Huayno: How Important Is The Old Inca Music To Peru’s History?

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Huayno is the music of the indigenous groups in Peru. The Quechuas and the Aymaras regularly play and dance huayno in their hometown festivities.

Attempting to write about Huayno can be a daunting task. Even though huayno is popular in Andean towns, it is difficult to discover when or how it originated. This widespread ignorance about indigenous culture is not accidental. When the Spaniards conquered Peru, the natives were forbidden to perform their traditional customs. In order to obliterate the magnificence of the Inca Empire, modes of cultural preservation were wiped out. Ignorance, as everyone knows, is mandatory for the implementation of any tyrannical government.

The Roots Of Huayno

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The Spanish Conquest unleashed a violent process that fostered cultural genocide. Spanish language became a tool to undermine Indigenous culture. Learning to speak Spanish was promoted as a (deceitful) method to ascend in the colonial hierarchy. Speaking Quechua, on the contrary, was criminalized by the Spanish authorities.

For lack of historical records, it is assumed that Huayno originated in the Incan Empire. Inca natives played it using woodwind instruments such as the “Zampona” and “Quena”, and accompanied the melodies by the string lute “Charango”.

The first historical record of Huayno appeared in 1586, fifty years after the Spanish Conquest, in a book titled ” Vocabulary of the Indians in Peru.” This volume mentioned the music which natives played and danced. They called it “Huayñucuni“, which means “dancing with a partner, with arms folded”. Along the centuries “Huayñucuni” evolved into “Huayno”. Yet, most chroniclers of the era never mentioned Huayno. Fearful of Spanish repression, indigenous groups only danced it in private.

After the Conquest, indigenous communities began playing Spanish instruments to perform Huayno: the Guitar, harp, trumpet, the violin and the accordion.

Five hundred years later, the Quechuas and the Aymaras still interpret and dance Huayno in their festivities.

Types Of Huayno

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Although Huayno has many variations, it can be classified by the Peruvian regions where they are played. There are basically three types: Huayno of Northern Peru, Huayno of Central Peru and Huayno of Southern Peru

Huayno of Northern Peru

This is the merriest huayno, and natives danced it with animated swings and steps. When the song is over, the dancers are usually sweating and gasping for air due to the effort displayed. The songs are interpreted playing the harp, the guitar, the violin and the Quena.

Huayno of Central Peru

The steps are a bit animated, but their lyrics are quite melancholic. This had an explanation: Central Peru was the richest sector for mineral extraction. The regional indigenous communities were forced to toil in the mines, and became victims of abuses by the mining corporations. The Indigenous sorrow is reflected in their Huayno lyrics. The instruments used for its interpretation are mainly Spanish: the harp, guitar, violin, clarinet and saxophone.

Huayno of Southern Peru

It can be identified by its slow rhythms and sentimental tones. It is played using woodwind instruments (Quena or Zampoña) and Charango. The “Sicuris” are the most popular interpretation, being played profusely by the Bolivian Quechuas.

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Lima Before Huayno

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During the greatest part of its history, Peru was a centralized country with one major city, Lima. This system of government set a pattern: it increased the concentration of wealth and employment in Lima, while most Peruvians languished in poverty in the periphery. During the 1980’s, Lima had a modern infrastructure, while miles away, hundreds of Andean towns lived in a medieval era.

No Peruvian president cared to fix this issue. In fact, democracy facilitated and justified indigenous genocide. Even Fernando Belaunde Terry, widely praised as the most democratic Peruvian President, ordered killings of natives to facilitate foreign investment. This gives us a hint of the nature of our former Peruvian democracies.

Huayno Reaches Lima

Due to poverty and hunger, droves of Indigenous people emigrated to Lima during the 1960’s. They arrived in Lima hoping to find jobs, carrying along their cultural tradition. Huayno was one of them.

Indigenous groups danced huayno in their festivities, held in the settlements on the outskirts of Lima. However, dancing and singing huayno only exposed them to the condemnation of Limeños. Surrounded by this hostile attitude, natives struggled to maintain their heritage.

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Huayno is an indelible footprint the natives have engraved in their path of salvation and creation. Across generations, Huayno has recorded every moment of pain, joy, and terrible struggle …centuries later, natives still continue to find in this music the whole expression of his spirit…” Jose Maria Arguedas

The most prominent Huayno advocate was the late Peruvian writer Jose Maria Arguedas. Arguedas embodied the conflictive coexistence of Quechua culture and Spanish culture.

Arguedas was raised in a family of landowners and inherited the physical traits of his father, who was white. During Arguedas’ childhood, his father spent long periods away from home. Due to the hostility of his stepmother, Arguedas was confined to the kitchen, where he grew up in the care of the indigenous servants. The natives treated Arguedas with affection and they also taught him Quechua. Since then, Arguedas became passionate about Quechua culture and promoted it in influential circles.

During the late 1990’s, Huayno was slowly assimilated in the media and popular culture. Many Huayno interpreters are now regularly shown on TV. But, as Fernando Pessoa said once, most government policies “cure the superficial ills only by aggravating the most essential ills.” Although the outlets of Indigenous expression were opened, discrimination remained strong.

This is something the Peruvian indigenous and African Americans have in common. Although both ethnic groups were assimilated on popular culture, countless cases of discrimination occur on a daily basis. The case of Native Americans in the US is more alarming. They don’t even possess wide outlets of expression.

Huayno In the United States

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Fortunately, Peruvians in the US have chosen to severe from the prejudices of their home country. Proud of their Indigenous background, Peruvian expatriates wisely preserve their marvelous heritage. The Veronica Robles Cultural Center (VRCC), for example, provides workshops and dancing lessons for those who wish to reconnect with their roots.

Located in Boston, this organization seeks to educate Peruvian-American children about their cultural values, not only from Peru, but from all Latin American nations.

Now listen to one of most popular Huayno songs, “El Pio Pio”:

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MACHU PICCHU - MUSICA ANDINA - CHATO GRADOS - PIO PIO


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