Llaki and Ñakary: Idioms of Distress and Suffering Among the Highland Quechua in the Peruvian Andes

Abstract

This article examines some of the long-term health outcomes of extreme adversities and the ways in which social inequalities and idioms of distress are historically and socially produced in the Peruvian context. We describe how the highland Quechua of northern Ayacucho construct and experience expressions of distress and suffering such as pinsamientuwan (worrying thoughts, worries), ñakary (suffering) and llaki (sorrow, sadness), in a context of persistent social inequalities, social exclusion and a recent history of political violence. It is concluded that the multiple expressions of distress and suffering are closely related to past and current events, shaped by beliefs, core values and cultural norms and, in this process, transformed, recreated and invested with new meanings and attributions.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Comunero is the local expression used by mestizo and indigenous peoples to identify themselves as members of a rural community or village, usually made up of campesinos and laborers.

  2. 2.

    There are various governmental organizations and programs in Peru, such as Defensoría del Pueblo, Coordinadora Nacional de Derechos Humanos, the (now extinct) Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación, Programa Integral de Reparaciones (PIR), and Programa de Apoyo al Repoblamiento y Desarrollo de Zonas de Emergencia (PAR). There are also nongovernmental organizations: Paz y Esperanza, OXFAM-Perú and Centro de Promoción y Desarrollo Poblacional (CEPRODEP), among others.

  3. 3.

    The cross-sectional household survey was completed in 2001 and the intervention phase was conducted between 2003 and 2006.

  4. 4.

    It is interesting to note that the same expression tuta puriqkuna is used for insurgents from Sendero as well as the mentally ill, who are seen as aimless travelers walking, often by night, from village to village.

  5. 5.

    We use pseudonyms in all transcribed narratives to protect the identity of the informants.

  6. 6.

    Ayllu usually refers to the kindred structure of near relatives, in which the organizing principle is genealogical distance at the second ascending generation (Isbell 1978). Distant relatives are called karu-ayllu.

  7. 7.

    In Quechua, aya-qarawi is a mourning lament, a mix between howling and singing in a high pitch, usually performed by Quechua-speaking women attending funerals.

  8. 8.

    Weeping in public was explicitly forbidden by Sendero’s local comisarios, because crying was considered “a sign of weakness and servitude,” inappropriate to the “revolutionary” moral fabric.

  9. 9.

    We used the Vocabulario de la lengua Quechua, written by Fray Diego González Holguín and published in 1608, and the Vocabulario de la lengua Aymara, written by the priest Ludovico Bertonio circa 1612 (Bertonio 1984).

  10. 10.

    An important distinction emerges between these two extremes, which is critical in differentiating persistent symptoms and disorders from transient emotions of lesser clinical significance.

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Pedersen, D., Kienzler, H. & Gamarra, J. Llaki and Ñakary: Idioms of Distress and Suffering Among the Highland Quechua in the Peruvian Andes. Cult Med Psychiatry 34, 279–300 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11013-010-9173-z

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Keywords

  • Idioms of distress
  • Social suffering
  • Violence
  • Social inequality
  • Mental illness
  • Highland Quechua
  • Peru