QUICHUA, ke-choo'a, a very extensive South American Indian family composed of many tribes linguistically closely related. The Quichuas inhabit Peru and parts of Ecuador and Bolivia and neighboring territory, and their language is quite similar in grammatical struc tuPe and ocabulary to that of the Aymara who, with them, formed the greater part of the an cient Inca Empire. There seems to be some reason to believe that the Quichua, though lin guisticall: was composed of the union of several races in the course of the many cen turies of evolution which produced the various successive civilizations of Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia and probably the uplands of Colombia. The Quichua tongue, which was formerly the state language of the Incas, is still the chief speech of the Indian population of Peru, espe cially in the mountainous districts; and it is also still extensively spoken, under the same conditions, in Bolivia and in parts of Ecuador and the north of Argentina. The viceroy, Toledo, writing in 1575, after nearly half a century of civil war and Spanish conquest had frightfully decimated the Quichuas, estimated that the population of Peru, which was still very largely native, was 8,000,000. This estir mate, which is probably conservative, does not include the wild Indian tribes in the mountain ous districts which had still partially or wholly maintained their independence, nor the vast Quichua population of territory adjoining Peru. That the Quichuas were once a very numerous people is attested by their archgplogical re mains, by the evidence of eye-witnesses of the* land and culture at the time of the Spanishocork quest and by the thousands of now deserted or terraced fields on the mpuptain slopes in the Andine regions, many of which are situated at an elevation of 12,000 feet, and some even considerably higher.
The civilization of the Quichuas ranks among the highest produced by the aborigines of the American continents. Its architecture was not the equal of that of Mayas, Quiches and other cultured races of Mexico and Cen tral America, but its political organization seems to have been much better and its social life and government superior. Its religious ideas and ecclesiastical system were purer, more civilized and humane, and its system of gov ernment highways were vastly superior to any thing else in the same line in the New World at the time of its discovery; and the were built on a much more extensive scale than anything then existing in Europe. Quichua was the
name given by Friar Domingo de San Tomas, the first European who studied it grammatically. But Quichua was only one of many dialects of one great tongue. It was, however, one of the most important of the Quichua linguistic di visions. This ancient language of the Incas is a noble tongue fitted for all the needs of a highly developed civilization. It is flexible, has an extensive vocabulary rich in plural forms and verbal conjugations, the power of forming compound nouns and, above all, in synonyms. It has the power to express intricate abstract ideas and relationships and to record poetical and rhetorical conceptions and imagery. There seems to be no doubt that the Quichuas pos sessed an oral literature and drama at the time of the conquest. The latter was continued, for some considerable time after the downfall of the native dynasty, by the Indians. On several occasions their dramatic performances were officially prohibited throughout Peru. One of these, which depicts events in the time of one of the native rulers, has survived in an interesting, if somewhat mutilated form.
Quichua Culture.— The Quichuas were an artistic race in the pre-Columbian days and they were famous workers in metals, designers, builders, weavers, orators, law-makers and traders. They are supposed to have carried their commerce for thousands of miles, throughout their own vast empire, and far to the north of it, into neighboring countries. They were probably further advanced in the knowledge of medicinal plants than any other American people and less given to superstitious practices in connection with their uses. The Quichuas developed a very complicated system of keeping account by means of knotted strings of different colors which excited the wonder and admiration of the Spaniards. It has been asserted, on what seems very good authority, that these aquipus" were made use of by the Peruvians to record their history and traditions as the American Indians of the eastern States used their wampum belts, though with much more accuracy and extended application.