Where to begin with this piece. There is so much to say. I’ll start with its history. The piece was written in Quechua, an ancient language native to the Andean region in South America, by the Franciscan Pastor Juan Pérez Bocanegra around 1610 and published in 1631. Bocanegra sang and ministered at San Pedro de Andahuaylillas in Cusco, Peru. This piece was meant as a processional hymn to be sung as parishioners entered church. It is originally about 20 minutes long and has twenty or so verses; this version only contains the first two.
I find this piece entirely chilling. First of all, it uses Amerindian words to express European religious concepts set to a European Baroque tune. Second, though it’s a hymn to the Virgin, which would ostensibly sound sweet and calm, this piece is firmly in the Church Militant camp. Yes, it’s a processional, and processionals are supposed to be rhythmic and metrical, but this goes beyond metrical to martial. I think this is fitting, given the context.
By the time this piece was written, the Spanish colonization of the New World had been underway for just about a century. In 1532, Francisco Pizarro and his soldiers ambushed and captured Emperor Atahualpa of the Incas, effectively defeating the mightiest of the indigenous South American empires and easing further Spanish conquest. Ten years later, the Spanish government established the Viceroyalty of Peru, which, until the early 18th century, spanned almost the entirety of the South American landmass save only for Venezuela, which was under a different Viceroyalty, and the eastern half of Brazil, which was under the control of Portugal. This was the second of four such viceroyalties that consolidated and administered Spain’s territories. Control of the land, control of the government, and control of the economy comprise three-quarters of the recipe needed for complete domination – the last quarter is, of course, control of religion. In this, the Catholic Church was masterful.
That is why I find this piece so chilling. Religion has always been one of the strongest influences on society and culture, and as music is a part of culture, this piece is, to me, an audible relic of one civilization’s violent conquest and subjugation of another.
Bocanegra himself was born in Spain, but at some point (and for reasons I can’t find), emigrated to Peru. I can only surmise that he actively chose to put the hymns he wrote into Quechua to encourage conversion. Words and English translation are below. Before I close, I want to be absolutely clear that this is meant in no way to be a dig against the current Catholic Church. All denominations of all religions have done some fairly odious things in the past. Finally, while this recording is perfectly serviceable, I highly recommend finding the one done by Ex Cathedra off their “New World Symphonies” album.
Hanaq pachap kusikuynin
Yupayruru puquq mallki
Diospa rampan Diospa maman
Yuraq tuqtu hamanq’ayman
Oh, Joy of heaven
forever adore you,
flowering tree that gives us the Sacred Fruit,
Hope of Humanity,
the strength that sustains me,
yet I still fall.
Keep in mind my veneration
You, guiding hand of God, Mother of God,
Flourishing amancaicito of tender and white wings,
my worship and my tears;
to let Him know this son
places his stock in the Kingdom of Heaven.