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Aymara People: Language, Culture & Religion

Instructor: David Juliao

David has a bachelor's degree in architecture, has done research in architecture, arts and design and has worked in the field for several years.

In this lesson, learn about the Aymara people, an indigenous culture of the Andean highlands. Discover their language, explore their food, symbols and other aspects of their culture as well as the most relevant features of their religion.

The Aymara People

The average altitude is about 12,000 feet, temperatures are low, the soil is poor and the solar radiation is as strong as in the Caribbean. It is a hard place to live in, but for centuries, a human group with a colorful and hardworking culture has developed here. They are the Aymara.

The Aymara is a native culture that lives in the Andean highlands, a plateau known as Altiplano. With a population of about 3 million, they are distributed between Bolivia, Southern Peru, and, Northern Chile. A large part of the Aymara is concentrated in the basin of Lake Titicaca, shared by Peru and Bolivia.

A well-known Aymara group is the Uru, who live on Lake Titicaca, on top of floating islands built of reeds. The Bolivian President Evo Morales is descendant of the Aymara and his government has promoted the protection of the native cultures.

Aymara People on Lake Titicaca
Aymara people on Lake Titicaca

Language

The Aymara is the traditional language of this human group. There are no historical records of its origin but it has been spoken for centuries. The Aymara is one of Bolivia's official languages, together with Spanish and about 30 other native tongues.

However, most of the Aymara population speak Spanish. There are efforts to promote the use of the traditional language but about one-third of the population can no longer speak it. The lack of a bilingual system of education and the discrimination against Aymara speakers in the cities have led to its decrease.

Location of the Aymara-Speaking Population
Location of the Aymara

The Aymara adopted the Latin alphabet during colonial times, using 26 consonants and three vowels, each with a short and a long sound. The sentences are formed by joining verbs, nouns, and adverbs with over 200 suffixes. The sentences usually differentiate if the speaker knows a fact by direct or indirect knowledge, and human and non-human actions are also distinguished.

Culture

The Aymara have retained many traditional aspects of their culture. They withstood attacks from the Incas then later from the Spanish and were severely discriminated against since colonial times. But they are very proud of their culture.

Family

The Aymara live in extended family groups. Communities of several extended families often live together inside enclosed compounds. However, this traditional structure is changing as many have moved into the cities looking for job opportunities. Traditionally, there is no division of tasks or rights between men and women.

Food

The Aymaran food is prepared with the products available to them. The main ingredient are potatoes, with over 200 local varieties, quinoa, and beans. The meat is usually fish from the lakes and llamas. The most famous dish is probably the Chairo, a stew made from Chuñu (dried potatoes), cooked with herbs and spices, and sometimes llama meat. The Charki (dried salted llama or fish) are used in many other dishes.

Potatoes are an important part of the Aymara diet
Potatoes

Coca leaves

A common practice is the use of coca leaves, considered a sacred product. The Aymara chew the leaves, use them for preparing a hot drink, and also for medical rituals. Although controversial, this practice dates from centuries ago and is considered helpful to the body. Because of the extreme elevation, it is hard to get enough oxygen and the coca leaves help stimulate the body, reducing the fatigue, thirst, and sickness associated with altitude.

Coca Leaves
Coca Leaves

Arts

The artistic expressions are closely related to daily activities and consist mostly of utilitarian objects. Textile weaving is important since most people still wear traditional outfits. The women wear long skirts and both men and women wear long tunic-like coats called ponchos. The textiles are colorful and combine plenty of vivid tones. Basket weaving is also significant and a similar technique is used for building houses in wet areas.

Wiphala

The Wiphala is the name of the Aymaran flag, formed by several squares of seven different colors. They represent land, society, energy, time, economy, space, and politics. The composition is a reference to the colorful textiles. There is no historical evidence of its origin but it is believed to have been created in the 20th century. However, it quickly became a symbol of the Aymara identity and culture.

The Wiphala Flag
The Wiphala Flag

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