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Title: Ayllus  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Apu Mallku, List of Bolivia-related topics, Index of Bolivia-related articles
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Ayllu is the traditional form of a community in the Andes, especially among Quechuas and Aymaras. They are an indigenous local government model across the Andes region of South America, particularly in Bolivia and Peru. Ayllus functioned prior to Inca conquest, during the Inca and Spanish colonial period, and continue to exist to the present day.[1]

Ayllus were essentially extended family groups but they could adopt non-related members, giving individual families more variation and security of the land that they farmed.[2] The head of an Ayllu is called a Mallku which means, literally, Condor but is a title which can be roughly transliterated as prince. They would often have their own huaca, or minor god, usually embodied in a physical object such as a mountain or rock. They were usually led by a chief (called a curaca) but could have other political arrangements.

Ayllu were self-sustaining units and would educate their own offspring and farm or trade for all the food they ate, except in cases of disaster such as El Niño years when they relied on the Inca storehouse system.[3] Their primary function was to solve subsistence issues, and issues of how to get along in family, and larger, units.[4]

Each ayllu owned a parcel of land, and the members had reciprocal obligations to each other.[5]

In marriages, the woman would generally join the class and ayllu of her partner as would her children, but would inherit her land from her parents and retain her membership in her birth ayllu. This is how most movements of people between ayllu occurred. But a person could also join an ayllu by assuming the responsibility of membership. This included minka, communal work for common purposes, ayni, or work in kind for other members of the ayllu, and mita, a form of taxation levied by the Inca government.[3]

“Ayllu solidarity is a combination of kinship and territorial ties, as well as symbolism. (Albo 1972; Duviols 1974; Tshopik 1951; and Urioste 1975). These studies, however, do not explain how the ayllu is a corporate whole, which includes social principles, verticality, and metaphor... Ayllu also refers to people who live in the same territory (llahta) and who feed the earth shrines of that territory”[6]

Ayllu is a word in both the Quechua and Aymara languages referring to a network of families in a given area, often with a putative or fictive common ancestor.[1] Ayllus are distinguished by comparative self-sufficiency, commonly held territory, and relations of reciprocity.[1] Members engage in shared collective labor (Quechua: minga) and in reciprocal exchanges of assistance (Quechua: ayni).[7]

In Bolivia, representatives from the Ayllus are sent to the National Council of Ayllus and Markas of Qullasuyu (Conamaq). This body chooses an Apu Mallku as its head.



  • Godoy, R. 1986. The Fiscal Role of the Andean Ayllu. Man 21(4): 723-741.

External links

  • Inca model
  • , "Achab. Rivista di Antropologia", n. 12, febbraio 2008, pp. 2-12
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