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Interview with Jermani Ojeda-Ludena: A Quechuan Voice for Resistance

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein (1922)[1]

Indigenous erasure is a common thread of post-colonised states’ legacies. The loss of a shared language is a key indicator in both the measure of Indigenous erasure since colonisation and contemporary efforts to restrict a shared history and culture.

Jermani Ojeda Luenda, a Quechuan academic from Peru, echoes the power of language in the perpetuation of Indigenous culture in a recent interview with Lowri Harris (communications coordinator with Incomindios UK), as well as the extent to which the Peruvian government and its predecessors attempted to erase Indigeneity from its state.

Jermani opens the interview with a background of his professional career and early life in Kurawali in the Andean mountains. With Quechuan as his first language, Jermani is in the final year of his PhD in Iberian and Latin American Languages and Cultures. He is currently writing his dissertation with a focus on Quechua oral rhetoric, discussing the principles of Quechuan communication.

The Quechua language originated in the Andes around 2000 years ago and is unique to the Indo-European languages of the colonisers from the 16th Century. Originally adopted by the conquistadors to communicate with the native Incans and missionaries as a route towards evangelisation, by the 18th Century the Spaniards had discarded the use of Quechuan and banned it from public use after the Túpac Amaru II Indigenous rebellion[2]. Quechuan people were further persecuted during the Encomendia era, which saw the division of land for Spanish landowners, along with a number of Indigenous Quechuans as property. This act of human commodification is again a common thread in the history of colonisation, echoed throughout countless European claims to foreign lands. The creation of the Peruvian state in 1821 saw the transition from Encomendias to Haciendas, which is similar to the European feudal system. It was not until neighbouring countries in the 1970s began a movement for agrarian reforms that the Peruvian government agreed to follow suit in order to avoid a social conflict, Jermani explains. From the reform’s promulgation in 1969 to 1979, more than 9 million hectares were returned to Indigenous families and Peruvian citizenship was granted to the Indigenous population. The reform also heralded a change in the labelling of Indigenous Peruvians from the derogative “indio”, to “campensino”, meaning “peasant farmer”.

Jermani states that many Quechuans, including himself, still face great inequality in Peru. As part of his thesis, Jermani plans to conduct film work with Quechuan broadcasters in different areas of the Andes, which will cast a spotlight on the issue of the Quechuan language’s omission from a status of a national state language. The current national language is solely Spanish, as Quechuan is viewed as strictly Indigenous. Even with its declaration as an official language in 1975 and a population of around 10 million Quechua speakers across at least seven different territories[3], 4.7 million of which reside in Peru[4], Quechuan is omitted from various areas of life. Spanish is still the only language that can be used outside of social life. This is a clear example of the colonial legacy bleeding into the fabric of society. As a result, Jermani explains, only 25% of Peruvians speak Quechua, with only 15% speaking Quechua as their first language.

The loss of a shared language is just one by-product of the colonial era, which also developed striking socio-economic inequalities between Peruvians and their Indigenous cohorts. Jermani illustrates the reality for many Indigenous people in Peru, who must choose between staying in their communities or moving away to continue with further education. He remarks on the fact that his grandparents never received an education, and his parents could only attend primary school due to their socio-economic circumstances.

The lack of the Peruvian government’s interest in the progress of Indigenous life and culture is a hard pill to swallow for many Quechuans and fellow Indigenous groups. The suppression of Indigenous languages and the neglect of Indigenous communities in their education and socio-economic circumstances perpetuates the historical erasure of Indigenous culture from Peru.

As Jermani revisits a subject from his last webinar around the suppression of Peruvian protesters, we are reminded that state neglect is not the only form of Indigenous erasure in Peru. He recalls that the “last social conflict violence” resulted in the loss of around 65 people, 80% of whom were Quechuas and Aymaras. Jermani asserts this to be a result of structural racism within Peru. This violence against protesting Indigenous Peruvians is another consequence of its colonial past. Again, Jermani states that this isn’t new as in the 80s, the Marxist group, the Shining Path, revolted and was met with a military response. The government under President Alberto Fujimori killed many Indigenous people in the Andean area, but as Jermani argues, no one cared as it didn’t happen in Lima to “citizens”, rather the response targeted those who were “less than citizens”.

The public perception of Indigenous groups as lesser than the rest of the population is promoted by Peru’s mainstream media. Jermani proceeds to criticise the media, which has no place for Indigenous voices yet will advertise and capitalise off of the Indigenous history of Machu Picchu. He argues that the state only cares about the national richness that Indigenous people can offer. The exploitation of Indigenous history for financial gain echoes the treatment of Indigenous Peruvians as a commodity.

In his final thoughts, Jermani concludes that in order for real change to be made to stop Indigenous erasure in Peru, its government must work with international NGOs and local governments in order to tackle the disparity between urban and rural areas. He argues that this should start with the mining operations that are stripping the land of its resources and putting Indigenous livelihoods at risk. Jermani also concludes by echoing the power of knowledge transfer and commends Incomindios’ efforts in making space for Indigenous voices.

In order to exact real change, Indigenous voices must be heard and supported by NGOs. It is through the advocacy of Indigenous lives that affirmative action is possible, and it is only possible through empowering Indigenous communities. This has begun with Jermani’s work to advocate for the Quechua language, which is vital to preserving Indigenous culture.

Author: Olivia Ronan

Co-Author and Interviewer: Lowri Harris

Editorial: Alicia Kroemer


[2] Adelaar, Willem F. H (2004-06-10). The Languages of the Andes. ISBN 9781139451123.

[3] Supra note [1]

[4] Ibid


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