Quechuan/Aymaran fieldsite in Peru

Primary Site Researcher

Cristina Moya

Cristina Moya is a PhD candidate at UCLA in the Department of Anthropology. Her research focuses on social cognition and intergroup relations, specifically the nature of adaptations for living in culturally-evolved ethnic groups. This has involved cross-cultural experiments in the US and Peruvian Altiplano, interviews and ethnographic work at the latter. Cristina has been conducting fieldwork in Huatasani, Peru since 2007.

cmoya@ucla.edu | Website


Huatasani is a district and town in the southern Peruvian altiplano in the department of Puno. It is located 3,850 metres above sea level and about 25km north of Lake Titicaca (S 15° and W 69°). Huatasani straddles the Quechua - Aymara linguistic boundary with Aymara-speaking Huancané to the south and Quechua-speaking Putina to the north.

Huatasani district is predominantly Quechua speaking, but is cross cut by the Chikasura River which divides, Quechua and Aymara speaking areas.

Mountainous landscape


Huatasani district is home to 4,100 people (Peru INEI census, 2007), about 2,000 of whom live in town. The remaining population is dispersed in rural communities of varying densities.


At the district level 70% of residents speak Quechua, and 15% speak Aymara, as their native language. The remaining residents speak Spanish as their native language. Older residents are often Quechua-Aymara bilingual or trilingual with Spanish. Most people under the age of 50 are bilingual with an indigenous language and Spanish, and there is some linguistic shift towards teaching children Spanish first, particularly in town.

All languages are mutually unintelligible, and phylogenetically from distant distinct language families, although there are many word borrowings between them in the area. Quechua reached the area along with the Inkan expansion in the 15th century. Aymara probably reached Puno with a distinct expansion from further north in Peru, probably a few centuries before the Quechuan expansion.

Girls wearing traditional dresses

Group identity/ethnicity

These diffuse linguistic categories are not the focus of group loyalty. Instead, group loyalty and identity seems to revolve around the community, the level at which most collective action is organised.

The town is subdivided into four neighbourhoods, and many communities are divided into upper and lower sections, but the identities associated with these are relatively weak. People secondarily feel some identification with Huatasani, the district, or Puno, the department.

Animal herding


The vast majority of people in Huatasani consider themselves Catholic, and practice it in a largely syncretic form with influences from traditional Andean religious practices. While there are four churches in town, there are no resident priests, and these have to be hired from the next town to give mass and perform various rites.

A small minority of residents are evangelical Protestants, thanks to missionary activity starting around the mid-20th century. These Protestant traditions tend to prohibit much syncretic religious activity, including partaking in many common festivals that include dancing, drinking and chewing coca.

Street festival

Political and social organisation

There are state institutions in town that co-exist with traditional leadership positions and hierarchies. For example a mayor is elected every four years for the district, and integrates with the state political hierarchy, while each community and neighbourhood has a yearly revolving leadership position of teniente who is in charge of organising community meetings, provisioning several festivals per year, and meeting with other tenientes at the regional level. Tenientes serve more of a coordination and economic leveling role, than exert much independent political power.

Extended kinship networks are maintained across long distances and allow for much regional migration. Households or residential complexes often house extended families. Post-marital residence can be patrilocal, matrilocal or neolocal, but the first is most common.

Person working with colourful fabrics

Economic activities

The primary mode of subsistence is agropastoralism. Most households own at least small herds of sheep and cattle, and yearly plant potatoes, oca, quinoa, barley, wheat, or legumes. Many people, particularly in town, complement agropastoralism with commerce between larger cities and town, raising domesticated animals for market, or mining in a city about five hours' bus ride north of town. Market integration is quickly increasing.


The town has national public education from pre-school to high school. Most communities have their own elementary schools, but send their children to town for high school. Completion rates are low, but increasing quickly, and some better off townspeople can get post-secondary education at the larger regional cities with universities.


There is a government clinic in town that services the district. This regularly staffs nurses, and sometimes doctors. The clinic provides basic medical services, vaccinations, birth control, distributes government aid (eg nutritional supplements for children and lactating mothers) and hosts public health programs.

Residents typically complement these services with other home remedies, and wariness of some of the clinics health services varies, for example there is some reticence towards vaccinating children.

Two people walking through fields

Explore this fieldsite with Google Earth

Google Earth allows you to explore sites anywhere in the world using satellite images of those sites. Navigate the fieldsite and explore it in detail using the files below:

Google Earth files for Huatasane (KMZ, 605B)


George Primov (1974). Aymara-Quechua relations in Puno. International Journal of Comparative Sociology, 15, 167.

Ben Orlove (2002). Lines in the Water: Nature and Culture at Lake Titicaca. University of California Press

Ben Orlove (1998). Down to Earth: Race and substance in the Andes. Bulletin of Latin American Research, 17(2), 207-222.

Cristina Moya, Robert Boyd, and Joseph Henrich (in prep). Folksociology is necessary but insufficient to explain people's beliefs about inheritance: Developmental evidence from Peru, Fiji and the U.S. on how people make inferences about cultural and genetic transmission processes.

Andrew Canessa (2000). Contesting hybridity: Evangelistas and Kataristas in highland Bolivia. Journal of Latin American Studies, 32(1), 115-144.

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