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Aymara Indian Fact Sheet

Native American Facts For Kids was written for young people learning about the Aymaras for school or home-schooling reports. We encourage students and teachers to visit our main Aymara website for more in-depth information about the tribe, but here are our answers to the questions we are most often asked by children, with Aymara pictures and links we believe are suitable for all ages.

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    Aymara Tribe

How do you pronounce the word "Aymara"? What does it mean?
Aymara is pronounced "eye-mah-rah." Sometimes you will see it spelled Aimara instead. Nobody actually knows what it means. It doesn't have any meaning in the Aymara language. It was probably a name that got handed down from an earlier language.

Where do the Aymaras live?
The Aymaras are original people of the Andes mountain range. There are around three million Aymara people today, living in Bolivia, Peru, and northern Chile. Here is a map showing the location of Aymara lands.

What language do the Aymaras speak?
Most of them speak their native Aymara language, which is sometimes also known as Kawki, Cauqui, or Jaqaru. There are more than two million speakers of Aymara in South America today. In two countries, Bolivia and Peru, Aymara is considered one of the official national languages. However, many Aymara people are also fluent in Spanish. If you'd like to learn a few Aymara words, Jay (sounds like "high" but with a raspy first letter like the "j" in the Spanish word "jalapeno") means "hello" in Aymara, and Yuspara (pronounced yoo-spah-rah) means "thank you." You can also look at this picture dictionary to learn the Aymara names of different animals.

How was the Aymara Indian nation organized?
The Aymara nation never had a centralized government. Each Aymara community, called an ayllu, was independent of the others and was ruled by a hereditary clan leader. The different Aymara ayllus were in frequent contact with each other. Members of the same ayllu were considered kinfolk, so Aymara people had to choose spouses from different ayllus. In the 1400's, the Inca Empire took over the territory of the Aymaras, but because the Incas left the Aymara ayllu system in place, it didn't change their society very much. Even today, Aymara culture is strongly community-based.

How do Aymara Indian children live, and what did they do in the past?
They do the same things all children do-- play with each other, learn their lessons, and help around the house. Babies are carried in colorful slings called aguayos on their mothers' backs. Here is a picture of an Aymara baby in an aguayo. In the past the Aymaras didn't have formal schools, so Aymara children learned lessons from their grandparents or other elders. Today, most Aymara children go to school.

Did Aymara kids play sports?
Not traditionally, no. Aymara parents discouraged children from competing directly against each other, because they believed this would make them arrogant or aggressive. Instead, Aymara children played games such as marbles (for boys) or a skipping game (for girls.) This attitude has changed in the modern era, however, and today many Aymara kids enjoy playing soccer.

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What were Aymara homes like in the past?
Traditional Aymara houses were simple huts made of reeds and adobe, with thatched roofs. Each Aymara house had one room and provided shelter to a single family. Here is a page with pictures of adobe huts and other Indian building types. In some areas Aymara people still live in huts like these, but other Aymaras live in more modern housing today.

What was Aymara clothing like? Did they wear feather headdresses and face paint?
The Aymaras were weaving people. They made a variety of different clothing styles out of alpaca wool and cotton, and dyed them with colorful patterns. Originally, Aymara men tended to wear tunics, leaving their legs bare, while women tended to wear long dresses tied with a sash. Both men and women wore wool cloaks around their shoulders and sandals on their feet. Today, most Aymara men wear trousers, and Aymara women usually prefer blouses with full pleated skirts. Colorful wool cloaks and sashes are still popular among Aymara people today.

The Aymaras didn't wear any elaborate headdress like the Plains Indians or the Aztecs. Sometimes men wore hats with a ring of feathers attached to it, like this. But it was more common for Aymara people to wear colorful knitted caps with earflaps called lluchu, like this. Both men and women wore lluchu caps, and they are still commonly worn by Aymara people today. Many modern Aymara women also wear European-style bowler hats, like this.

