Cusco Quechua Literacy

  • Location: Peru
  • New Testament Completion Date: 2011
The Quechua people, descendants of the ancient Incas, reside in the rural mountainous regions of Peru and number approximately 3.5-4.4 million, with 1.5 million living in the Central Cusco and Arequipa regions of the country. Although 97% of the Quechua people profess Christianity, only 4.45% of that number claim to be evangelical. Rural churches conduct services in Quechua, while many urban churches use Spanish, with some additional Quechua services depending on the needs of the church members. Approximately 300,000 of this indigenous people group remain monolingual and maintain their traditional way of life, while others have adapted to the mainstream society. Undoubtedly, Quechua traditions still significantly influence the Peruvian culture. Not much Quechua literature exists since the language did not have a written form for most of its history. Although the Quechua language now possesses a written form using Latin script and has enjoyed official language status since 1975, unfortunately, many Quechua people experience limited education and low literacy rates. All Quechua families speak Quechua in their homes, so students consistently use their heart language through 5th grade.
Despite the accessibility of a prior Quechua New Testament translation, the Quechua believers needed a more accurate translation. Quechua pastors asserted that the existing one proved difficult to understand partly due to long, almost undecipherable sentences and words. The lack of an acceptable New Testament translation severely hampered the growth, worship, and witness of Quechua believers, so the pastors pleaded for a trustworthy and understandable Bible.
One year, when the church association met for their annual meeting, they invited a Bibles International consultant as their guest Bible teacher. During one session, he invited men to read a new translation of the first chapter of James that they had translated that week into Quechua. Their reading so captured the crowd’s attention that the room fell silent in awe. To their amazement, a Bible passage made sense! The translation team had discovered ways to say the ideas from the passage in good, understandable Quechua, and they loved it so much that they all asked for copies so that the pastors could prepare Bible messages from it.
Following this success, Bibles International began to translate the New Testament into the Quechua language and held a dedication for a trial edition of Mark, James, 1, 2, 3 John in November 1998. Meanwhile, the literacy team published a Quechua pre-primer and pre-primer teacher’s manual in 1997 to promote the literacy of a language that had endured as only a spoken language for centuries. Despite its position as "the second national language of Peru," few Quechua can read the language fluently. Understanding the importance of literacy instruction, especially in rural areas, Lourdes Sierra, the wife of the main translator Modesto Punal, began to lead and teach women to read Quechua, while the BI team went on to publish the Old Testament Storybook I in 2002.
After completing the Quechua New Testament in 2011, BI held a dedication for the new translation in January 2012. Since then, the Quechua speakers have expressed their desire for the complete Bible in their language, and in 2019, a BI survey group met with Quechua church leaders in Urubamba to discuss the matter, resulting in an overwhelming vote in favor of revising the New Testament and beginning translation work on the Quechua Old Testament.

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