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Kolla People

Fiesta comunitaria

The Kolla people live in the north of Chile, in the creeks and canyons of Chañaral province of the Atacama Region, between the cities of Potrerillos, El Salvador, Diego de Almagro and Copiapó.

The Kollas reached Chile in two different periods: first, it is suggested, at the end of the Tiwanaku empire, in the Xth century. A second wave of immigration coming from the Argentinean northeast took place by the end of the XIXth century, coinciding with the Pacific War.

Most of them came from Tinogasta and Fiambala, increasing their numbers between 1880 and 1890.

Currently, the territory occupied by Kolla includes the Cordillera and Pre-cordillera and the high plateaus of Copiapo and Chanaral provinces in the Third Region. Its main limits are: Encantada creek in the north and Copiapo river in the south, area where transhumance is practiced between the two and four thousand meters of altitude.


Mujer Kolla con su hijo

The Kolla people live in close communities, their rituals and celebrations take place inside their culture and marriages are restricted to the group.

Cultural resistance manifests also in women's and some of the men's attires, and in their religious rituals.

They established in the pre-cordillera's creeks of the III region. Some went to the Paipote creek, close to the city of Copiapo, but when their children went to school, their mothers moved down to live with them in the city.

Currently, the Kolla people belong to a community that has its own daycare center.

Based on their estimates, this ethnic group would add up to 1,000 people in Chile.

Spiritual World

Cielo en solsticio de invierno

The Kolla spiritual world resembles the Aymara's.

Their main ancestral beliefs relate to the Pachamama, mother earth, life giver and organizer of human's life. She knows when, how and why things ought to be the way they are.

Ceremonies for curing illnesses and for petitioning are conducted by a yatiri, a wise person chosen by the spiritual forces, and whose designation has been communicated in a dream.

Rituals for the community sustenance and welfare are performed on the hills, at the highest altitudes.

An important date in the Kolla calendar, as it is among other indigenous people, is June 23, the winter solstice that announces the agricultural New Year.


Lana hilada, esperando el telar

Since their arrival, the Kolla have been engaged in pastoralism, hunting and gathering, muleteering, and in supplying firewood for the mining centers, cities and towns.

Cattle raising and muleteering are their main economic activities. They also practice mining and, in spite of the scarce water, agriculture.

They combine their activities with transport and herding in the mountain routes, and with wild animal hunting (foxes, chinchillas, guanacos and vicunas).

Activities included in their seasonal calendar are for family subsistence.

In April and May takes place the breeding of the livestock (sheep and goats).

During the summer, taking advantage of the abundance of milk, the kolla engage in cheese production. In spring, animals shorn, and, in winter, when farming and herding are scarce, they spin and weave. .


Labores de pastores

Contemporary Kollas speak Aymara, understanding also Quechua

Aymara-Quechua bilinguism is common in the Andean area. This bilinguism has its origin in the Inca conquest that introduced groups of mitimaes, or forced workers, who introduced the Quechua language in the Kolla region.

The Inca conquest explains the existence of a chiefdom composed by several nations where the Aymara, Quechua and Puquina language were spoken.

Moreover, both languages share an « extraordinary structural isomorphism (phonologic, morphologic, and syntactic and semantic) concerning the Quechua and Aymara grammar,» as suggested by Cerrón-Palominos.

Based on these analogies, the term Quechuamara has been suggested for designating both languages.

As with other indigenous people, Spanish is commonly used language in the context of the larger society and in every activity beyond the local community.


Petroglifo. Ruta de las caravanas

The Kolla may have originated in Bolivia's Titicaca lake in times of Tiwanaku empire final days. By then, twelve independent, aymara-speaking chiefdoms were clashing against each other. Occupants of an extense territory by the northeast and southwest lake shores, the Kolla chiefdom was salient. It was composed by two main ethnic groups: the Kolla, who controlled the political power, and the Puquina, who belonged to the older population in the area.

The Inca Wiracocha or Pachacuti, in the XVth century, invaded the Kolla chiefdom. A great Kolla people rebellion was defeated by the Inca Tupac Yupanqui, who recruited the rebels as front line fighters in the conquest of other territories. Important numbers of kollas were moved into closer or distant territories as encomendados, or forced laborers. Such is the case of the Argentinean northeast's Kollas, who were recruited for the mine work. Contemporary Kolla people recognize themselves as their descendants.


Afiche de las comunidades Kolla

The Kolla population of the III region is distributed among three communities:

1. Paipote creek community with 92 people with their own organization,

2. Potrerillos community in the town of Diego de Almagro, living the pre-cordillera close to the Potrerillos and El Salvador mines. This community has the strongest ethnic identity and cultural continuity,

3. River Jorquera community, settled in the pre-cordillera area of the rivers Jorquera and Pulido, southeast of Copiapo.

Their main activity still is cattle raising, agriculture (in spite of the lack of water) and mining.

Currently, among the Kolla communities a process of re-ethnification and organization is taking place.