In the past, Aymara men and women both wore their hair long and braided (two braids for women, one braid for men.) Today it is more common for men to cut their hair shorter, but most Aymara women prize their long braids. Face painting has never been as common in Aymara culture as it is in some other South American indigenous cultures, but red face paint was sometimes used for ceremonial purposes.

What was Aymara transportation like in the days before cars? Did they paddle canoes?
The Aymaras were well-known for their elaborate reed boats, which they used for travel and for fishing, especially on lake Titicaca. Aymara reed boats are made by weaving and bundling totora reeds together so finely that they are watertight. Some Aymara people still make boats in this traditional way, although it is more common to see European style wooden boats today.

What was Aymara food like in the time before supermarkets?
The Aymara Indians were farming people. Their most important crops included potatoes, corn, beans, chili peppers, and a grain called quinoa. They also raised animals like llamas, alpacas, and guinea pigs, and fished in the lakes and rivers. Many Aymara people today still eat these traditional foods, although other Aymaras have moved to the cities and eat similarly to other Latin American people. Here is a website with more information about South American Indian food.

What were Aymara weapons and tools like in the past?
The Aymaras were not really hunting people, and rarely used bows and arrows. Sometimes they used bolas or slings to shoot birds. In war, men usually fought face to face with clubs, or drove off raiders by shooting them with sling stones. Fishermen caught fish using basket traps, nets, and stone fish-hooks. Here is a website with pictures and more information about ancient Indian weapons.

What were Aymara arts and crafts like?
The Aymaras were known for their pottery and weaving arts. Here is an online museum exhibit of Aymara textiles.

What is Aymara music like?
The most important Aymara instrument is the siku, which are traditional reed pipes also known as Andean panpipes or zampoñas. Aymara people also sing and play carved flutes, drums, and horns. Here is one video showing Bolivian Aymaras playing pipes and drums, and another of Peruvian Aymaras singing in the Aymara and Quechua languages.

What kinds of stories do the Aymara Indians tell?
There are lots of traditional Aymara legends and fairy tales. Storytelling is very important to the Aymara Indian culture. Here is one Aymara legend about Fox and Monkey tricking each other. Here's a website where you can read more about Aymara mythology.

Do the Aymaras have any special cultural festivals?
Yes, but most of them are different from community to community. One holiday which is celebrated throughout most of the Aymara world is Willkakuti, which means "returning of the sun" in English. This is a celebration of the Aymara New Year which happens at the time of the winter solstice. Here is an article about Aymara New Year's celebrations in Bolivia.

What about Aymara religion?
Spirituality and religion were important parts of Aymara life, and some people continue to practice traditional beliefs today. It is respectful to avoid imitating religious rituals for school projects since some Aymara people care about them deeply. You can read and learn about them, however. You can visit this site to learn more about Aymara religious traditions, or this site about shamanism in general.

Can you recommend a good book for me to read?
The Aymara of South America is a book on Aymara culture for kids with many photographs. A more complex book on an Aymaran society and customs is Valley of the Spirits: A Journey Into the Lost Realm of the Aimaras, which we recommend to older students. You can also browse through our reading list of the best Native American books in general. Disclaimer: we are an Amazon affiliate and our website earns a commission if you buy a book through one of these links. Most of them can also be found in a public library, though!

How do I cite your website in my bibliography?
You will need to ask your teacher for the format he or she wants you to use. The authors' names are Laura Redish and Orrin Lewis and the title of our site is Native Languages of the Americas. We are a nonprofit educational organization working to preserve and protect Native American languages and culture. You can learn more about our organization here. Our website was first created in 1998 and last updated in 2020.

Thanks for your interest in the Aymara Indian people and their language!

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Learn More About The Aymaras

Aymara Indian Tribe
An overview of the Aymara people, their language and history.

Aymara Language Resources
Aymara language samples, articles, and indexed links.

Aymara Culture and History Directory
Related links about the Aymara people past and present.

Aymara Words
Aymara Indian vocabulary lists.

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