Oré, who had been largely excluded from the decision-making process. At the same time newly arrived Spanish clergy, backed by the crown, pushed to Hispanicize the Indians. As Durston convincingly demonstrates, language and the control of translations were perceived as a key to ideological control. Even the process of converting Quechua or Aymara sounds to Spanish letters was a way of subordinating a people and their language to the new rulers.

This is a fascinating, and for historians who are not linguists, an eye-opening, story of how language reflects and shapes history. The author analyzes Quechua texts and compares them to the original Latin or Spanish and with other, variant forms of Quechua. Durston also discusses how sixteenth- and seventeenth-century authors attempted to present God, Christ, and the Virgin Mary in the new standard Quechua to the Andean world. But the author also raises many issues that he admits have not been resolved satisfactorily. Even though the missionaries used Quechua, they still thought in European categories. But this raises a more fundamental question: was the new standard Quechua really Quechua, or simply a new language created from above and imposed upon the population? As the author readily acknowledges, two chapters require a basic knowledge of Quechua to fully appreciate the main arguments. Nevertheless, the essential message is clear: language, especially in the context of conquest and domination, is not and never was a neutral issue. For specialists in Andean languages, Pastoral Quechua is obligatory reading. For the nonspecialist, this is a fresh and enlightening way of looking...


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