Callahuaya - History and Cultural Relations

The Callahuaya have been purveyors of medicines throughout the Tiahuanaco cultures ( A . D . 400-1145), the Mollo culture (1145-1438), the Inca Empire (1438-1532), the Spanish Conquest (1532-1825), and the Bolivian Republic (1825-). As early as the Tiahuanaco period, the Callahuaya practiced trephination, reshaped craniums, and used enemas, psychotropic snuff, and medicinal plants from lowland regions. Throughout Mollo culture, the Callahuaya built elaborate cisterns to bury prominent users of ritual and herbal powers. During the Inca Empire, they had the honor of being chair carriers for the Inca, traveled up and down the Andes, and learned the pharmacopoeias of many Andean groups. After the Spanish Conquest, the Callahuaya lost much of their land, were moved to villages, and covertly continued worshiping their ancestors and earth shrines while also learning about European medicinal plants.

After independence in 1825, the Republican period ushered in the rise of the mestizos in Charazani, who considered themselves a class apart from the peasants of the surrounding ayllus (the ecological, cultural, and social units of Callahuaya society). Some of these mestizos became herbalists and competed with peasant herbalists. To avoid their influence and competition, Callawaya from the communities of Curva and Chajaya traveled long distances throughout Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru. Herbalists from each ayllu had distinct trade routes that they protected by mutual agreement among the elders. Because of their widespread travel, they had become well known by the beginning of the twentieth century but lost their importance thirty years later with the increase of doctors and pharmacists in Bolivia. After the peasant revolution of 1953, the Callahuaya were publicly recognized by the president of Bolivia in 1956, and have since enjoyed a revival as a result of renewed interest in natural medicine and Andean traditions.

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