Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Uru-Chipaya are a linguistically and culturally distinct (and by some accounts ancient) people of the Titicaca-Poopó basin of the Andean [i]altiplano[/i]. Increasingly marginalized and assimilated from Inca through modern times, by the early twentieth century the few Uru remaining in the single settlement of Iru-Itu or Angoake just south of Lake Titicaca retained some of their traditional economic focus on aquatic resources but had been all but absorbed by the dominant Aymara. A culturally distinctive branch, the Chipaya, had become isolated several hundred kilometers to the south in a village of the same name; since joined by a settlement at Ayparavi. Subsistence depends on a combination of farming, animal husbandry and wage labor, with mostly opportunistic pursuit of once dominant fishing and hunting. The nuclear family is the fundamental unit of an egalitarian society that is divided into three [i]ayllus[/i], each of which annually chooses a chief mayor with civil and religious authority, and a field mayor regulating agricultural affairs.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


South America --Central Andes



OWC Code


Number of Documents


Note: Select the Collection Documents tab above to browse documents.

Number of Pages


Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication and, as needed, title.

In addition to this culture summary, the collection consists of documents covering a variety of cultural, economic and historical information on the Uru-Chipaya in Iru-Itu or the Angoake and Chipaya settlements, based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted during the distinct periods 1931-1940 and 1970-1989.

The basic sources to consult are two volumes by anthropologist Alfred Métraux who conducted fieldwork in Bolivia in early 1930s (Métraux, 1935; 1935-36). Together, these works provide the first systematic and detailed description of Uru-Chipaya culture and society, drawing on first-hand observation and secondary sources. Specific themes covered include economic activities, material culture, language, social organization, religion and rituals.

The collection also includes a relatively recent book by anthropologist Nathan Wachtel who studied the Chipaya settlement at various times from 1970 to 1989. The discussion focuses on aspects of change and continuity he observed in Uru-Chipaya culture as the group continued to undergo a significant degree of Aymara acculturation (Wachtel 1994).

The information in the above-mentioned ethnographic accounts is supplemented by other works in the collection. Two works by Jehan Vellard, both of them translated from the French, provide general ethnographic descriptions based on information from two contrasting sources: the author’s first-hand observation of Uru-Chipaya in Iru-Itu village in 1938-1944 (Vellard 1949) and analysis of relevant documents from Spanish colonial archives (Vellard 1959-1960). Julien (1987) discusses the ethnic composition of the Uru-Chipaya peoples and the meanings of this identity to tribute-collecting agents of the Spanish Crown. Baumann (1981) is concerned with the description and systematic classification of traditional Uru-Chipaya performing arts and cultural practices involving music, dance and songs. An article by La Barre (1949), originally published in the Handbook of South American Indians , provides a good introduction to the Uru-Chipaya, including their history, subsistence, houses and villages, dress and adornment, trade, socio-political organization, and life cycles.

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this collection, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

Overview by

Teferi Adem

Alcalde -- mediating elders -- Use Judicial Authority ( 692 ) with Informal In Group Justice ( 627 )

Alcanti Jilacata -- chief mayor of a local community -- Use Community Heads ( 622 ) with Community Structure ( 621 )

Alférez -- "banner carrier," president and organizer of a religious festival -- Use Organized Ceremonial ( 796 )

Ayllu -- residence based local community -- Use Community Heads ( 622 ) with Settlement Patterns ( 361 )

Chalkawñi -- line of nooses used for hunting flamingos -- Use Fowling ( 223 )

Kaman-para -- sacred sticks used in religious ceremonies -- Use Sacred Objects And Places ( 778 ) with Ritual ( 788 )

Kharisiri -- vampire-like creatures believed to cause illness and/or death by stealing the vital organs and blood of innocent victims -- Use Theory Of Disease ( 753 ) with Sorcery ( 754 ) and/or Spirits And Gods ( 776 )

Malku -- sacred objects believed to be endowed with supernatural powers -- Use Sacred Objects And Places ( 778 ) with Animism ( 774 )

Muyucamanaca -- ritual specialists responsible for taking care of crops -- Use Organized Ceremonial ( 796 ) and/or Tillage ( 241 )

Tshih Khuya -- bone house -- Use Burial Practices And Funerals ( 764 ) with Cult Of The Dead ( 769 )

Indexing Notes by

Teferi Adem

Close Box