Quechua sports journalist brings language revitalization to new spaces

“Wayrawasinchik kunanqa Llaqtapa sunqunpi‘, sounds a pre-recorded announcement on Radio Inti Raymi during a sports broadcast of a local women’s football match in the Apurímac region of the Peruvian Andean highlands. “Now our radio station is in the heart of the city.” Then, above the screams of the fans of both teams during the game, the loud voice of the commentator cuts through the air. “Ayayayayyy, our sister Lizbeth resists and then kicks the leather ball with all her energy!” he tells, speaking entirely in Quechua. “Now the leather ball is in control of the opposing team. Our sister Martha had thieving feet with her ability to retrieve the ball.”*

Quechua broadcaster Luis Alberto Soto Colque, better known by his nickname Qara Q’ompo, Quechua for leather ball, always manages to capture the emotion of the game. During the match, he uses different Quechua expressions related to the local culture, which not only makes the commentary more exciting and engaging for his listeners, but also reveals a new and rich vocabulary geared to the storytelling of football matches. Thus, he contributes to expanding the indigenous language into domains, such as sports, which in Peru have traditionally been exclusively Spanish-speaking.

While the women play soccer, Qara Q’ompo plays with his voice, using intonation and accent, based on the Quechua knowledge of misk’i Rimay (sweet speech) and willarikuy (news). Both rimay and willarikuy were put into practice on radio from the early 1950s, when Quechua indigenous voices began to crop up on the airwaves in the Andean region of Cusco, interrupting the Hispanic domination of early radio. . However, over the past three decades, broadcasters such as Qara Q’ompo have developed a special way of performing rimay and willarikuy in the narration of football matches in the Andes. At the same time, they have also continued to expand their reach by using new media to spread the indigenous knowledge and language through the internet.

In 2016, Qara Q’ompo arrived in Challhuahuacho, a town in the Andean region of Apurímac, to narrate the final game of a local football tournament. I worked in that city as a local journalist, and a colleague of mine interviewed Qara Q’ompo about his work as a reporter on football in Quechua. I was curious about his nickname because it reminded me of the old leather soccer balls we used when I was in elementary school. In the pronunciation of both words, we use the aspirated and glottalized sounds that are characteristic of the Cusco Collao variant of the Quechua language.

From the beginning of the interview, Qara Q’ompo radiated his radio personality as a Quechua sports journalist. His voice was characterized by an intonation that reaches the hearts of Quechua speakers. Sometimes he told with the help of native knowledge by comparing the football players with uywas (animals cared for by humans) according to the Quechua storytelling tradition. At other times, he linked the players’ energies with forces infused with Andean agricultural products, such as quinoa and maca. This way of communicating was known to Quechuas and attracted the attention of the public.

Today, Qara Q’ompo uses not only radio but also social media to spread his voice, telling football matches as well as local stories, horse races, birthdays of the Quechua communities, parades and other celebrations. His sports journalism and the rise of Quechua journalists and broadcast commentators in general is the culmination of more than seven decades of Quechua broadcasting in the Peruvian Andes.

Qara Q’ompo hails from Qosqo, today known as Cusco, in the southern Andes. According to Cusqueños, Qosqo means “the center of the world”, and Quechuas proudly identifies it as the capital of the Inca territory, known as Tawantinsuyu. The first radio station in Cusco was Radio Cuzco, which opened in 1937. According to the Cusqueños Jaime Alberto Cutire Arce and Javier Quispe Yupayccana, the first sounds on the air were foreign Spanish music genres such as pasodoble, flamenco and zarzuela. According to Luis Angel Aragón, Teófilo Guaylupo, the city priest, was the first to use the radio to speak and spread his message on the air.

At the time, radio in Cusco was conceived as a new tool to extend the progress and modernity heralded by continued colonization and indigenous erasure. However, the opening of Radio Rural in 1948 opened up new opportunities to broadcast programs targeting campesinos or indigenous peoples. This new station gave space not only to the Quechua music but also to indigenous voices, becoming the first space for Quechua radio announcers† In the years before, radio became an excellent way to spread their long-silenced voices.

Luis Alberto Soto Colque, known as Qara Q'ompo.  (Courtesy of Luis Alberto Soto Colque)

Making a Quechua sports commentator

ffive years after meeting Qara Q’ompo in Challhuahuacho, I once again faced the great broadcaster from Quechua. But this time we met virtually. In October 2021 we held a virtual tinkuy or a meeting to talk about Quechua voices on the radio in the Southern Peruvian Andes, and many in attendance were eager to hear about Qara Q’ompo’s experience as he is considered a umaliq or leader for the Quechua. He started the conversation with a greeting, like the Quechua people do: Waliqllachu khumpaykuna, panaykuna, wawqiykuna. Apunchikkuna, inti tayta mama killa munayninwanmi kaypiqa tarikushanchis (How are you, my brothers and sisters. Thanks to our sacred mountains, our father the sun, our mother the moon we are here together)A charismatic speaker, he is a Quechua harawiku, like the poets or orators in the time of the Incas.

