Social organization of the Aymara people in Chile

Social Organization

The Ayllu is the basic unit in the organization of Aymara society and economy. The ayllus organize themselves in pairs (feminine and masculine) following the principle of complementation of opposite pairs, central in the Aymara cosmovision. Pairs of ayllus conform a Marka, pairs of Markus make a Saya, pairs of Sayas make up a “Señoria” or Domaine, and together these constitute one of the four Suyus that conform the Tawantinsuyu. The duality observed in the Ayllus also assumes a principle of hierarchy, where there is a prominence of Upper over Inner. This leads to an understanding of the greater socio-political and ritual prestige that the communities located in the High Plains have over those in the foothills or coastal areas, and the reason why many of the most important ceremonies are held on the summits of the mountains.

The Family

Pre-Columbian Andean traditions believed that each Aylllu descended from an ancestral couple in the remote past, and paid homage to them for being the founders of the ayllu. This conception explains the Aymara family organization, where the principle of complementation is also within the couple. In Amara culture, therefore, matrimony between and man and a woman is the act that constitutes the jaquichasiña – fully becoming a person. This denotes the concept of the necessary complementation as the only possible form of existence. Each member of the couple has defined rights and responsibilities, and both must watch over the enforcement of the values and principles of their society, which they resume in the suma q’amaña (living well). At an early age, children are initiated in chores of pasturing and they must be respectful and totally obedient to their elders.

Structurally, the Aymara family is patrilineal and virilocal. Its patrilineal characteristic refers to the tradition that the family’s line of kinship (offspring and forbearers) is determined through the father. Virilocal refers to the place of residence, which is also with the male’s family of origin. Finally, women are the ones who “leave” their lineage to be incorporated into that of their husbands, the place where the new family will establish residence.


The diet of the Aymara consists basically of products they obtain from their crops and livestock.
Some important stables produced are tubers, such as potatoes and yucca; grains like corn and quinoa; legumes like different varieties of beans; and a variety of other produces grown, such as chilli peppers, garlic, pumpkin, sweet peppers and peanuts. Herbal infusions are also consumed, many with medicinal properties. Coca leaves for example are used to alleviate the puna (altitude sickness) and in numerous rites and religious ceremonies.
Sub-products from these crops are also consumed, such as chuño, flour made from dehydrated potatoes with help from the climatic conditions of the High Plain.
Camelid livestock is another productive activity from which the Aymara obtain food. Llamas and Alpacas are raised for their meat, which is also consumed as charqui – salted strips of meat dried in the sun. This can be kept for long periods of time and is very useful due to its easy transportation during treks across the mountains.
One of the most traditional meals is the Kalapurka, a soup or stew that is cooked by introducing large stones heated in the fire into the pot.