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Lipi Biswas-Sen: Breaking the Linguistic Alienation in José María Arguedas’ Yawar fiesta

Breaking the Linguistic Alienation in José María Arguedas’ Yawar fiesta

Lipi Biswas-Sen [1]

The colonization process in Latin America led to the suppression of indigenous languages. In Peru for instance Spanish slowly displaced Quechua and became the language used by the colonial authorities to set up new standards of references, replacing the traditional oral culture with the European alphabetic one. Language thus assumed a socio-political role profoundly related to the functioning and re-shaping of the colonial society and consequently became intricately linked with culture. In fact, the linguist François Grosjean asserts that the latter is acquired, socially transmitted, and communicated in large by language.[2] He further defines culture as the way of life of a people or society, including its rules of behavior; its economic, social, and political systems; its language; its religious beliefs; its laws; and so on.[3] The relation between them becomes especially important when we talk about countries that have suffered from colonization.
   The colonial authorities tried to impose their language and culture on the natives in order to alienate and subjugate them in their own land. This continued even after the supposed “de-colonization” of Peru as Spanish became the national language and preserved its hold over the juridical, administrative, education, cultural and spiritual domains of the new nation-state.[4] Commenting on the relation between national language and national literature, the critic Edward J. Chamberlin points out that:
The logic that identified national character with national literature, and the language of literature as a superior language, dictated that places and people without national status—colonial places and people—would only develop what Froude called “a character and purpose of their own” if they first embraced the national literature and language of their imperial masters. It was assumed that education in the mysteries of European languages and the marvels of European literatures would generate both an allegiance to European ideals and an ambition to emulate European achievements.” [5]
I would like to add that the description of colonial places and people could also be applied to the communities left at the margins of the nation. Therefore in Peru, Spanish was seen as the ideal instrument to shape the national character following the Hispanic model which left the Indian once again at the peripheries. In this way the new nation-state, denied them “co-evalness”[6], as did the colonial regime before Independence. One can then assert that to make any one language, in a bilingual or multilingual society, the national language reproduces the tyranny of “universalism” by giving importance to a language which chooses to exclude rather than to include the Other tongues and the cultures they represent. One can also argue that Spanish became the “major language” of Peru as it was recognized officially by the new nation and represented the hegemonic majority. I would like to interpret the term majority here not in terms of demographics but rather in terms of power, concentrated as it was in the hands of a few, but affecting the whole society. The indigenous languages can hence be termed “minor” as they were not included in the national discourse and were subordinated to the “major” language, Spanish.
José María Arguedas (1911-1969) was one of the foremost bilingual authors from Peru. Due to certain personal circumstances he spent his initial years with the members of the Indian community working in his stepmother’s house and on her farm.[7] He absorbed the indigenous language, cultural beliefs and also shared the pain of the Quechua communities. His experience as a student and a teacher brought home to him the difficulties which the Indian communities underwent while learning Spanish, taught to them by teachers who did not know Quechua. According to Arguedas formal education in the national language also implied the imposition of a different set of beliefs and way of being, since Spanish remained an alien language for the native student. As Gobard indicates, “The instruction of a foreign language is a social phenomenon (Mauss, Gurvitch), a complex process that isn’t governed simply by linguistics or by a certain pedagogical technique; […] It is altogether another conception of the world (Weltanschauung) that is transmitted through language.”[8]
