Beginning in the second century B.C., the Tiwanakan culture developed at the southern end of Lake Titicaca. This culture, centered on and named for the great city of Tiwanaku, developed advanced architectural and agricultural techniques before it disappeared around 1200, perhaps because of extended drought. In about 1450, the Quechua-speaking Incas entered the area of the Bolivian highlands and added it to their empire. They controlled the area until the Spanish conquest in 1525.
During most of the Spanish colonial period, this territory was called "Upper Peru" or "Charcas" and was under the authority of the Viceroy of Lima. Local governments came from the Audiencia de Charcas located in Chuquisaca (La Plata, modern Sucre). Bolivian silver mines produced much of the Spanish empire's wealth, and Potosi, site of the famed Cerro Rico ("Rich Mountain"), was for many years the largest city in the Western Hemisphere. As Spanish royal authority weakened during the Napoleonic wars, sentiment against colonial rule grew. Independence was proclaimed in 1809, but 16 years of struggle followed before the establishment of the republic, named for Simon Bolívar, on Aug. 6, 1825.
Independence did not bring stability. For nearly 60 years, coups and short-lived constitutions dominated Bolivian politics. Bolivia's weakness was demonstrated during the War of the Pacific (1879-83), when it lost its seacoast and the adjoining rich nitrate fields to Chile.
An increase in the world price of silver brought Bolivia a measure of relative prosperity and political stability in the late 1800s. During the early part of the 20th century, tin replaced silver as the country's most important source of wealth. A succession of governments controlled by the economic and social elites followed laissez-faire capitalist policies through the first third of the century.
The period from 1952 to 1964 was marked by significant economic and social reforms in the country and a new constitution was adopted in 1967; however, civil unrest continues to dominate Bolivia's politics and the country remains one of the poorest in Latin America. In December 2005, Bolivians elected Movement Toward Socialism leader Evo Morales, who vowed to change the country's traditional political class and empower the nation's poor majority.
The typical school year runs from February through November. Eight years are required for primary school then another four years are necessary to graduate from high school.
In the face of poverty and long-term political instability in Bolivia, the educational attitude of Bolivians is positive. People view education as a tool to improve their incomes and a way to improve their quality of life.
Even though an education is a basic requirement to get a better job, it is still considered a privilege to have an educated person in the family. Those who are educated enjoy better health care for themselves and their children. They also have better possibilities to improve their incomes and to obtain a job. Almost 60 percent of the population has no job. Additionally, 15 percent of those who work are overqualified and underpaid for the jobs they are doing.
Many Bolivians who attend school only go for six years. In recent years, many adult educators have been working toward social justice, focusing students on economic opportunities while maintaining their indigenous cultures. The process, particularly for women and minorities, is complex due to the socio-cultural context in which the learning takes place. However, when the educational model takes daily life within the local cultures into account, true learning and change can be seen.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and the government respects this right in practice. Roman Catholicism predominates and the constitution recognizes it as the official religion. The Roman Catholic Church receives support from the State (approximately 300 priests receive small government stipends), in part to compensate the Church for properties expropriated in the past.
A notary public is required to certify fund-raising reports for religious groups. This requirement was designed to protect churches against allegations of money laundering or of receiving money from drug sources. It also requires groups to consult civil authorities to address potential concerns, such as traffic, before conducting public gatherings such as outdoor celebrations.
Only Catholic religious instruction is provided in public schools. By law it is optional and it is described as such in curricular materials; however, students face strong peer pressure to participate. Non-Catholic instruction is not available in public schools for students of other faiths.
Source: International Religious Freedom Report, released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, November 2005, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2005/51628.htm.
Holidays and Festivals
Bolivian art includes Indian relics and other forms of folk expression. Like their Tiwanaku ancestors, Bolivians still create textiles by spinning and weaving; those from each region have their own styles.
Each region in Bolivia has a distinct musical tradition. Music from the Altiplano sounds sorrowful, while music in the warmer Tarija sound cheerful. Dances such as the cueca, auqui-auqui and tinku hold a reverent place in popular culture.
