- South America -
The Aymara – a people with about two million members – live on the Altiplano in the Andean region of Bolivia, in southern Peru, and in northern Chile. In Bolivia, they are the second-largest indigenous community (following the Quechua) with about 1.5 million members – thus representing 25 percent of the Bolivian population. In Peru, the Aymara make up about five percent of the population, and about 0.3 percent of the population of Chile.
Although the Aymara have their own language, their way of life with regard to religious traditions, social structure, and economic orientation is quite similar to that of the Quechua. Their religion is predominantly catholic – but their cosmovision, their rites and ceremonial practices, are still strongly connected to Pachamama, meaning “Mother Earth”. Their main occupation is pastoral farming and agriculture on the mountain slopes on the Altiplano. An important characteristic of the Aymara’s culture is the Ayllu, their social system. Social life in the village community is based on the social unit of the extended family.
The Aymara are also considered to be one of the oldest still existing ethnic groups of the High Andes – and they are, according to present knowledge, the descendants of the Tiwanaku High Culture (1580 BC to 1172 AD), long before the era of the Inca. During the Inca era and especially during the colonial period, the Aymara were forcibly resettled within the Andean region. Both during the colonial period and after Bolivia and Peru became independent, the Aymara had no rights – and they were exploited and discriminated against. In the course of the advance of the hacienda system (large estates), they became victims of expulsion in many areas. Moreover, they lost the basis of their existence due to the privatization of collective lands. In consequence, many of them were forced to work on the fields of the hacendados.
The desolate situation of the Aymara did not change before the reforms of the Bolivian Revolution of 1952, as a consequence of which the Aymara were supposed to have more influence on the country’s politics. The political and social situation of the indigenous population has improved fundamentally following the election of the Aymara coca farmer Evo Morales as state president in 2006 and, in particular, with the constitutional reform in 2009, which involves more rights for the indigenous peoples in Bolivia – such as self-determination, right to autonomy, self-administration, and recognition of their institutions. In addition, the new Bolivian constitution defines the country as an intercultural and plurinational state with 37 official languages, including Aymara, Quechua, and Guaraní.