In a paper read on bilingualism in Peru, Arguedas indicates that the Peruvian education system did not acknowledge the presence of the vast multitudes of monolingual Quechua and Aymara communities.[9] Their presence in the contemporary Peruvian society demonstrated the continuity of the pre-Hispanic culture, despite the degree of modification it had suffered. He further adds that during the Republican period, the monolingual communities were instructed in a language with which they were unacquainted.[10] According to Arguedas, “[…] The official education [system] […] employed an alien language not only to instruct [them] but to impose unfamiliar beliefs and ways of being”.[11] However, since this objective was not achieved due to the lack of communication, it created an atmosphere of contempt for the Indian pupils, whom the teachers thought to be slow-witted, following the traditional Creole way of thinking.[12] According to Arguedas this derogatory attitude was then passed on to the indigenous communities who began to view themselves in the same way. In his opinion, “The Indian does not understand—not because they are taught in a language they do not understand—but because they are dim-witted”, this is what almost all the teachers and those who belonged to their caste or class, thought. […] In this way, the school instead of becoming a means of unification, integration and stimulation, [for] the indigenous population, played [a] disintegrating and depressing role […]”[13]. The Indian thus felt alienated from the national mainstream or natio.[14] To add to the already existing negative attitude were the works of fiction wherein authors like Enrique López Albújar represented the Indians unfavorably.
Arguedas decided to narrate the stories of the highland communities to dispel the impression made by these authors.[15] However, though his books were primarily meant for the non-Quechua speaking reader, he felt that he could not write about the indigenous community and their weltanschauung only in Spanish, having known them intimately through his formative years. And so began his search for a literary style which could adequately portray the spirit of the Andean landscape and the people living there. But it was not easy for the writer to, “[…] realize oneself, to translate oneself, to transform a seemingly alien language into a legitimate and diaphanous torrent, to communicate to the almost foreign language the stuff of which our spirit is made: that is the hard, the difficult question.”[16]. Besides, as he admitted, it was not easy to imagine the Indians speaking in fluent Castilian, especially, “For the bilingual person, for one who first learned to talk in Quechua, it seems impossible to have them suddenly speak Spanish; I solved the problem by creating for them a special Spanish language […].”[17] It is interesting to note that though Arguedas uses this new “Quechuaized-Spanish” he also incorporates words and phrases in Quechua, which he sometimes explains in the footnotes and at other times leaves them in the narrative without any explanation. His fictional works therefore play a crucial role in breaking the linguistic alienation which not only affected the indigenous communities in the Andean highlands but also those who had migrated to the cities.
The novel being analyzed here, Yawar fiesta (first published in 1941), is of particular importance since its publication coincided with the rise of a new phase of the indigenist movement. According to the anthropol
ist María Elena García, it i
s possible to see a shift in the indigenista movements,“[f]rom the heavy paternalism and even racism of some earlier indigenista projects, indigenismo in the 1940s sought to return to the Mariateguian vision in which indigenista advocacy would pave the way for indígena agency.”[18]. Yawar fiesta is therefore vital to the study of this movement and Arguedas’ contribution to it. To examine the strategies used by the author to transmit the Quechua weltanschauung, I intend to use the tetraglossic model postulated by the French socio-linguist Henri Gobard, namely:
-A vernacular language, […] local, spoken spontaneously, less to communicate than to commune and that can only be considered as a native language (or birth language). According to Gobard, “The condition sine qua non of all human development is the affective relationship where language serves to support a communion and not a communication. The verbal relationship between two people isn’t at all reducible to an exchange of information.”[19] He explains it further by giving the example of an interchange about weather between two villagers. In his opinion, “It’s a […] manner of reassurance between neighbors, of confirming peace, always precarious, and to renew a friendship founded upon cosmic solidarity: We are both subject to the same bad weather, to the same threats, we are therefore together on this corner of the earth and we assure each other about it ritualistically, after which we can go about our life without fearing loneliness because we know that, although alone, the villager is never isolated”.[20] It is in this sense that I use the verb “commune” in my analysis.
-A common/vehicular language […] (lingua franca), national or regional, learned out of necessity, destined for communication on an urban scale.
-A referential language, […] linked to cultural traditions, oral or written, assuring the continuity of values by a systematic reference to works of the perennial past […]
-A mythical language, […] which functions as a last resort, verbal magic that permits comprehension of the incomprehensible as irrefutable proof of the sacred […]. [21]
I propose to examine how Arguedas reterritorializes Quechua and its speakers in the national discourse by analyzing the functions attributed to this language in his literary texts.
