The Aymara are an ancient people with a complex and still imperfectly understood history. They are a people rich in myth, knowledge and spirituality. The Aymara were the members of a great but little-known culture of the Americas centered in the ancient city of Tiahuanaco. Between 400 AD. and 1000 AD. Tiahuanaco was the capital of an empire that spanned great parts of the south-central Andes Mountains.
The pre-contact, indigenous central Andean cultural pattern contrasts sharply with that of the other areas of South America. For maximum development the Andean economy required rich soil, an adequate water supply, and the absence of both forest and deep-rooted grasses that were difficult to eradicate. For maximum development of their land, the Aymara grew crops that were suitable to the Andean climate. The alpaca and the llama were also suited to the Andean climate, and could be found on most of the Aymara land areas.
These general characteristics were found in the coastal valleys and large highland basins of the central Andes. Each major highland basin and each coastal valley might be considered a distinct cultural unit. Each of the these regional states and chiefdoms were geographically isolated by distance and by mountains. They were characterized by local cultural and stylistic weaving and ceramic traditions, that were well documented in the archeological record of the central Andes.
Prior to conquest by the Inca, the Aymara were divided into a series of independent states which were concentrated on the Altiplano in the present day republics of Peru and Bolivia. There were twelve separate kingdoms, which were collectively referred to as the Collas (Aymara Kingdoms: Sixteenth Century ). It was by exploiting these divisions that the Inca entered into the northern Altiplano and eventually extended their rule over the Aymara territory in the late fifteenth century.
Many of the administrative and economic policies initiated by the Inca were continued by the Spanish Colonial government. The Aymara Indian community was greatly transformed during the Colonial Spanish era as a result of fundamental changes in and abuses of land and labor laws. As a result of the social, economic and political reforms that followed in the 1952 Bolivian Revolution, the Aymara have become increasingly integrated into the mainstream of Bolivian regional and national society. Viable economic alternatives to subsistence agriculture are available to the Aymara of the Altiplano, since they are no longer tied to the land of their native communities. But in order to validate their claim to it, large numbers of Aymara are seeking off-farm employment in urban areas.
The empire Tiahuanaco disappeared one thousand years ago, but its descendants still till the same land and worship the same spirits of the earth and sky. The Aymara are a colonized people, they have adapted many of their cultural forms and social behaviors to this reality. This is why they can be called Ancient/Modern People of the Andes.
Brown, Paul Francis, Fuerza Por Fuerza: Ecology and Culture Change Among the Aymara of Southern Peru, University Microfilms International, Ann Arbor, MI, 1984.
Kolata, Allen L., Valley of the Spirits, John Wiley and Sons, Inc, 1996.
Poe, Karen Marie, Land and Labor in the Titicaca Basin, University Microfilms International, Ann Arbor, MI, 1984.