Aymara - Orientation

Identification. The name "Aymara" is of unknown origin. Historically, the Aymara referred to themselves as "Jaqi," meaning "human beings," or as "Colla." This term "was extended loosely by early Spanish chroniclers to include all the Aymara-speaking tribes of the 'Collao' or Collasuyo division of the Inca empire" (La Barre 1948).

Location. The Aymara are presently concentrated on the altiplano, the Andean high plateau, a geographical zone of approximately 170,000 square kilometers at a medium elevation of 4,000 meters above sea level. Although located in the center of the South American continent, the altiplano has far from a tropical climate, owing to the extreme elevation—surrounding mountains range up to 7,000 meters. The temperature varies more between night and day than between seasons. Normally the summer season (November to March) has daily rainfalls, the winter (May through September) a complete drought. The population is mainly spread around Lake Titicaca in Peru and Bolivia, extending into southern Bolivia, southern Peru, and northern Chile. There is evidence that in the pre-Inca period Aymara speakers were geographically spread over a substantially larger area.

Demography. In 1950 the Aymara population was estimated to be between 600,000 and 900,000, with the majority living in Bolivia. More recent estimates claim that the Aymara number between two and three million, of which around half a million live in Peru (approximately 2.3 percent of the Peruvian population). The Bolivian Aymara are about 30 percent of the population. For these reasons, the Aymara tend to be linked more closely to the history of Bolivia than to that of Peru.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Aymara language, one of the three most widely spoken (with Quechua and Guaraní) Indian language in South America, belongs to the Andean-Equatorial Language Family, more specifically to the Jaqi Language Group. There are three Jaqi languages: Jaqaru and Kawki, spoken only in Peru, and Aymara, spoken primarily in Bolivia and Peru.

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