The Aymara People

Aymara women on Isla del Sol, Bolivia. Image credit: Jess Kraft/Shutterstock

Early History

The Aymara people are an Indigenous South American group native to the Altiplano region at the lower elevations of the Andes. Early Aymara peoples inhabited the same area they live in today, and they have continually lived in these areas for more than 5,000 years. Their early culture was one of the bases upon which the mighty Incan Empire's socio-economic system was founded. The early Aymara people called themselves “Jaqi” (human beings) and belonged to the Collasuyo division in the Inca Empire. Research by linguists has discovered that the Incas may have spoken Aymara at the onset of their empire but learned Quechua later on. 

Traditional Ways Of Life

Aymara women dancing during the Morenada festival, Isla del Sol, Bolivia. Image credit: Vlad Karavaev/Shutterstock

The Aymara have retained their culture despite the collapse of the Tiahuanaco high culture of their ancestors in the 13th century. Early Aymara peoples survived in the high altitudes by farming and domesticating animals. They planted quinoa, potatoes, and maize as starchy staples, and they herded llamas and Andean cameloids upon the rugged slopes. Produce was traded with lowland peoples to meet the Aymara's basic needs, while labor was sometimes exchanged for food and other services as well. Traditional Aymara social life is basic, and traditional celebrations marked times of harvests and the passing away of family and friends. Conflicts were resolved by gossip and exclusion from celebrations and occasions. Precolonial religious beliefs were mainly beliefs in supernatural phenomena, such as nature spirits requiring shamans' interventions to gain favors and ward off evils.

European Contact

The Spanish conquistadors of the 16th century put the Aymara people to work in the silver mines, a practice that lasted for generations of brutal occupation. The period of servitude pushed Aymara into rebellion against Spanish colonization of their homeland. Much of the efforts they put in as rebels were ineffective, however, as coordination between the Indigenous groups was almost non-existent. The Aymara people in the three countries of Bolivia, Peru, and Chile retained much of their identity and culture but were forced by Spaniards to accept many European customs. Although they readily accepted Christianity, they retained their traditional nature worship. They also inherited fiesta celebrations from the Spaniards, which they also incorporated into traditional Aymara festivities.

Notable Aymara

Evo Morales was the 80th president of Bolivia, and the first-ever Aymaran president of the country. Image credit: Golden Brown/Shutterstock

The Aymara people today mainly live in Chile, Peru, and Bolivia, with a small number also to be found in Argentina. The Aymara people have been ruled over by the Incas, Spaniards, and the modern governments of Bolivia, Chile, and Peru alike. Yet, despite so many external influences, Aymara communities have managed to survive and cling to their customs, religion, and traditional ways of life. Under intense suppression early on, they revolted against the Incas at first, and later the Spaniards.

Some notable Aymara have included socialist Evo Morales, the 80th President of Bolivia; Felipe Quispe, leader of the Pachakuti Indigenous Movement; Bartolina Sisa and Gregoria Apaza, rebel commanders; Roberto Mamani, the contemporary artist; Túpac Katari, a rebel leader; and María Eugenia Choque Quispe, an intellectual writer whose essays explore neocolonialism in Bolivia. From this list, it is plain to see that the Aymara of recent times are free thinkers concerned for the welfare of their people, and will speak out and fight to ensure justice.

Cultural Pride and Modern Threats

Cultural pride among the Aymara was sparked once again by the election of the first-ever ethnically Aymara president of Bolivia, Movement for Socialism candidate Evo Morales. Popular songs have been composed in the Aymara language, and even the hip-hop genre has found an adherent in Aymara singer Abraham Bohórquez. Although many small victories have been won in the struggle for acceptance of the Aymara as a people, there are still social problems that persist, such as de facto discrimination.

The continuity of the Aymara culture and traditions has marked them as inferior to modern culture and society in the eyes of many contemporary South Americans, while neocolonialism has also continued to plague them, as it imposes political control and cultural manipulation through socioeconomic leverage. These and other ills have deprived them of their humanity, according to Aymara intellectual Choque Quispe.

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