In Yawar fiesta the author narrates, in third person, the story of a small Indian town in the Andean mountains. The main plot revolves around the celebration of the national day of Peru (28th July). One of the principal ways of celebrating this day in the Andean region is by organizing a bull fight in the Indian fashion. According to this tradition the Indians run before the bull and destroy it with dynamites. This manner of fighting is very different from the Spanish one which is perceived as more “civilized” and “artistic” by the representatives of the government and the “hispanized” landowners. The novel deals with the reaction of the indigenous communities when the Government decides to ban the Indian way and impose the Spanish tradition.
   The author announces in the very title, Yawar fiesta, the existence of two distinct worlds, since yawar is a Quechua word meaning blood and fiesta a Spanish one meaning festival. The title can also be translated as “bloody festival” or following the interpretation of the author, as “bloody fiesta”, thereby indicating the continuation of a conflict which began during the colonial era. The narration is in Spanish but the names of the places and those of the Indian communities are left in Quechua:
Amid fields of alfalfa and patches of wheat, broad beans and barley, on a rugged hillside lies the town.
   From the Sillanayok’ Pass one can see the three stream that flow closer and closer together as the near the valley of the great river.[22]
By leaving the names of the places in Quechua, the author inverts the process of the epistemic conquest begun in 1492 by Columbus when he started naming the places according to the Western tradition, eliding the existence of the indigenous people living there for centuries. This process of re-naming transforms the vernacular Quechua into a vehicular language. As Gobard says, “Parallel to the effective component we find that of communication where the vocative functions as a call to attention and symbol of information”.[23] Thus does Arguedas reclaim symbolically the land from which the indigenous communities were displaced by the Conquistadores.
The novelist uses the ‘Quechuaized-Spanish’ in the dialogues and conversations that take place between the Indians, the Creole landlords and the mestizos. However, in some of the conversations that take place amongst the Indians the writer leaves the dialogues in Quechua, without translating or explaining the meaning. In fact, he sometimes uses the vernacular to give the Indians a sense of identity. For example, the best known bull fighter amongst the Indian communities or ayllus, “Honrao” Rojas, identifies himself primarily in Quechua:
I Pichk’achuri runakuna, k’alakuna! [24]
In this instance the vernacular serves as an instrument of communion, and as Lacan says, “the pure function of language, […] is to assure us that we are and nothing more.”[25]. In a society which did not acknowledge the presence of the large majority of its people, this assertion also instills a sense of pride in one’s culture and tradition. The author does not translate the expression to Spanish; he only explains the meaning of the word “K’alakuna” (a pejorative expression for the leading citizens of the town) in the footnote.[26] By leaving the assertion of identity intact he communes with other Indians and bilinguals like him while informing the hegemonic classes of the continued presence of a proud and indomitable community within the national discourse.
Arguedas uses this strategy at times to describe the way the Indians relate to Nature, since this was an integral part of the polytheist Indigenous religion, as opposed to the monotheist Christian tradition introduced by the Spanish colonizers. He shows for example how the Chief of Staffbearers worships the mountain K’arawarsu and commends his community to the mountain spirit. The words spoken to make this offering are left in Quechua:
          Ay tayta! K’arawarasu tayta![27]
The prayers offered by the Indian travelers to worship the mountain spirit as a mark of respect when they cross it, are also left in Quechua:
Papay! Jatun auki! [28]
In this way, Arguedas converts Quechua into a magical and spiritual language. According to Gobard, in this instance, “the language does not serve to commune, nor to communicate, nor to play, but to elude, that is to say, to dominate fate, nature. […] From hymns to prayer, passing through magical rituals, magical language is […] expression of magical thought and of the feeling of omnipotence.”[29] Arguedas uses this rhetorical technique right from the beginning of the novel when he describes the Andean landscape and mentions the “saywas” or “magic heaps of stones”[30], drawing attention in this manner to the especial relationship that the highland communities shared with their land. Another example of this is when he refers to the bull, caught by the ayllus for the national day celebration, as “Misitu”, thereby attributing magical powers to the fierce bull and turning it into a demigod whom the Indians hope to defeat during the fight, “Negromayo ran muddy whenever the Misitu came down to drink water. That day he grew furious looking at the sun, and by night he’d run leagues chasing the moon; that he’d scale the highest peaks, and that they’d found his trail on the slopes of, in the place where he’d been seen pawing on the snow all night to reach the summit.”[31]. The capture of this being from the slopes of the Andes then becomes a heroic feat in itself, to be accomplished only by the bravest en

