Who Are The Aymara People?

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Traditional Aymara festivities in Bolivia near Lake Titicaca.

5. 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 Inca Empire's socioeconomic system was founded upon. The early Aymara people called themselves “Jaqi” (human beings) and belonged to the Collasuyo division in the Inca Empire. Research by linguists have discovered that the Incas may have spoken Aymara at the onset of their empire, but learned Quechua later on. Some conjectures also state that the "secret (coded) language of the Incas" may have been an ancient variety of Aymara.

4. Traditional Ways of Life

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 the "nature spirits" that required shamans' interventions to gain favors from and ward off evils.

3. Notable Aymara

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, they have managed to survive and cling on to their customs, religion, and traditional ways of life. Under intense suppression early on, they had since revolted against the Incas at first, and later the Spaniards. Some notable Aymara have included socialist Evo Morales, the 80th and incumbent President of Bolivia, Felipe Quispe, a leader of a guerrilla army, Bartolina Sisa, a rebel commander, Gregoria Apaza, a rebel commander, Roberto Mamani, the contemporary artist, Tupac Katari, a rebel leader, and Maria Eugenia Choque Quispe, an intellectual writer whose essays touch on neocolonialism in Bolivia. From that 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 if necessary to ensure justice.

2. 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 served only to fan the Aymara into rebellion against the Spanish colonization of their homeland. Much of the efforts they put in as rebels were ineffective, however, as coordination between the native Indian 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 the Spaniards to wear certain manner of clothing and accept many European customs. Although they readily accepted Christianity, they retained their traditional nature worship. They also inherited the fiesta celebrations from the Spaniards, which they also incorporated into traditional Aymara festivities.

1. Cultural Pride and Modern Threats

Cultural pride among the Aymara has been sparked once again by the recent election of the first ever ethnically Aymara president of Bolivia, Movement for Socialism candidate Evo Morales. Popular songs are being composed in the Aymara language, and even the hip-hop genre has found an adherent in Aymara singer Abraham Bohorquez. Although many small victories have been won with the small 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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