When the Spanish and Portuguese invaded South and Central America in the early 1500s, there were several indigenous languages spoken. The main one and still the most widespread was Quechua, which is thought to have originated in the high Andes, but spread throughout South America. (There are currently more than 10 million speakers.) The invading Spaniards had little regard for the Native Peoples, but high regard for the precious metals they mined and processed into decor. As a result, there were not many interpreters between Spanish and Quechua – or at least they weren’t acknowledged in Spanish historical records.

One of the few, Filipillo (or Felipe), was born on the island of Puna and captured by the Spanish general, Francisco Pizarro, to use as an interpreter for the conquest of Peru. Because Felipe didn’t speak much Quechua or Spanish, he made constant mistakes in his interpretations. For example, he is recorded as having interpreted the Holy Trinity as “God said ‘three and one is four’,” instead of “God is three in one.” Felipe was so limited an interpreter that the Inca ruler, Atahualpa, required that Felipe use a dialect he was more familiar with than the more widespread Cuzco dialect Atahualpa used, and to speak slowly in short sentences.

In 1532 Pizarro captured Atahualpa, but before that Atahualpa had sent an interpreter of his own to spy on the Spanish general. Cinquinchara was an Orejon warrior, who secretly assessed the strength of the Spaniards, then reported back on the size of the group, the weapons they had, and whether they were men or gods. He recommended that the Spaniards be surrounded and killed while sleeping. But instead Pizarro captured Atahualpa and kept him prisoner, while collecting his kingdom’s gold and silver for ransom.

Unfortunately for Atahualpa, Felipe fell in love with one of his women, Cuxirimay. To prevent Pizarro from setting Atahualpa free, Felipe told him that Atahualpa was planning to escape and join up with one of his warriors to lead a campaign against the Spaniards. Pizarro, afraid of rebellion, had Atahualpa baptized, then garroted (choked to death). No one knows whether Felipe ended up with Cuxirimay.

MesoAmerica is much more settled now, but there is still a need for interpreters when foreigners visit those countries. Fortunately, Dialog One is in a position to provide them. Be sure to contact us if you need a Native or Latin American language expert.