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Land of winds > The people > Culture | Issue 04. Mar.-Apr.2011
By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

The Kolla

    Today I’ve started thinking in my homeland
    proud of been from Jujuy.
    Today I’ve started crying for my land
    Pachamama’s land in the Quebrada.

    Today I’ve started thinking in my guagua,
    in my tequis, my chola, my dog.
    Today I’ve just started singing with my caja,
    maybe far, far away from the hill.

    Today I’ve seen the puna in a dream,
    green, tojra, brown, red,
    and sat close to my apacheta
    I was crying to the accompaniment of my quena.

    I’ve seen you quiet Humahuaca,
    with your narrow and bright streets,
    your rammed-earth walls, pircas and antigales,
    your sheep, donkeys and goats.

    Today, also my eyes got teary,
    while I was hearing the chajchas and bombos;
    and the erquencho shook in my hands
    and I recalled your beautiful valleys.

    Today I’ve started thinking in my homeland
    mountain ranges, punas, ravines, and valleys
    Abra Pampa, Humahuaca, La Quiaca
    Little Jujuy of my delighted soul!

    Fortunato Ramos. “Jujeñito” [From Jujuy]. In “Costumbres, Poemas y Regionalismos” [Customs, poems and regionalisms] (Humahuaca, 2003).
The Kolla (also written Koya, Colla or Coya, though these terms do not always have the same meaning) are descendants of a group of native peoples originally from the south of Bolivia, north of Chile and northwest of Argentina. At present day, in Argentina, they are considered a “native people” despite not having a language of their own and many of their customs and traditions being derived from different sources and shaped by other cultures.
Both archaeologists and anthropologists agree that the present Kolla have inherited a rich culture from their pre-Incan ancestors: the Atacama (northern Chile), the Omaguaca, the Tilcara, the Ocloya and several Diaguita families (north-western Argentina). This ancient stratum was heavily influenced by both the Inca Empire (mostly by the colonies of mitimaes, Chicha settlers in this particular case, established by the Inca sovereigns) and the Aymara peoples from the south of Bolivia (Kolla, Lupaqa). After the Spanish conquest, this extraordinary mixture of peoples and customs became mingled with the European conquerors’ culture and the imported Quechua and Castilian languages became the language of Christianisation and the official language respectively. With subsequent migration flows from Bolivia new features were added into what is known today as the Kolla culture. At the end of the 19th century, the War of the Pacific (also known as the Saltpeter War, 1879-1883) caused migration of Kolla people to Chile. At present, Kolla population is settled in the provinces of Salta and Jujuy, (North West Argentina) and in Chile’s “Norte Chico” (Atacama region and mountain valleys in the provinces of Chañaral and Copiapó).
According to the population census conducted in Argentina (2004) and Chile (2002), Kolla population rises to 40,000 people, most of them (37,000) living in Argentina. They speak a local variant of Castilian (including a lot of regionalisms) and maintain customs and traditions that are closely related to most Andean cultures: the minga (from Quechua mink’a) or cooperative work for improvement; the sirviñaco (from Quechua servinakuy) or living together prior to marriage; the señalada (livestock branding); the apacheta (sacred cairns); the coca leaf as part of daily life and ritual celebrations; the activities related to the Carnival (to unearth the Devil or pujllay, the cacharpaya or farewell); the tinkunaku (musicians and singers meetings); and many rituals involving the Pachamama (in Quechua, “Mother Earth”) such as the corpachada (feeding the land) and the chaya (offering the firs sip to Pachamama).
Among Kolla traditional instruments we find the erque, the erquencho, the caja and the kamacheña, besides some borrowings from Bolivia such as the panpipes, the quena, the tarka (locally called “anata”) and the charango, and a few others from Europe like the guitar and the accordion.
The oldest manifestations of this culture remain in existence in the puna of Jujuy (Casabindo, Susques) and the remote valleys of Salta (Iruya). During the last years, both exponents of Kolla tradition and Argentinean artists have collaborated in revitalizing and popularizing the former cultural heritage, while indigenist social movements are striving to recover their territory and exercise their political, civil and social rights.

Notes on the poem “Jujeñito”

Pachamama. In Quechua, “Mother Earth”
Guagua. From Quechua wawa, “baby”
Tequis. From Quechua tiqi, “children”
Chola. In regional Spanish, “woman”
Caja. Little drum
Tojra. From Quechua tuqru, “faded (colour)”
Apacheta. From Quechua apachita, “sacred cairn, pile of stones to honor Pachamama and the Apus, mountain spirits that provide protection to travellers”
Pirca. From Quechua pirqa, “bounday stone walls”
Antigal. In regional Spanish, “places where archaeological remains may be found”
Chajchas. A percussion instrument made of goat, sheep, llama or alpaca hooves
Bombos. Bass drums
Erkenchos. Aerophones, similar to clarinets, made of cow horn

Kolla, in Wikipedia [es].
Colla, in Universidad de Concepción [es].

Video 01. Pueblos originarios de Argentina (Kollas) [Native Peoples of Argentina, Kollas] [es].
Video 02. Documentary “Pueblos originarios: Los Kolla” [Native peoples: The Kolla]. Part 01, “Migraciones y desarraigo” [Migrations and separation from one’s roots] [es].
Video 03. Documentary “Pueblos originarios: Los Kolla” [Native peoples: The Kolla. Part 02, “La Tierra” [The land] [es].
Video 04. Documentary “Pueblos originarios: Los Kolla” [Native peoples: The Kolla]. Part 03, “La tierra que camina” [The walking land] [es].
Video 05. Documentary “Pueblos originarios: Los Kolla” [Native peoples: The Kolla]. Part 04, “La raíz” [The root] [es].
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