dowed with special magic:
In a de
nse drove, the K’ayaus reached the creek. About a hundred comuneros were playing wakawk’ras; Raura was in command of the trumpeters. […] Deeply, like the voice of a big wakawak’ra, Raura shouted. Rage was seething in his chest and his voice was amplified by it, […]. He threw his lasso well, judging the distance without exposing himself, and looped it over both horns right over Misitu’s face. […]
“Because, damnit, I k’ari! I K’ayau!”, proclaimed Raura.[32]
The Misitu is captured by Raura, of the K’ayau community, a fact that transfers the magical powers of the beast to the one who captures it and places the Indians above everyone else. This is especially true since the landlord Don Julián and his herdsmen were not successful in their attempt to catch him. Thus by attributing magical powers to the Indians and by using Quechua to identify the bull, the author transforms the vernacular to a mythical language and puts it above the vehicular Spanish. He also creates a new set of references with which the indigenous communities could identify themselves with pride dispelling in this way the contempt with which they were looked on by the hegemonic mainstream.
The constant tension between the more European and “developed” coastal cities and the relatively poor Andean villages and towns is reflected in the way the Creoles and other city dwellers react to the highlanders working or studying in their midst:
“Look! A highlander”
The boys would discover them and toss banana skins at them; they’d snatch off their hats, insulting them.[33]
By leaving intact some of the words and phrases in Quechua in the text Arguedas establishes a bond that makes the migrants feel that they are not alone and isolated in the urban areas but rather are members of a community. The presence of both Spanish and Quechua, along with the cultures they represent, in the narrative also reveals that they can coexist in contemporary Peru. In this way Arguedas makes the indigenous communities coeval with the hegemonic classes.
    Music plays an important role in the novel. Arguedas inserts the letters of the harawis and huyanos, ancient Indian songs from the pre-Columbian Incan past, in the story. These are sung by the Indians on important occasions, for instance, to say good bye to the people of the communities leaving the villages, or when travelers come back from their journeys or simply to encourage themselves during times of crisis, hence these songs are deeply rooted in the Quechua way of life.
Ay, kutimunki               
ayali, ayali               
ñanchallay allinlla         
ayali ayali               