Sports and Games
Carnaval, Feb. 7 and 8: This is one of the most flamboyant and dazzling festivals in South America, filled with dancing and feasting. Carnaval occurs just before Lent, the season of fasting leading up to Easter. The largest Carnaval celebration takes place in Oruro.
Independence Day, Aug. 6
Christmas, Dec. 25: Bolivians prepare the nativity scene and the Christmas tree. Church members present special dramas and choral events.
Bolivians play soccer, marbles, checkers, group games, outdoor racquetball and basketball.
Bolivians eat meat, rice, potatoes, shredded lettuce, hot sauce, soup, fruit, cheese and milk.
Chuno is a soup eaten by the Aymara Indians of the high country. Chuno refers to freeze-dried potatoes but you can substitute cubed potatoes.
- 2 cups chopped lamb or chicken
- 4 cups chicken broth
- Paprika and salt to taste
Cook all ingredients in chicken broth. If you eat bread with your chuno, you will be imitating the Bolivian people of the lower altitudes, rather than the Aymaras of the Altiplano.
Compassion in Bolivia
- Hola (Hello)
- Tchau (Goodbye)
- ¿Como está? (How are you?)
- ari (yes)
- waliki (well)
- Askini punijuttata (Welcome)
- Imaynalla kasanki? (Hi, how are you?)
- Ripusani (used for Goodbye; literally means, "I am leaving.")
- Wuaj dia kama (See you later)
- Imaynalla? (How are you?)
- Kamisaki? (Hello, how are you?)
- Yaqhaurkama (used for Goodbye; literally means, "I am leaving.")
- Waliki (See you later)
Bolivia Facts and Figures
Compassion's work in Bolivia began in 1975. Currently, more than 62,100 children participate in 204 child development centers. Compassion partners with churches to help them provide Bolivian children with the opportunity to rise above their circumstances and become all God has created them to be.
Visit the Compassion blog to learn more about our work in Bolivia.
9,247,816 (July 2008 estimate)
|307,212,123 (July 2010 estimate)
Spanish 60.7% (official), Quechua 21.2% (official), Aymara 14.6% (official), foreign languages 2.4%, other 1.2% (2001 census)
|English 82.1%, Spanish 10.7%, other Indo-European 3.8%, Asian and Pacific island 2.7%, other 0.7% (2000 census)
Roman Catholic 95%, Protestant (Evangelical Methodist) 5%
|Christian 78.5% (Protestant 51.3%, Roman Catholic 23.9%, Mormon 1.7%, other Christian 1.6%), Jewish 1.7%, Buddhist 0.7%, Muslim 0.6%, other or unspecified 2.5%, unaffiliated 12.1%, none 4% (2007 est.)
Definition: Age 15 and over can read and write.
|Percentage of population using improved drinking water sources
|Percentage of population using adequate sanitation facilities
||Varies with altitude; humid and tropical to cold and semiarid
||Mostly temperate, but tropical in Hawaii and Florida, arctic in Alaska, semiarid in the Great Plains west of the Mississippi River and arid in the Great Basin of the southwest; low winter temperatures in the northwest are warmed occasionally in January and February by chinook winds from the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains.
|Percentage of population urbanized
||65% (2006 estimate)
||82% (2008 estimate)
||Male: 63.86 years
Female: 69.33 years
|Male: 75.65 years
Female: 80.69 years
|Under-5 mortality rate
||61/1,000 (2006 estimate)
||8/1,000 (2008 estimate)
|GDP per capita
||$4,400 (2007 estimate)
||$46,000 (2009 estimate)
||U.S. dollar (USD)
|Number of people living with HIV/AIDS
||4,900 (2003 estimate)
||1.2 million (2007 estimate)
|Percentage of population living below $1 a day
||23% (1995-2005 study)
||Data not available
Sources for facts: The World Factbook, 2008; The State of the World's Children, 2008