PEOPLE OF THE ALTIPLANO
The Historical patrimony of Bolivia counts amongst one of the richest in South America. We often reduce the Pre-Colombian history of this country to that of the Incas.
This is an unjust generalization, seeing that one of the first great civilizations to have left its imprint in Bolivia was the one of Tiwanaku.
Founded on the shores of Lake Titicaca, it exercised its dominion over a population estimated at 70 000 people, and reigned over a territory that reached from the South of Peru to the North of Argentina. Founded around 600 years B.C., the Empire disappeared around 1 200 A.D., possibly because of a 40-year drought that shook an economy based on the exchanges of agricultural and handmade products.
Tiwanaku played a major role here, with its beliefs, techniques and discoveries (in areas as varied as ceramic, botany, astronomy and anatomy -the people from Tiwanaku, for example, practiced trepanation- a form of cranial surgery) that formed the base of the culture of future inhabitants of the area, of which the Incas are the most famous.
It is unfortunately estimated that the excavations to date reveal only about 20 % of the existing Tiwanaku relics, Which is to say that this civilization still hides many mysteries...
Following the decline of the Tiwanaku Empire, Aymara rivaling lords took control of the altiplano for close to 3 centuries, until the arrival of the Inca Empire. One of these lordships may have dominated the others and organized a territory comprising an area from the South of Colombia to the North of Argentina and Chile.
About 1530, 150 years after the appearance of the Inca Empire, the Spanish conquistadors reached the area. Beginning in 1545, they started extracting the fabulous wealth in the mines of Potosi.
Illnesses brought by the colonizers, along with slave-like work conditions decimated local populations, cultures that were unable to resist the pressures exerted by the new masters.
The result of this complicated history is a mixed people, Indian in majority, and clearly divided in "Kollas" from the high plateau and "Cambas" from the low valleys (Amazon and Orient).
Although sparsely populated (seven inhabitants per km2, one of the lowest densities on the planet – it is common to not meet a soul during a day of travels) Bolivia is still today a land that shelters many dozens of ethnicities. Panos, Chipayas, Araucos, Chapacuras, Guaranis... many of which have conserved ancestral habits and that inhabit with more and more difficulty, the modern world that continually expands, geographically as much as culturally.
One of the challenges of Bolivia consists in representing in reality its motto, inscribed in the constitution: "Unity in diversity".