The Charka Confederation
The so-called “Charka Confederation” (actually, Charka-Qaraqara) was a coalition of Aymara regional ethnic chiefdoms, which became an important political entity after the disappearance of Tiahuanaco (Tiwanaku). They lived in a shared territory with other federations (which appear as “Aymara kingdoms” in some historical sources), such as the Killaka (Quillacas), Sura (Soras), Chicha and Karanqa (Carangas).
This confederation comprised the Qaraqara (Qhara qhara, Caracara) and Charka (Charca) chiefdoms. According to documents collected by historians and anthropologists (colonial written texts such as the “Memorial de Charcas” of 1582), the confederation was divided into two complementary halves: Umasuyu (“the lower side”, usually regarded as “female” and “of low value”) and Urqusuyu (“the upper side”, considered as “male” and “of prestige”).
The Charka “nation” or ethnic chiefdom belonged to the former (Umasuyu), which in turn was divided in two “moieties” Alaxsaya/Hanansaya (upper) and Manqhasaya/Urinsaya (lower), named respectively Sakaka/Sacaca and Chayanta, after the two most important localities. Sakaka was the ceremonial and religious centre of the Charka people, while Chayanta was an agricultural centre. These “moieties” were also divided into two halves, each of which included several ayllus (extended families) that, in turn, would be arranged in halves as well.
The Sakaka, Panakachi, Puqu wata or Pukwata (Pocoatas), Aymaya, Chayantaka, Laymi (Laymes), Puraka, Charka, Chullpa, Kirkiawi and the Jukumani were banded together under the Charka chiefdom and settled in the present-day provinces of Alonso de Ibáñez, Bilbao, Charcas, and Rafael Bustillos and the northern part of the Chayanta province (all of them within Potosí departament), and the provinces of Quillacollo, Arque, Bolívar, and Capinota (Cochabamba departament).
The Qaraqara belonged to the Urqusuyu, and were also divided into two “moieties” Hanansaya/Urinsaya known as Macha and Tinkipaya, although none of them has been identified so far. Qaraqara’s territory included the southern part of the present-day province of Chayanta, the provinces of Tomás Frías, Saavedra, and Linares, the eastern portion of the province of Antonio Quijarro, and the northern section of the province of Nor Chichas (Potosí departament), as well as parts of the provinces of Nor and Sud Cinti (Chuquisaca departament). The region is sprinkled with remnants of these peoples, such as the Pilaya and Paspaya fortresses (built by the chief Qaraqara Ayra Kanchi), mines, agricultural terraces, trails for caravans of llamas, as well as pottery items today associated with Yura and Uruquilla styles.
This chiefdom consisted of several ethnic groups: the Macha, Wisijsa (Visijsas), Tinkipaya, Chaqui, Murumuru (Moro moros), Colo-Caquina, Picachuri and Tacobamba.
Between the 15th and 16th century, the federation was assimilated by the Tawantinsuyu and annexed to the Qullasuyu, the southernmost of the four parts into which the Inca Empire was divided. It seems that assimilation took place quite unnoticed, since the Inqa leaders allowed Charka and Qaraqara people to maintain their social structures and retain their chiefs. The Charka warriors, well-known for their courage, served under the banner of the Inca empire both in the defence of the Qullasuyu territory against foreign threats (especially the attacks of the Avá (“chiriguanos”) from the east) and in the military campaigns to enlarge the empire.
Following the Inca leaders’ commands, permanent Quechua-speaking settlers (“mitimaes” or mitmaqkuna) were sent to occupy the old territory of the federation. As a consequence, this Aymara-speaking region might well have become the Quechua-speaking area that we know today.
With the Spaniards’ arrival, most political, social, economic and religious structures were destroyed. Qaraqara peoples suffered the worst part of the colonial history since Potosí and Porco mines were located within their territory.
At present, many ayllus of the Charka federation still live in their original territory despite the suffering experienced through ethnic genocide campaigns, acculturation processes and their rights being stolen. They are usually referred as different “ethnic groups” (e.g. the Macha, Laymes, Pocoatas...) probably attending to the many unique aspects that contribute the identity of the each ayllu (clothes, music, celebration, beliefs...), which are the sum of historical, geographical and societal influences.
Each of them maintains complementary or opposing relationships with neighbouring ayllus according to the rules established at the time of the Charka federation. In fact, the existence of complex relations between communities is one of the reasons to celebrate the tinkus, meetings or encounters to solve differences and disputes, where offerings are made to honour Nature and old community bonds reinforced.
Book. “Atlas de los ayllus del Norte de Potosí, territorio de los antiguos Charka”, by Fernando Mendoza and Félix Patzi [es].
Book. “Saberes de vida”, by Roberto A. Restrepo (comp.), in GoogleBooks [es].
Article. “Qaraqara-Charka. Mallku, Inka y Rey en la Provincia de Charcas (Siglos XV-XVII). Historia Antropológica de una Confederación Aymara”. Bibliographic review by Paola Revilla Orias, in Chungará (Arica) [es].
Article. “La organización territorial y socio-cultural de los ayllus del Norte Potosí”, by Félix Patzi Rodríguez, in Revista Páginas Sueltas, 1 (7), pp. 6-8 [es].
Book. “The Latin American fashion reader”, by Regina A. Root. Chapter 7: “Dressed to kill: The embroidered fashion industry of the Sakaka of highland Bolivia”, by Elayne Zorn, in GoogleBooks.
Map of the Aymara chiefdoms, according to Thérèse Bouysse-Cassagne, in Ilcanet [es].
Article. “Sociedades prehispánicas tardías en los valles interandinos del suroeste de Chuquisaca, Bolivia”, by Claudia Rivera Casanovas, in Arqueobolivia [es].