Llama at Machu Picchu
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ñuñuy: History of Quechua and the Inspiration Behind the Name

ñuñuy (pronounced knew-knew-e) translates to breastfeed in Quechua. Quechua is the ancient language of the Incas and is still spoken today in Peru. 

Touring Machu Picchu

I always dreamed of becoming a world traveler when I was a kid. My family didn’t travel much. An occasional road trip to Disney World or a rare visit to my extended family in Michigan. I love to travel! And I love to sit at the window seat on airplanes.

My husband, Gonzalo, was born and raised in Miraflores – in Lima. After purchasing our first flight together to Peru, it felt like my dreams were coming true! What an exciting time to meet his family and see Peru before the wedding. Most people think of places like Machu Picchu when they hear Peru. This is where I was most excited to go.

My sister-in-law is a travel agent in Peru. She booked us a private tour guide at Machu Picchu. What a difference this made compared to larger group tours. The tour was relaxed, tailored to our questions, and we were able to really connect with our guide, Magaly.

Our adventure to Machu Picchu begins with a train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes. Once the train arrives a bus takes you up to the ancient ruins. Even as an adrenaline junkie, that bus ride was slightly terrifying. Bumpy with lots of twists and turns up the cliff. 

After entering the site, you walk on a legit ancient Inca trail. Hidden around a bend is the platform that overlooks these magnificent ruins. Overcome with emotions as I saw it from above for the first time, a few tears streamed down my face. This place is magical! How grateful I felt to be standing next to the love of my life as I took it all in. 

Because we had a private tour, we got to know Magaly. After our tour, we invited her to lunch in Aguas Calientes. I am still in touch with Magaly. When Gonzalo and I were dreaming up this business of mine – I reached out for help with Quechua words. It was important to me to give the business a strong and meaningful name. 

The word ñuñu means breast and ñuñuy means to breastfeed. I love the name! But, I knew it would be hard to pronounce it and requires an explanation of the meaning behind it. 

Train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes

A Brief History of the Quechua Language

There are various theories around the origins of Quechua. It is thought by some scholars that Quechua originated on the central coast of Peru around 2,600 BC. The Incas made Quechua their official language. With the Inca conquest of Peru in the 14th century, Quechua became Peru’s lingua franca. The Inca Empire flourished from 1438 to 1533 AD. Although the empire lasted only about 100 years, the Incas spread Quechua to areas as far as Ecuador, Bolivia, and Chile. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the 16th century AD, Quechua had already spread throughout a large portion of the South American continent (Source).

Agricultural scene at huaca in Miraflores, Peru

Ayllu and the Family

Family is a vital component of Inca society. Therefore, strong attachments were common between distant relations – not just immediate family. For example, the words for father and uncle were the same. The same holds true for the words for mother and aunt. Additionally, the word for cousin was the same as brother and sister. 

The broader family were all members of the same kin group, or ayllu. Some ayllu were composed of hundreds of small family units. The groups were sometimes large enough to be considered a sub-tribe. Marriage outside of this group was unusual. This means all members of the ayllu were in some way related. These groups believed they came from a common ancestor. Typically a legendary figure or even a mythical animal. 

Birth in the Inca Empire

Common in ancient societies, births and deaths were high. Families in ancient Peru had five members on average. There was no form of birth control, and children of both sexes were welcomed. Children were expected to assist the family by working the fields. In some cases, children began helping their parents as soon as they could walk! Pregnancy did not affect a woman’s agricultural duties. She was expected to contribute throughout the entire pregnancy.

When she gave birth, there was no help from a midwife. After giving birth the new mother’s belly is wrapped in cloth. Before wrapping her belly, a paste made from herbs such as muña and coca is applied to the skin. This paste was used for pain management and healing. The mother was expected to return to work in the fields shortly after giving birth. She carried her baby on her back in a traditional piece of cloth, called a lliklla, to keep her hands free and the baby close.

Once a baby was weaned, a feast (the rutuchicoy) was held. The baby is named at this feast, given gifts, and clippings of its nails and hair were kept. Children were taught all they needed to know by the parents. There were no schools or even an official written language. This means most children learned and continued their parent’s trade.

Quechua Today in Peru

Approximately 5 million people speak Quechua in Peru today. Many indigenous women wear colorful traditional attire. Part of this attire is a bowler hat that was brought to Peru by British railway worker in the 1920s. These hats (pictured below) are still commonly worn today.

Have you been to Peru? What was your favorite place? Let’s chat in the comments below!



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