The Texts from Huarochirí

The texts were written around 1608 by anonymous authors/narrators entirely in the Quechua language and describe religious life in a province of the highlands east of Lima (Peru). They are bound together by one editor into a ‘book’ of 31 chapters and two supplements. Now located in one volume with other texts of cultural and historical interest, the manuscript is kept in the Biblioteca Nacional in Madrid (Huarochirí Traditions ca. 1608 Manuscript). It also includes a paraphrase in Spanish of some chapters which explicitly states that a priest called Francisco de Avila was their author. This indicates that this priest, originally from Cuzco and probably of mestizo origin, had some kind of relationship with the narrators of the Quechua manuscript (possibly as their teacher of Spanish writing and the Christian Doctrine) or its composer. It is also posible that another well-known priest, Blas Valera, was the author(s)’ Christian mentor because he lived in Huarochiri before Avila.

More about the manuscript: Dedenbach Huarochiri Manuscript (18-05-18)

A number of editions with translations into several languages (among them German, Latin, Polish and Dutch) have been made since 1939. The most famous one is certainly that by the writer José María de Arguedas (unfortunately based on a less than perfect transcription (Huarochirí Traditions ca. 1608 Arguedas 1966). English readers should consult Salomon and Urioste’s edition and translation (Huarochirí Traditions ca. 1608 Salomon & Urioste 1991; see also Salomon 2005-08 Huarochirí) and Spanish readers Taylor’s edition and translation (Huarochirí Traditions ca. 1608 Taylor 1987).

The Quechua manuscript opens with the following statement:

Runa yndio ñiscap Machoncuna ñaupa pacha quillcacta yachanman carca chayca hinantin causascancunapas manam canancamapas chincaycuc hinacho canman himanam viracochappas sinchi cascanpas canancama ricurin hinatacmi canman chay hina captinpas canancama mana quillcasca captinpas caypim churani cay huc yayayuc guarocheri ñiscap machoncunap causascanta yma ffeenioccha carcan ymayñah canancamapas causan chay chaycunacta chayri sapa llactanpim quillcasca canca hima hina causascampas pacariscanmanta

If the ancestors of the people called Indians had known writing in earlier times, then the lives they lived would not have faded from view until now. As the mighty past of the Spanish Vira Cochas is visible until now, so, too, would theirs be. But since things are as they are, and since nothing has been written until now, I set forth here the lives of the ancestors of the Huaorchirí people, who all descend from one forefather …

(Preface from a transcription of the manuscript and the translation from Huarochirí Traditions ca. 1608 Salomon & Urioste 1991, p. 42).

This indicates that at least this copy was made for an Andean readership, or at least for addressees who saw old Peruvian beliefs and rituals in a positive light. The manuscript is adapted to the forms of European book-writing and composition, i.e. it is divided into titled chapters, and these have internal references to other parts of the manuscript.

Large part of the text recounts Andean myths, often explanatory ones, using a language which seems to reflect an Andean tradition. The narratives dedicated to indigenous deities and their actions show them as creating and transformative beings who clearly determine ‘their’ villages’ fate (e.g. Huarochirí Manuscript, ch. 6). Others describe particular ceremonies connected to them, such as, for example, the activities of a fertility deity and the rituals carried out in order to guarantee fertility (ib. ch. 7). Several narratives are about more general customs, such as the birth of twins (ib. Supplement 1) or someone’s death, often connected to the mythical stories (ib. ch. 27 related to ch. 1).

Two chapters are a kind of ‘testimony’ in which a narrator presents us the conversion story of a man from Huaorchirí who had had a vision and a dream in which he met and fought an ancient deity. Although the protagonist shows that he knows the Christian discourse and deals with the threatening ancient deity, now a demon, by fighting him with words, this narrative, rather than a simple conversion story (like a Saint’s life), lends itself to being understood in different ways, depending on the background knowledge and cultural experiences of the reader: it can be interpreted as, indeed, a conversion, but also as the not really ending power of indigenous beliefs. His personal prayer does not address the Andean deity Llocllayhuancupa directly, but rather it is used as a verbal defence against him because Don Cristóbal directs it to a power he considers to be higher than the Andean one.

