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Diaguita People

Diaguita People I I

Cerámica ofídica. Museo de Limarí - Ovalle

The Diaguita economy was based on agriculture and livestock breeding, supplemented with some large bird hunting and trade among villages.

They cultivated corn, teak, beans and pumpkins. They domesticated llamas and guanacos; animals that were very useful as a means of transporting cargo.

Their houses were built with vegetable materials, and to divide the land they used stone walls, of Atacameño influence, known as pircas.

Different grave-styles speak about their spiritual evolution and about their belief in a supernatural life and in divinities.

Basically, their burial sites consist on a rectangular enclosure, excavated below ground level, with two inclined stone blocks in order to protect the corpse. Also, some of them suggest that wives were buried next to their husbands. Such a tradition may have been a way of achieving balance between sexes.

Men and women were short in size, with clear olive colored skin. Their cranial deformation, a common practice among the Diaguita, did not produce unattractive or negative effects.

Diaguita People I

Plato Diaguita. Fase arcaica.

Diaguita culture, agricultural and ceramist, existed between the VIIIth and XVth centuries A.D., and it was contemporary to the Atacameño culture.

This ethnic group probably was related with the Argentinean Diaguitas; in the the Vth and VIth centuries A.D., the Diaguitas people may have crossed the Andean range to settle in the fertile valleys of the Copiapó, Huasco, Elqui, Limarí and Choapa rivers. Their arrival of the Diaguitas people is thought to have replaced the Molle culture, which extended from the valley of the Huasco, in the north, to the Choapa, in the south.

Diaguitas people are known for their ceramic art, which is characterized by their fine trimmings and rich decoration with geometric figures: straight lines, zigzags and triangles embedded in a line. They preferred colors as white, red and black.

Their pottery may be classified in two groups of vessels, one for everyday life, as the so called shoe vessels, and the other for ceremonial and ritual purposes: the much finer and more elaborated duck vessels.

Diaguita People II

Valle del río Elqui

The Diaguita´s teritory, mainly the valleys, was divided into two. The upper and middle part, and the lower part.

Each half recognized a chief or cacique who ruled over minor chiefs.

Gerónimo de Vivar, while refering to the Aconcagua valley, says:

«The Lords of this valley are two; one is Tanjalombo, who overlooks half of the valley down to the sea; and the other Cacique is Michimalongo, whose domain and rule covers the other half of the valley up to the mountains, overlooks and dominates half of the valley and reaches the mountains.»

Toward the XVIIIth century, the Diaguitas had been assimilated by the Hispanic Creole society. Nowadays, almost nothing remains of their beliefs, traditions or cultural values.

Diaguita People

Plato antropomorfo El Olivar - La Serena

The first ceramic vestiges of the Diaguitas were found at Las Animas creek in the Elqui Valley (IV Region), and correspond to the archaic period. The dishes from this stage are quite deep with thick walls and shaped like a half of an orange (semi-globular). The utensils were decorated with thick lines forming concentric circles, both in its interior and exterior.

Towards the end of the transition period, the Diaguitas began to innovate in the decoration of their pottery, new forms were incorporated: hooks, triangles and escalating traces, characteristic pre-Columbian decoration.

During the classical period, the so-called duck vessels and some ornamental chalice appeared. Most of these ceramics had vertical walls, inclined outwards, inwards or perpendicular. Drawings decorate the external part of the vessel, while the interior was red tinted. Geometric decorations became more common.

The so-called duck vessels along with caskets and anthropomorphous ceramic are the most outstanding work of the Diaguita culture.


Jarro pato. Período clásico

Kakán was the Language of the Diaguita people, coming from the north of Argentina. They settled in the fertile Cross-sectional Valleys.

The studies of Rodolfo Schüller maintain that in both sides was spoken this Language totally extinguished today.

At the moment only some words have conserved last names of Kankán origin, local toponymy (names of places), such as:


Antofagasta, Chalingasta, Elqui, Sotaquí, Atacama, Calama, Toconao, Ticnamar, Combarbalá, etc.

Last name of Diaguita origin are:

Alballay, Campillay, Sapiaín, Talinay, Chavilca, Tamango, etc.

Plants names:

Chañar, gualtata, chilca, yalipalqui, palqui, etc.

Book source: Chronicle and copious account of the Chilean kindome. Historical and bibliographical Fund of José Toribio Medina, Santiago, 1966.

Valle del río Elqui