The Chachapoya Language

We do not know what language or languages the Chachapoya spoke, although traces remain in non-Quechua place names such as Kuelap, Chilingote or Huemal. (The Inca introduced Quechua as a lingua franca into conquered regions.) Surnames and toponyms offer the most persuasive evidence for the Chachapoya language. Linguist Gerald Taylor, for instance, suggests that the suffix “-mal,” by far the most common ending (e.g., Choctamal, Cuemal, Huemal, Yulmal) may mean pampa or plain. The suffix “–lap” or “–lape,” as in Yalape or Kuelap(e), may indicate a fortress or fortified settlement. “Huala” may signify mountain: “Shukahuala,” mountain of the vulture and “Huala Huala,” a mountain range.

Indeed, the very meaning of “Chachapoyas” is mired in controversy. Garcilaso said it meant “place of strong men.” Others argue that it is derived from the name of a local ethnic group, the Chachas, combined with the Quechua, puyu, cloud. Still others believe it is formed of two Quechua words, sacha, tree and puyu, cloud. A rough translation conveys the idea of cloud forest, an apt description for much of the territory. Nonetheless, Taylor argues that while this etymology is compelling, “Chachapoya” is probably not of Quechua origin.

Detail of a pyroengraved gourd

More Information:
The Chachapoya Religion Language
Economy Residential Architecture Funerary Architecture
Art Style Kuelap