Qara Q’ompo explained that he had no intention of becoming an example and advocate for indigenous voices on the airwaves. “It was in 2003 that the city’s football team, Club de Fútbol Cienciano, won the Copa Sudamericana,” he explained. “Radio Mundo invited me to tell about the last match between Cienciano and River Plate from Argentina. I only started telling in Spanish, but when Cienciano won that race, my heart couldn’t express it in Spanish.”

It was a turning point – and a challenge. “At that point I decided to start speaking in Quechua, but I had problems because it was my first time telling in Quechua,” he continued. “Quechua is so sweet and lively to us, but there’s the limitation that we didn’t have room for football stories in our language.” He started by preparing his own Quechua vocabulary to avoid using words borrowed from Spanish. Going down this road also meant challenging the dominant broadcasting style that tells sports only in Spanish. This Spanish dominance is reinforced not only by the mainstream media in the Andes, who prefer to use only Spanish, but also by journalism schools that avoid using the Quechua language even though they have native journalists. Qara Q’ompo’s decision meant breaking that stigma and using his native language.

Taking on a project with such great challenges took time. Though spurred on by his initiative, the effort also grew out of collaboration with the Quechua-speaking community. Quechua knowledge is not written, it is in the people, in the community, in the territory. In this sense, Qara Q’ompo had to gather native language knowledge from community members to develop his story about the sport. “I started asking our elders in different cities how to say ball, soccer, pitch and everything related to a soccer game,” he explained. “With their help, I have created a vocabulary that is entirely in Quechua.” He visited communities such as Quispicanchi, Canchis, Chumbivilcas, Urubamba and neighboring towns and villages and gathered a new vocabulary: before the ball see, for football qara q’ompo hayt’ay, to throw patamanta urqumuy, for corner kicks is k’uchuchamanta hayt’ay, for headers umachankuwan p’anay, for yellow card q’illu rap’i, and so forth. “I found a rich vocabulary for football in Quechua that is associated with our passion for this sport and our indigenous knowledge.”

Qara Q’ompo then asked the directors of Cienciano’s football team to gain access to the stadium when the team was playing. With that access, he was able to narrate the matches directly in Quechua. “I showed them that I was well prepared to tell in Quechua. They accepted my proposal and I started telling Cienciano matches livehe said. There he was able to perfect his know-how of narration in the native language. In 2003, Qara Q’ompo became the voice of the Quechua people in narrating the local club’s football matches. Since then, his words have spread over the air during every Cienciano match – and now on social media.

Now Qara Q’ompo is urging Quechua journalists and locutores to use the indigenous language and contribute to its revitalization. “We are together in this meeting thanks to our father the sun and our mother the moon. In that sense, we need to spread our language more,” he said during the virtual event. The internet, he added, is a valuable tool for preserving, disseminating and digitizing the language, but the work still lies with the speakers themselves. “Some of us are elders and others are part of the new generations, but we have a responsibility to spread the Quechua language.” It is a message that he hopes will resonate with the young people of Quechuas and that they will answer his call to action by using different spaces and media technologies to make the language more visible. Quechua is a language that is actively used and more spaces are needed to be maintained and passed on to new generations. Alternative media are a valuable public space for this.

At the end of our virtual tinkuy, Qara Q’ompo invited Quechuas to speak their language during the various activities of their daily lives. With this appeal, he challenges Quechua speakers to ignore stigma and forget the stereotype that the language only belongs in agricultural activities or in the past. “The digitization of the Quechua language is in your hands,” he emphasized. “We need to globalize our language in the different activities we do — in economics, journalism, health services, education, and so on.”

Quechua has been an official language of Peru since 1975, alongside Spanish. Currently, more than 10 million people speak this language in the Andean countries. However, this does not mean that public services are provided in the native language. As Qara Q’ompo emphasized, the use and future of a language depends not only on the actions of governments, but above all on those who insist on continuing to speak the language.

*From the original Quechua: “Ayayayayyy pananchis Lizbeth sayapakamun hinaspa hayt’an tukuy kallpanwan qara q’ompota. Kunantaq contranpi kaqkunañataq bolawan kachkanku. Sumaq suwa chakichallaña pananchanchis Martaqa kasqa.”

Germani Ojeda Ludena is a Quechua scholar from the region of Apurimac, Peru. He is currently a doctoral student specializing in Native American and Indigenous Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. In 2021, he partnered with major Quechua broadcasters through a project funded by the Alumni Network of the US Embassy in Peru. The project aims to recognize the contribution of Quechua broadcasters to the revitalization of languages.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *