Overview: High Plateau Rural Bolivia
For people in the Altiplano, or high plain, of Bolivia, life can be a test of endurance. This land of extremes is home to most of Bolivia’s indigenous Aymará and Quechua people, who live against a backdrop of snowcapped mountains and economic uncertainty.
The Aymará and Quechua subscribe to traditional Andean beliefs. Reverence is given to community healers, ritual, divination and herbs, particularly the coca leaf, which has a central role in social customs and religious ceremonies. The Altiplano is the birthplace of most Bolivian music, art and dances known around the world. It is where the llama was domesticated and potato plant cultivated. The potato, of which hundreds of varieties are harvested in the high plateau, is a dietary staple.
The Altiplano can be cold and bleak. Indigenous women, no matter the weather, will wear voluminous skirts, shawls and bowler caps.
A lack of employment has triggered a mass exodus from the rural highlands. Widespread closures of silver and tin mines — once the foundation of the economy — have forced many Quechan and Aymarán families to migrate to cities in search of a better life. Sadly, parents moving their families to urban areas are not finding the jobs and riches they hoped for. In most Bolivian cities Spanish is the language of education and commerce. The Aymarán and Quechan speak their own languages, which compounds their economic isolation.