Aymara - History and Cultural Relations

The Aymara are considered descendants of some of the earliest inhabitants of the continent and possible founders of the so-called Tiahuanaco (Tiwanaku) high culture, estimated to have existed from between 500 and 200 B . C . to around A . D . 1000. For unknown reasons this culture suddenly collapsed in the thirteenth century (i.e., before the Inca Empire reached its peak toward the end of the fifteenth century). By then most people of the Andes, from Equador into Chile, were linked in a tightly controlled economic and political system in which the Quechua language of the Incas dominated. But the Aymara, as an exception from Inca practice, were allowed to retain their own language. This contributed to the still-persisting cultural and social separation of the Aymara.

After the Spanish Conquest in 1533 the Aymara shared the fate of most South American peoples-centuries of suppression. In what later became Bolivia, the Spaniards started the extraction of metals, mainly silver, at the price of ruthless exploitation of the Indian population, which was forced to work in the mines. The eighteenth century was a period of great unrest among various Indian groups in what was then called Upper Peru (part of Bolivia today). Lacking coordination, these uprisings had little effect upon the lives of the Aymara in the area. Nor did the fifteen-year long war of independence, which in 1825 resulted in the proclamation of the Republic of Bolivia.

The status of the Bolivian Aymara remained virtually unchanged until the revolution in 1952, which led to economic and social reforms such as universal suffrage and land reform. A continuing stormy political scene has, however, resulted in an underdeveloped economy, poor communication, and social problems; these conditions primarily affect the Indian population, whose situation is not likely to change rapidly. Culturally related peoples are the Quechua, the Uru, and the Chipaya. Their languages are unrelated (in spite of the common belief to the contrary), but there has been extensive mutual linguistic and cultural borrowing.

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