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Lyrics song Andean music
Land of winds > Music > Lyrics | Issue 01. Jul.-Aug.2010
By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Tinku
(Traditional - Bolivia)

“Tinku” was firstly recorded by Víctor Jara in his album “Canto Libre” (1970) and in 1973, Inti-Illimani also included this theme in “Canto de los pueblos andinos” (see). Jara might well have collected the song from a popular musician, and not knowing the Quechua language would have repeated what he heard as it sounded to him. The same might have happened with Inti-Illimani when they listened to Víctor Jara, and a long chain of misunderstandings and successive lack of sense would have then started and would perpetuated itself for decades thanks to many other groups covering the song until present day.
The name is a reference to the song’s rhythm, the tinku, traditionally performed during the festivity with the same name. This Quechua word means “meeting” and is connected with the sort of meeting that communities celebrate to settle their differences engaging their warriors in ritual fighting, which can sometimes turn violent and get into a bloody battle. Whether for its particular charango cadence, its distinctive drumming or its unique rhythmic structure, the tinku has become a very popular air, especially in the region of Potosí (Bolivia), where it comes from.
Neither transliterations nor translations have been found that make sense of the lyrics, therefore what readers will find in the following lines is a rewriting of the song starting from Jara’s original version. Probably we are talking about three different stanzas with no relation in meaning (a common feature of many Andean songs) gathered together in one song. The transcription and subsequent translation offered here are merely tentative: considering the stanzas bad condition and the lack of indigenous sources to be referred to, the only thing that can still be done is to suppose, from the collected voices, what “Tinku” might originally have said.

Víctor Jara’s pronunciation
Chisi machaykuni, ñañitay / Machaykuyanila
Machaykuyanila, ñañitay / Macallahuankita
Tsitsitu tsitsitu, ñañitay / Matutsikisitu
Matutsikisitu, ñañitay / Eso si ajsitu
Ay, tunitay, tunay, ñañitay / tukuyukuy, tunay
Tukuyukuy tunay, ñañitay / Chaunquetuyay, tunay

Stanza 1
Ch’isi machaykuni, ñañitay,
Machaykushani-la
Machaykushani-la, ñañitay
Maqashawankita(q)
[Tonight I’m gonna get drunk, my little sister,]
[I am just getting drunk.]
[I am just getting drunk, my little sister,]
[and you are battering me.]

The word “Ñañitay” might not necessarily designate a certain person (or family member) throughout the song. In many lyrics, such a term is used to refer to anyone and everyone (as it happens with other words such as “viday”, “palomitay”, etc). Originally, “Ñaña” is the term commonly used to designate “a woman’s sister”. In hispanized Quechua language (note the Spanish diminutive “-ita”), “Ñaña” or “Ñañita” is used to speak to/about any woman with whom a man feels confident.
Supposing “-la” be a suffix, it might well be a dialectal variant of “-lla” (just, only) or a mispronunciation of “-raq” (still, yet). In this case, considering its position after other suffixes, the second option seems more likely.


Stanza 2
Chijchitu, chijchitu, ñañitay,
Mat’u(q) chikicitu
Mat’u(q) chikicitu, ñañitay,
Eso sí, ajsitu
[Smiling, smiling, my little sister,]
[impertinent little parrot.]
[Impertinent little parrot, my little sister,]
[Incomplete translation]

The Quechua sound “ch” has become “ts” in several Quechua dialects. This might be the reason for Jara’s original pronunciation.
On the one hand, “Chijchitu” might well be a hispanized diminutive of “Chijchi”, which is the word for hailstone, but also refers to a person with a distinctive smile. On the other, considering the sentence that follows, it makes sense to think of the word “Ch’ichi”, an adjective that describes a person either as dirty or as someone that does not deserve your attention.
“Mat’uq chikicitu” means “impertinent little parrot” (a chatter box, a person who talks nonsense without stopping). However, its pronunciation also reminds to “Machu sikicitu” (small old backside) or even to “Mat’i sikicitu”, a phrase meaning “narrow and small backside” that it is used in the Andes to refer to a woman with none or little sexual experience. In addition, this verse might be a verbal form close to “Mat’uchiyki” (I am part of the reason for you talking nonsense) or “Matuchiyki” (I am part of the reason for you making mistakes).
Since it is almost impossible for the last verse to be redone, it might mention the term “Aqsu”, a short poncho worn by Andean women.


Stanza 3
Ay, tunitay, tunay, ñañitay,
Tukuykuy, tuna(y)
Tukuykuy, tuna(y), ñañitay,
Chaunquetuyay, tunay
[Ah me! my little prickly pear, my tuna, my little sister,]
[(It is) the end, (my) prickly pear.]
[(It is) the end, (my) prickly pear, my little sister,]
[Incomplete translation]

The Quechua word “tuna” (prickly pear) may be used as an affectionate form of address when refers to women with “prickly manners” and “sweet heart”, like the fruit. However, “tunay” also means “to go out partying at night” (maybe derived from the Spanish “tuna”, musical group made up of university students). “T’una”, on its part, is used to designate both little things and children.
The translation of the last verse does not make any sense according to Jara’s pronunciation. Possible options might be “Cha’ auqa puqllay” ((Of) this enemies’ game), referred to the “tinku” itself, or a verbal form of “Chawkay” (to trick or deceive somebody).

Tinku, in Wikipedia.
Video Tinku (V. Jara).
Video Tinku (Inti-Illimani).
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