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  HOME | Peru

Indigenous Names Make Comeback in Peru amid Push to Recover Culture, Identity

LIMA – Indigenous names that were all but forgotten have been making a comeback in Peru thanks to a new initiative to gather them together in a national register, language researchers have revealed on Friday.

Names like Etsa, Shumay and Willka had over the centuries fallen out of favor in a South American country where 48 languages are spoken by 55 indigenous peoples.

The names were not officially recognized and often written off for sounding “weird,” incomprehensible or having an unknown script.

Until recently, it was not easy to have an indigenous name in Peru and last year the majority of newborns were given anglophone names, like John or Dylan.

In order to reverse this trend, the National Registry of Identification and Civil Status (RENIEC) began work on a register to collect names in all of Peru’s original languages.

“It’s a tool so that communities exercise their rights, mainly those relating to name, ethnic and individual identity,” Danny Santa Maria, assistant manager of academic research at RENIEC, told EFE.

Since 2012, names in Quechua, Aymara, Jaqaru, and the Amazonian languages Aguaruna, Huambisa, Matses and Shipibo-Conibo have experienced a revival.

The project bears even more importance in 2019 owing to Unesco’s “International Year of Indigenous Language,” a bid to revive the almost 3,000 languages at risk of falling out of usage around the world, 21 of which are native to Peru.

The document also acts as a guide for registrars traveling the vast, diverse territory that is Peru, who reject indigenous names but accept ones in Castillian Spanish, like Jesus, Maria, Jose or Jorge.

For the guidance on Jaqaru, a language that is in danger of extinction and only spoken by some 600 Peruvians high up in the Andean province of Yauyos in the Lima region, linguist Yolanda Payano played a key role in rescuing names like Shumay, which means beautiful, Inti, which means sun, Wayrq’aja, which means wind, and Qajsiri, which means waterfall.

The Jaqaru expert told EFE her language was not even recognized by the State in years gone by.

“When a language is not recognized, the existence of its culture is not recognized either,” she said. “For that reason, the linguistic right is the first (step) towards (gaining) other rights,” she added.

Santa Maria said many indigenous names are linked to nature, with sun and moon reflected in Quechua as Inti and Killa, in Aymara as Willka and Phaxsi, and in Aguaruna as Etsa and Nantu.

Aymara speakers living around Lake Titicaca converted their indigenous names into surnames, which they did not have previously, so they would not be lost.

Huambisa speakers, living on the border with Ecuador, used their indigenous names, although they did not appear on official documents.

Olinda Silvano, a Shipibo-Conibo artist, was unable to register as Reshinjabe, which means “woman of colorful feathers,” until the name appeared last month in the guide to names in her language, spoken by over 35,000 Peruvians, mostly in the central Ucayali region in the Amazon rainforest.

“I want my name to say Reshinjabe Olinda on my ID,” she told EFE. “My proper name has to go first.”

“I hope everyone does it because our names come from our grandparents and from further back,” said Silvano, who will change her name.

She highlighted how important original names were for her culture, with names like Roninkoshi (powerful anaconda), Barirrina (queen of the sun), and Metsakoshi (beautiful leader) chosen by grandparents.

This year, RENIEC will compile names in Ashaninka, the most widely spoken indigenous language in the Peruvian Amazon, with 73,000 speakers spread out across different areas.

Among the is Cinthya Gonzales, who presents Peru’s first television show in Ashaninka “Ashi Añane” (“Our Voice”), and who told EFE she would change her name for Shamaki Colla.

“It was time to work with us to recover the identity of our roots,” she said. “We have so many beautiful names that we can bring back, like Shimashiri (May Flower), Sheyaki (palm tree) and Tonkiri (hummingbird),” said Gonzalez.

RENIEC was seeking to put together by 2021, the year of Peru’s 200th anniversary of independence from Spain, a wide collection of name thesauruses showcasing the country’s diversity.

“We’re 55 peoples but we all make up one community and State,” said Santa Maria.


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