Chipaya - Orientation

Identification. The Chipaya speak Chipaya and live on the high plains of Bolivia. Although their legends reflect that they have resided only in the same general area where they presently live, their linguistic affiliation points to their having migrated from Central America. The name "Chipaya" probably came from the Aymara ch'ipaña, "to tie up," referring to the netlike way they tie the roofs on their houses.

Location. The Chipaya form a small island in the midst of the Aymara. They live on wind-swept highlands at an elevation of about 3,800 meters, just northeast of a salt lake, the Salar de Coipasa, about 200 kilometers southwest of Oruro, in the department of Oruro and the province of Atahuallpa, approximately 13° N and 25° E, between the Barras and the Lauca rivers in an area about 35 kilometers by 13 kilometers. In the early 1980s a group of men migrated to a semitropical area about 100 kilometers east of Cochabamba in the Chapare (Canton Villa Tunari) and named it the Colonia Flor de San Pedro de Chipaya. They cleared land, planted crops, and built houses, but in 1985 it was still not certain if the new settlement would be maintained permanently.

Demography. La Barre mentions that in 1930 there were about 350 Chipaya. In spite of a high rate of infant and child mortality, by the early 1960s the population had increased to about 700. There was a serious measles epidemic in the fall of 1964 that resulted in the death of over 100, most of whom were children. Since the measles epidemic the population has increased and had surpassed 1,000 by 1985. The Chipaya area of the Bolivian altiplano is not fertile enough to maintain a growing population, so dispersion is inevitable.

Linguistic Affiliation. Chipaya belongs to the Macro-Mayan Language Family and is very closely related to Uru, a language spoken only by a few older people near where the Río Desaguadero flows out of Lake Titicaca. The Chipaya language consists of up to 20 percent loanwords from Aymara and/or Quechua, as well as loanwords from Spanish.

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