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    Land of winds > The land > History | Issue 18 (Mar.-Apr. 2014)
    By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza

Diaguita land

Diaguita land

In pre-Hispanic times, the Diaguita peoples inhabited the Argentine Northwest (today's provinces of Catamarca and La Rioja, and part of the provinces of Tucumán, Salta y San Juan) and part of the Chilean Norte Chico (regions of Atacama and Coquimbo). They were independent chiefdom-level groups joined by cultural characteristics in common, who, as claimed by Jesuit Alonso de Barzana, would have spoken different dialects of a language called "Kakán" (this is something that is still questioned; only a few words, mostly place names, have survived to present day). Some of the most well-known groups (whose existence is reported in the Spanish chronicles) were the Capayanes, Guandacoles, Yacampis and Olongastas (today's provinces of La Rioja and north of San Juan), the Malfines/Hualfines and Colpes (province of Catamarca), the Amaichas, Quilmes, Yocaviles and Tafíes (province of Tucumán), and the Colalaos, Pacciocas, Tolombones and Pulares (to the south of the province of Salta). There were many others, usually named after the name of their ayllu (extended family), their curaca (communal authority) or the place they inhabited. Some of these groups were not always native to this region; and a number of them were multi-ethnic, strongly influenced by the mitmaqkuna (forced resettlements) employed by the Tawantinsuyu or "Inca Empire".

Extensive archaeological work has defined a series of archaeological cultures leading up to the Diaguitas including Condorhuasi (200 B.C.-200 A.D.), Tafí (III-IX centuries), La Ciénaga (1-600 A.D.), La Candelaria (200-1000 A.D.), Alamito (400 B.C.-650 A.D.), La Aguada (IV-X centuries), Santa María (1200-1470 A.D.), Belén (1000-1450 A.D.) and Sanagasta or Angualasto (1000 A.D.) in Argentina, and El Molle (300-700 A.D.) and Las Ánimas (800-1000 d.C.) in Chile.

According to archaeological evidence, toward the end of the 15th century, the Diaguita peoples were annexed to the southern portion of the Inca Empire, the Qullasuyu ("southern province or southern division"), probably by the troops led by the Inca Tupaq Yunpaqui. Under Inca rule/influence a network of roads, large warehouses (to store surplus food, called qullqa o "colcas"), way stations (tampu or "tambos"), fortresses (pukara or "pucaráes") and sanctuaries (on the top of the highest mountains, e.g., that on the summit of the Llullaillaco volcano, in the province of Salta) were built. During this period, part of the Inca cultural landscape (beliefs, customs, and Quechua language as lingua franca) became ingrained in many Diaguita communities (especially in Chile), while others (the southernmost ones) retained their independence.

Following the Spanish conquest, the Diaguita territory was to be administered by the Viceroyalty of Peru, and its colonization started towards 1550 by founding the cities of Santiago del Estero, Londres, Cañete and San Miguel de Tucumán (present day Argentina). Conflicts, tensions, and Diaguita resistance went on for more than a hundred years (known as the "Calchaquíes Wars", 1562-1667). They were finally defeated and their communities completely broken up. In Chile, the Diaguitas (who rebelled in 1549 destroying and burning the village of La Serena) were decimated during the government of García Hurtado de Mendoza (1557-1561).

Diaguita land

The Diaguitas lived in thatched-roof houses with walls built using the pirca (dry stone) technique or made of sun-dried clay blocks. Archaeological evidence indicates that they also built stone fortresses on the mountains close to their dwellings (e.g. La Paya, Quilmes and Tolombón).

These peoples developed systems of intense agriculture building irrigation channels and terraces, where they grew maize, beans, and squash (which still form the backbone of north-western Argentine cuisine), as well as quinua, peppers, potatoes and cotton; they gathered carob pods to produce carob flour (patay, añapa) and aloja (fermented beverage), and many other wild fruit such as mistol, chañar and prickly pears; and raised herds of Andean camelids which were providers of wool (sometimes dyed with vegetables dyes such as that extracted from the bark of the carob tree), meat (charki), bones (used for making tools) and transportation. The Diaguitas also used metals (copper, bronze, and occasionally gold and silver) and were excellent potters (noteworthy are their zoomorphic vessels and burial urns).

Some of the cultural traits noted above are still alive among their descendants, including musical practices, customs and beliefs. Currently there are more than 30,000 self-identified Diaguita descendants in Argentina (2001 census), though those inhabiting in rural areas scarcely amount to 8,000 individuals in the provinces of Catamarca, Tucumán and Santiago del Estero. In Chile, a number of communities of the high valley of the Huasco River are attempting to recover their identity.

Diaguita, in Wikipedia.
Northern Andean cultures, in Wikipedia [es].
Book. "Diaguitas, pueblos del norte" [Chile], by Gonzalo Ampuero and Rafael Paredes. In Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino [es].
Book. "Diaguitas, pueblos del norte verde" [Chile], by Gonzalo Ampuero. In Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino [es].
Book. "Cultura diaguita" [Chile], by Gonzalo Ampuero. In Memoria Chilena [es].
Article. "El kakán, lengua de los Diaguitas", by Ricardo Nardi. In Educar Chile [es].
Article. "Usos y costumbres de los pueblos del noroeste", in Reconquista y Defensa [es].

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