      Huarochirí Manuscript

English translation (SDS)

A. mamay

Oh my mother!

canmi sapai mamay canqui

It is you who are my only mother.

ynataccho cay mana alli supaica atipahuanca

So then, how will this bad supay-spirit [Christian: Devil] gain over me?!

cam mamaytac

It is you who are my mother.

yanapallahuay pana yna huchaçapactapas

Help me please although I am a great sinner.

ñocatacmi cay quiquin çupaita siruircani

And it was me who used to serve this supay-spirit himself.

cananca ñam ricsini supai cascanta

But just now I recognise that he is the Devil [lit. supay-spirit].

manam cayca dioscho

It is not this one who is God.

manatacmi cayca

And it is definitely not this one.

ymactapas allintaca ruranmancho

What could he do and what good?!

cam çapai coyallaytacmi cay peligromanta quispichihuanqui

And you, my only [Inca] queen, please let me be saved from this danger.

huahuayqui jesusnita villapullahuaytac

And please talk to your child, my Jesus, in favour of me [intercede for me].

canallanca cay huchaymanta quispichihuachuntac cay mana alli supaipa maquinmanta

And that he may at this very moment please save me from my sin, from the hand of this Devil [bad supay-spirit].

Don Cristóbal’s prayer to the Virgin (Huarochirí Traditions ca. 1608 Manuscript, ch. 21; fol. 86v, transcription and translation SDS)

Later on, in his dream, he confronts the ancient deity, now the Devil, himself, and this time addresses him directly. However, he does not let him speak for himself, but lays words that the deity would and may say, into his mouth:

      Huarochirí Manuscript

English translation (SDS)

… ña casilla ymapas captin
don cristobalca rimayta callarircan nispa

… when it was already quiet,

Don Cristóbal began to speak, saying:

“yao llucllayhuancupa camtam ari

“Hey Llucllayhuancupa, to you then they say:


ñispa ñisonqui

‘paitacmi yma ayca rurac’

ñispam ari tucoy runacunapas manchasonqui

‘the one who inspires humankind with life,
the one who makes the world move’


‘and he is the one who makes everything’,

saying thus, all the people fear you.

ymapacmi canan cayachimuarcanqui

Why have you now had me called here?

ñocaca ñinim

‘jesu cristo diospac churin caytaccha checan

dios paipac simintatacchaviñaypas yupaychasac’
ñispam ñin

It is me who says:
‘Jesus Christ, God’s son, this is certainly, I believe, the truthful God;
I believe that his word I will honour forever’,
saying thus I say,
‘This is him’.


Am I wrong?

cam canan villahuay

You will now tell me:

‘chayca manam dioschu
ñocam yma ayca rurac cani’

‘That one is not God,
I am the one who makes everything’,

ñispa chay pacha camta manchancaypac” …

saying thus, so that I may fear you then”. …

Don Cristóbal’s speech to the ancient deity Llocllayhuancupa (Huarochirí Traditions ca. 1608 Manuscript, ch. 21; fol. 88r-v, transcription and translation SDS)

This highly individual and ‘reported’ testimony has to be set into the framework of its time and cultural context. All actions Don Cristóbal is supposed to have carried out are highly personal in character and motive. However, at the beginning of the stories it is stated that many people follow the old beliefs and practices, and it becomes evident at the end that conversion is an ongoing process. This shows that the actions and reactions are just as much a social phenomenon, which is important because they have the function of helping to keep society together and of including both the sceptics (a lot has still to be done to convince them) and the new Christians. The Christian faith with its infrastructure and the new Christians, especially when they occupy important positions in society, may have a considerable amount of power (as the reported effect of their words, visions and dreams shows), but this is not absolute. (See Dedenbach-Salazar Sáenz in press 2013 The battle of words.)

I have also dealt with a number of aspects of the language and discourse of these texts (Dedenbach-Salazar Sáenz 1994 Arte verbal; 1994 Menschen, übernatürliche Wesen; 1996 La comunicación con los dioses1997 Point of view and evidentiality; 1998 Terminología de parentesco; 1999 La creación de la memoria; 2003 Die Stimmen von Huarochirí2006 Pacha – Space and time).