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Unity and Difference in Andean Songs

From: Oral Tradition
Volume 28, Number 1, March 2013

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In this essay I textually analyze a selection of Andean songs that I collected during doctoral fieldwork in the Peruvian Andes, between 2010 and 2011. Song is an important oral tradition in the Andes, where verse is normally accompanied by music and dance. Many song-genres (such as those presented here) are only performed during particular festivals, while others (for instance, the waynu) are part of daily life. The diversity of songs makes it difficult to classify “genres” according to Western lines of interpretation, which is why in this essay I have adopted an emic perspective and listed each song according to its place within the wider context of the festival. As John Miles Foley states (2002:36), “when dealing with the genres of oral poetry, expect a cornucopia. … Examine all defining features of each oral poem according to its idiosyncrasies rather than according to a prepackaged set of expectations,” for “care must be exercised to ‘read’ each oral genre on its own terms first.” Accordingly, this essay adopts an ethnopoetic model of analysis, reading “upwards” from the text rather than “downwards” from preconceived notions or categories. Indeed, “we need to make the effort to speak and hear the right language as fluently as we can manage, even if that effort entails a degree of culture shock” (20). Only by entering the “world” of the poetry—and, in the case of this essay, this means deep textual analysis in tandem with knowledge of the wider cultural context—can we reveal the underlying motivations of the texts in question.

My research involved traveling among various villages in Bolognesi and Pomabamba provinces, Ancash department, Peru, in search of local song traditions. My focus was on the linguistic and literary aspects of the songs, and particularly how they can elucidate the concept of “identity.” The songs presented here are extracts from the verses sung during the Masha festival in the village of Mangas, Bolognesi. I examine their portrayal of two major aspects of identity-creation, namely “unity” and “difference.” Mangas is well-known across Bolognesi for its traditional festivals, which have earned this village the popular designation as el pueblo debrujos (“town of witches,” a designation not necessarily used in a derogatory manner). The principal language of the songs is Ancash Quechua, a member of the Quechua 1 branch of the Quechua language-family, according to Torero’s (1974, 2002) classification. Quechua 1 is spoken in the central Peruvian Andes, whereas the Quechua 2 branch extends from southern Colombia to northern Chile and Argentina, its original range roughly coterminous with the borders of the Incan Empire. Given the far greater diversity of Quechua 1, we know that it is much older than Quechua 2 (Parker 1976:27–28), despite the very common misbelief—even by Quechua 1 speakers—that the Quechua (a Quechua 2 variety) of the former Incan capital, Cuzco, represents an original standard.

In common with many Amerindian language-families, Quechua is polysynthetic and agglutinating. A polysynthetic language is one that “allows the formation of extremely long words with many affixes” (Parker 1976:29, my translation). An agglutinating language is one where the affixes “undergo very little fusion or morphophonemic change” (29); in other words, adding new affixes does not change the form of those already there. All Quechua affixes are suffixes, and most of the suffixes can combine spontaneously with any word-root so that words are often formed ad hoc as meaning is fine-tuned by the addition of different suffixes. According to Mazzotti, Quechua can therefore “better express tonalities and affects without depending entirely on an extensive vocabulary” (2003:101). How such suffixes interact in the creation of meaning is thus a central issue for the current essay. An additional linguistic concern arises from the influence of Spanish now being omnipresent across the Andes, to the extent that it can be viewed as a second native language. As a result, the texts analyzed here incorporate aspects of Spanish to greater or lesser degrees.

The Masha Festival

The festival of Masha traditionally takes place every November in Mangas and lasts for two weeks. It centers on the construction of the church roof, which is typically changed every year...

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