The ecological stages of the Aymara people in Chile
Their territories occupy the Andean High Plain as well as foothills and valleys, descending to the Pampa del Tamarugal and the Pacific coast.
The Aymara inhabit territories that cross the present borders of Bolivia, Peru, and northern Chile, principally in the arid Tarapaca Region and, to a lesser degree, that of Atacama. Today, the Aymara inhabit many different environments. Their territories occupy the Andean High Plain as well as foothills and valleys, descending to the Pampa del Tamarugal and the Pacific coast. These lands are occupied in strips, without being closed in or divided into individual units, but laid out as a vertical archipelago that displays ecological characteristics of its varied elevations. Together, these lands make up the Aymara socio-economic and political system. This diversity of domains gives rise to a varied economic, social, and political organization, conceived in constant relation to a mythical/religious organization of the space which orders the Aymara vision of the cosmos, their vision of the world as an integrated all-inclusive whole.
This zone is located over 3,800 – 4,000 meters above sea level. It is dominated by the backdrop of the high Andean summits, with beautiful landscapes of the immense pampas of the High Plains, grassy wetlands, lakes, salt flats, etc. The Andean High Plains are also charged with strong symbolic representations because the Achachilas, or figurehead spirits of the ancestors, are said to reside in the high peaks. The characteristic fauna include llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, and birds like the condor, the giant tagua or coot, flamingos, and the Andean goose.
In the past, the Aymara people also dominated the coastal zones. Caravans of South American camelids followed commercial routes that crossed the High Plains, foothills, valleys and desert before reaching the coastal territories. They brought produce from one zone to another. These routes assured an effective distribution and exchange of the many resources to those who lived in each ecological stage. Today, an important number of the Aymara inhabit coastal towns, such as Arica and Iquique, “climbing up” to participate in the most important festivities and rites that are celebrated during the year.
This zone is immediately below the High Plain and is characterized by valleys and gorges that, in the past, were filled with terraced plantations or patanaka, used to enlarge the space available for cultivation.