PhD Student Makes History as First to Defend Thesis in Quechua

A doctoral student in Peru, Roxana Quispe Collantes, is the first to write and defend a thesis in Quechua. By Leanna Robinson

A doctoral student in Peru, Roxana Quispe Collantes, is the first to write and defend a thesis in Quechua. The indigenous language, which boasts over eight million speakers, is widely known for being the main language of the Incan Empire and is the second most-spoken language in Peru. Despite its popularity, the language has been largely absent in academia, and scholars say that it is the first time in the history of Lima’s San Marcos University (the oldest university in the Americas, with a 468-year history) that a student has written and defended a thesis entirely in the indigenous language. She grew up speaking Quechua with her parents and grandparents in the Acomayo district of Cusco.

Quispe Collantes studied Peruvian and Latin American literature at Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos (UNMSM) and focused on poetry written in Quechua, according to the Guardian. She began her presentation with a traditional ceremony using coca leaves and the alcoholic drink chicha which is commonly drunk in Peru and is made from corn, before she presented her study titled Yawar Para, or blood rain.

“It’s been a long road but it was worth it,” said Collantes, who travelled to highland communities in the Canas to verify words used in the Collao dialect of the language used in the Cusco region. “I’ve always wanted to study in Quechua, in my original language,” she told The Observer.

In an interview with Peru 21, Quispe Collantes stated that she wanted to write the thesis in Quechua because she wanted to demonstrate that the language can and should be used in academic spaces, in scientific spaces, and in universities.

Notably, Collantes not only wrote and defended her thesis in Quechua, but all of the support for the thesis was also in the indigenous language. She began research in 2012, and began reviewing poetry in Quechua, beginning with “Yawar Para” by Andrés Alencastre Gutiérrez (who has a pseudonym of Kilku Warak’a).

Quispe Collantes hopes that her thesis and defense will extend beyond just that of a political gesture and that Quechua will be used more often in formal fields of academia and science.