Cultural Overview Economy and Settlement Patterns

Highland Aymara communities consist of scattered sod house compounds with tin or thatch roofs separated by tiny plots of agricultural and pasture land. On their landholdings of 5-20 ha, families coax a living using laborintensive agriculture and careful animal husbandry. The most common household unit is the nuclear family, but the more traditional patrilineal extended family unit is also quite common. Many people raise most of what they need to eat, relying on the staple crops of potatoes, quinoa, and barley, and keeping a few pigs, chickens, and guinea pigs and small herds of sheep, cattle, and the native Andean species of llama and alpaca. Communities with access to some land at lower elevations (below 3,200 m) also produce corn. There is little surplus for sale in some regions, but others specialize in producing onions or other small cash crops or in fattening cattle for sale. Drought, flood, hail, and frost are all possible impediments to successful farming, so families and communities must be well organized and resourceful in managing production.

Centuries of adaptation have resulted in distinctive subsistence patterns, social organization, and ideology that enable the Aymara to survive in their harsh environment. Special subsistence patterns involve the use of multiple ecological zones (from lowland agricultural zones that produce such crops as corn, coffee [Collins, 1988] or coca to regions that are too high for agriculture and are used exclusively for herding llamas and alpacas). The people have developed labor-intensive agricultural techniques such as cultivating between rows of crops and building up planting areas to facilitate drainage and protect the plants. Their inheritance pattern, which divides the land among all heirs, results in each farmer's numerous tiny plots being dispersed through multiple micro-ecological zones to maximize chances of some successful harvest.

The Aymara have traditionally relied on the reciprocal labor assistance of the kindred for many agricultural tasks, but modern dependence on temporary wage labor to generate cash has reduced the extent of this ancient system (Brown, 1987; Collins, 1988). Fictive kin are also important sources of mutual help. Compadrazgo (literally, co-godparenthood) is established among adults for assistance with various ceremonies and special events, and the relationship, once entered into, remains important for life.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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