Discover the fascinating lives of Bolivia’s lesser-known tribes

Aug 25, 2017

The Chipaya people are thought to be one of the oldest surviving civilisations in the Andes, a tribe that has been around for some 4,000 years, outlasting the Inca Empire and surviving the Spanish conquest.

The tribe lives in and around the small town of Santa Ana de Chipaya, located high on the windswept and barren plains of Bolivia, at an elevation of 3,800m, north-east of the Salar de Coipasa salt lake.

Circular huts made of mud and aquatic reeds make up the traditional dwellings of the tribe near the Lauca River. Chipaya men grow quinoa, tend to llamas and sheep, and hunt flamingos and snow geese for meat. The sheep provide wool for clothes and milk for cheese, while llamas, used mostly as beasts of burden, also provide wool.

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Meanwhile, domestic tasks such as caring for children, cooking and weaving are mostly done by the women. Chipaya textiles are highly prized as each piece takes many weeks to complete and can easily fetch hundreds of dollars in the capital.

The Chipaya style of dressing is distinct. Men wear wool ponchos and wide-brimmed hats, while women don hooded ponchos and sport braided hairstyles.