(¡Ay, volverás,         
ayali, ayali         
bien no más camino   
ayali, ayali) [34]

Ai, you shall return,
ayali, ayali
my little road is just fine
ayali, ayali [35]
Arguedas writes the songs in Quechua and also provides the Spanish version alongside, using the metatext of culture to create a referential language not only for the Quechua speaking bilingual community but also the Creoles who did not understand Quechua, integrating in this way both the groups in the literary text.[36] What is remarkable is that not only do the Indians in the mountains sing huaynos but those who have migrated to the city sing it too:
‘[…] in their houses, in their brush arbors protected with adobe walls, […] the highlanders would hold their fiestas, with huaynos and bandurrias.[…]. Out onto the avenues, where luxury automobiles were passing, would go the huayno, the voices of the charangos and the quenas: the song of the highlands, in Quechua or in Spanish, the soul of the valleys […].”[37]
This shows that the migrants continue to occupy two linguistic and cultural spaces at once. By the repeated use of harawis and huaynos the author reaffirms the link between the Quechua speaking natives of contemporary Peru and their ancient predecessors, establishing in this way a sense of continuity with the pre-Columbian past. Moreover, since the songs are composed by the indigenous people to suit the occasion, it shows their ability to adapt to new challenges without losing their connection with the past.
   One can then infer that Arguedas uses various linguistic strategies to create a network of references which shows the presence of a culture and people suppressed by both the colonial and national hegemonies. Gobard suggests that the use of referential language is especially important in societies going through transition, as this provides an alternative ethnic or national bond which brings some order in the chaos caused as a result of this transition or “dislocation”.[38] By transforming Quechua into a referential and mythical language entwined in the vehicular one which appears alongside the vernacular, the author changes the subtle mechanisms of power that had relegated Quechua and its speakers to the margins of the society. This also proves that native beliefs and practices were an integral part of the nation along with the dominant Hispanic ones. Arguedas draws attention, in this manner, to the presence of the indigenous people and their culture as a vibrant proof of the fact that both the Spanish colonial project and the subsequent process of assimilation of the Indians into the Hispanic nation-state were unsuccessful.
One can also argue that by employing these rhetorical strategies Arguedas creates a “minor literature” within a major language. As Deleuze and Guattari postulate, “A minor literature does not come from a minor language; it is rather that which a minority constructs within a major language.”[39] In fact, Arguedas’ fictional works share some of the characteristics that make up a minor literature according to these theorists, namely: the connection of the individual to a political immediacy and deterritorialization of language. And as Deleuze points out, the functions of language are “inseparable from the movements of material and spiritual deterritorialization and […] reterritorialization”[40], a fact demonstrated amply by the author.
Furthermore, writing as a bilingual gives the novelist the freedom to integrate cultural expressions and terms relating to a different way of life in an “alien” language, thereby “re-molding” it and making it his own. By unraveling and reweaving the imposed language with the vernacular he creates a dispersed and heterogeneous code which cuts across the forced tyranny of homogeneity inflicted by the new nation-state. One can then conclude that by transforming the vernacular Quechua into referential, mythical, and in some instances, a vehicular language, Arguedas re-territorializes the indigenous subject, recognizing speakers of Quechua (be they monolingual or bilingual) as an integral and indivisible part of the natio.

[1]. Ph.D Student, Dept of Spanish & Portuguese, University of Toronto. I wish to thank Prof. Rosa Sarabia and Prof. Néstor Rodríguez for their helpful comments. I would also like to thank my colleague Danielle Thomas for translating some of the important chapters of Henri Gobard’s book L’Alienation Linguistique.

[2].François Grosjean quoted by Frank Nuessel in, “Bilingualism, Code-Switching and Lexical Borrowing”, in Linguistic Approaches to Hispanic Literature. (New York, Legas. 2000) 116.

[3]. Ibid., loc cit.

[4]. For more information on de-colonization and Latin America see, J. Jorge Klor de Alva’s, “The Postcolonization of the
(Latin) American experience: A Reconsideration of ‘Colonialism’, ‘Postc
olonialism’ and ‘Mestizaje’ ” in After Colonialism. Imperial Histories and Postcolonial Displacement. Gyan Prakash (ed). (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995) 247

[5]. Edward J. Chamberlin, Come back to me my language.
(Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1993) 76

[6].Johannes Fabian quoted by Sara Mills in “Colonial and post-colonial discourse theory” in Discourse. (London: Routledge, 1997) 99

[7].Antonio Cornejo Polar, in “El sentido de la narrativa de Arguedas” in
Recopilación de textos sobre José María Arguedas. Prologue by Juan Larco.
(La Habana: Casa de Las Américas,1976) 46

[8]. Henri Gobard, L’Alienation Linguistique. (Paris: Flammarion, 1976) 40-41. Some of the chapters used here have been translated to English by Danielle Thomas, University of Toronto, 2005. (Unpublished).

[9]. This paper was first written in 1963 and then published subsequently in Mesa redonda sobre el monolingüismo quechua y aymara y la educación en Perú [Round Table on the Quechua and Aymara Monolingualism and Education in Peru], edited by José María Arguedas in 1966.(Sections quoted here have been translated by me). Reproduced by Bernard Pottier in América Latina in sus lenguas indígenas (Caracas: Monte Ávila Editores, C.A., 1983) 346-347.

