Callahuaya - Orientation



Identification. The name "Callahuaya" derives from an Inca province of the same name. Bolivians refer to them as "Qollahuayas," meaning "place of the medicines," because the Callahuaya are renowned herbalists in Andean countries. They cure with plants, minerals, animal products, and ritual. Peasants refer to them as "Qolla kapachayuh" or "lords of the medicine bag." The Callahuaya have earned this title on account of their knowledge of over 1,000 plants used for curing.

Location. The Callahuaya live in Bautista Saavedra Province, La Paz Department, Bolivia. Charazani is the provincial capital. Bautista Saavedra is located north of the Cordillera Real (Oriental) in the foothills of the Apolobamba Mountains, also called Cordillera de Carabaya. Water from Lake Titicaca and glaciers of the Apolobamba Mountains feed Río Charazani and Río Calaya, which flow east to join the Mapiri and tributaries of the Amazon. The Charazani and Calaya rivers form a system of high and medium valleys, where the Callahuayas live at elevations of between 2,700 and 5,000 meters, above the rain forests of the Yungas area and below the regions of permafrost. The average temperature for Charazani is 12.2° C, and the annual fluctuation is 4.6° C. Precipitation is around 30 centimeters per year. The rainy season usually lasts from November until April, although it often begins earlier. It rarely rains between May and July.

Demography. Approximately 13,000 Callahuaya live in Bautista Saavedra (2,535 square kilometers), an area the size of the state of Delaware. Population density is 5.2 people per square kilometer. Although many Callahuaya have moved to cities, improved health and high birthrates have kept the rural population from decreasing very much. The Callahuaya have approximately 128 herbalists.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Callahuaya speak Quechua, Spanish, and some Aymara. Herbalists use a secret language for curing, machaj-juvai, the "language of colleagues." Although this language is rapidly disappearing, it had an estimated 12,000 words. The Callawaya speak it principally to exclude outsiders and for curing rituals. Machaj-juvai is a hybrid language formed from a lexicon mostly of Puquina words and a Quechua grammar. As Puquina disappeared in the seventeenth century, the Callawaya continued to use Puquina words with a Quechua grammar to talk about plants and medicinal paraphernalia.


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