The Aymara are a South American ethnic group native to the Andes region, as well as Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, and northern Chile. Their ancestors have lived in these regions for over 2000 years. At first independent, they became a subject nation of the Inca and later the Spanish. Still, they have retained important aspects of their culture, despite the attention of two powerful nations and the pressures of modern society.

The Aymara are comprised of several ethnic groups, including the Charqa, Quillaca, Soras, and more. When the Spanish conquistadores arrived in the 16th century, the Aymara were spread through modern Bolivia; linguistic studies show that the Aymara language was once spoken as for north as central Peru, where the Aymara may have originated. However, the Aymara, along with some scholars, believe that they were linked with the advanced civilization of Tiwanaku. Interestingly, Inca architecture was modelled on Tiwanaku styling. There are Aymara placenames in the Incan area of Cuzco, and the Incan secret language seems to be a derivative of Aymara.

Under Incan rule, the Aymara were permitted a surprising amount of autonomy. As long as the tribute kept rolling in, the Incans were content to let them live as they saw fit. The Aymara culture had seven or more individual kingdoms, making it difficult to pin down the capital of their ancient civilization.

Modern Aymara can be distinguished by their dress – Chola dress, bowler hat, boots, skirts, and jewellery. This unique fashion has become firmly linked with Bolivian culture in the minds and hearts of millions. To Aymara women, it is a sign of pride in their Aymara identity.

For centuries, Aymara peoples have grown and used coca plants. The leaves are offered to the earth goddess Pachamama and the sun god Inti. The leaves are also used in religious rituals and traditional medicine. Unfortunately for the Aymara, the war on drugs has led to attempts to eradicate coca, which is used to make cocaine. The importance of coca to the Aymara has made this a fractious issue. Coca is now a common symbol, a way for Aymara to connect with their culture and traditions.

Today, the Aymara seek greater power through political means. Aymara have been involved in numerous organizations, and many seek to establish an autonomous state named Collasuyu. Perhaps the best known of the Aymara is Evo Morales, who won the presidency in 2005 with a massive majority.

Flag of the Aymara, courtesy Wikipedia.
Aymara women showing traditional dress, courtesy Wikipedia.