[10]. Ibid., 346

[11]. Ibid., loc.cit

[12]. Op.cit., loc.cit.

[13]. Op.cit., loc.cit

[14]. According to Timothy Brennan nation originates from natio meaning a local community, domicile, family, and condition of belonging. See Brennan’s, “The national longing for form” in Nation and Narration, Homi K Bhabha (ed.). (London: Routledge, 1990) 45.

[15]. Clorinda Matto de Turner (1854-1909) is considered to be the first indigenous author as she revealed for the first time the appalling conditions under which the Indians lived. However, she portrayed a negative image of the Indians, representing them as superstitious and childlike noble savages. The author also opined that the only way the Indians could become a part of the nation was by educating themselves according to the Creole traditions, and as Antonio Cornejo Polar indicates, this meant erasing all signs of “otherness”. See Aves sin nido [Birds without a nest]. (Caracas: Biblioteca Ayacucho, 1994) xxv

[16]. Arguedas in, “The Novel and the problem of literary expression in Peru”, trans, Frances Horning Barraclough. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1985) xviii

[17]. Ibid., xix

[18]. José Carlos Mariátegui was one of the most respected social theorists of the 1920s. “For Mariátegui the so-called Indian problem (how to integrate indigenous populations into the nation) was an economic problem and not a cultural one”. María Elena García, Making Indigenous Citizens. Identity, Development, and Multicultural Activism in Peru. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005, pp.38-39) 71. Mariátegui introduced socialism to many young intellectuals of his time, including Arguedas. See Alberto Escobar, Arguedas o la utopía de la lengua. [Arguedas or the Utopia of Language] (Lima: Instituto de estudios peruanos, 1984) 23

[19]. Gobard, op.cit., 23-24

[20]. Ibid., loc. cit

[21].Op.cit., p.34

[22].Yawar fiesta. (1985) 1

[23].Gobard, op.cit., 25

[24]. Yawar fiesta (1985) p.20. My emphasis. It is interesting to note that though the author does not translate the phrase from Quechua to Spanish, the English translator does do so in the footnote. This raises the question of whether the translator should take the liberty of explaining phrases which the author himself has not done. By not translating “Honrao” Rojas’ words Arguedas was probably drawing attention to the fact that he was dealing with a different world, a world which was not easy to interpret or explain. It is possible that he wanted the reader to make the effort him/herself to find out the meaning of the Quechua phrases, and in this way turn the passive act of reading into an act of participation.

[25]. Jacques Lacan, (Le Séminaire, book I), quoted by Gobard, (1976).25

[26].Yawar fiesta (1985) 20

[27]. Ibid., 99

[28].Ibid., loc. cit

[29].Gobard, op.cit., 26-27

[30]. Yawar fiesta (1985) 2

[31].Ibid., (1985) 76

[32]. Ibid., 104, 110

[33]. Ibid.,59

[34]. Yawar fiesta (1968) 69. This song was composed to bid farewell to the Staffbearers and other Indian workers who built the Nazca-Puquio highway in record time entirely on their own initiative. Arguedas mentions this particularly to draw attention to the hard working character of the Indians and to demonstrate their immense will power to execute successfully any difficult task. These were all positive characteristics shown by the author to counteract the negative images associated with the indigenous communities.

[35]. Yawar fiesta (1985) 65

[36].Maria Tymoczko uses the term “metatext” to distinguish between the postcolonial writer (as translator of her/his culture), who has access to the metatext of culture, and a translator who has access to the original text of the author. (21). For further information see, “Post-colonial writing and literary translation” in Post-colonial Translation Theory and Practice. Susan Bassnett, and Harish Trivedi (eds.) (London: Routledge, 1999) 19-40

[37]. Yawar fiesta,(1985) 68

[38]. Gilles Deleuze, “Preface” in Gobard, op.cit. 37, trans, Danielle Thomas, University of Toronto, 2005 (Unpublished)

[39]. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, trans, Dana Polan.Foreword by Réda Bensamaia. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986) 16

[40]. Deleuze, in Gobard op cit.,13.

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