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Aymara Sexuality: ‘Jumanquiri’ (the person who is always yours), Means Spouse

`When you like each other with somebody first you have to look in the eye (ghawanakuy ñawichallay), so you call him or he calls you ... Afterwards if you get closer it is because you like him and you can touch each other (llaminaky) ... tipanakuy is prettier ... you touch each other's fingertips, when you like him a lot already in he likes you too (munanakuy) you can't help yourself anymore... Then you sleep with him' (De La Cadena 1997 p.141).

This is a young aymara woman telling us how she and her peers feel about having sex with someone. This article will mention authors compiled by Dr. Bismarck Pinto in his Doctoral Thesis, recently presented to Granada University. It is interesting to note that most of the authors are anthropologists and social scientists, but there had been no psychological formal studies about love and sex in the aymara rural and urban communities until Dr.Pinto’s intervention, entitled ‘Amor y Personalidad en Universitarios Aymaras del Departamento de La Paz’ (Love and Personality in Aymara University Students in the department of La Paz).

It must be pointed out that Dr. Pinto’s study has been carried out in rural university campuses, so the results of it are clearly slanted to young aymara women and men who have been able to overcome many boundaries to study in a scientific scenario, and thus have already opened their minds to new ideas. Here we will not talk about his findings, but will read about the theoretical context contained in his work, which is very interesting and important.

Data about ancient cultural features of sex in aymara communities

Sexuality has been repressed in almost every culture in the past, even now, many hold negative attitude, and a few keep punishing and denying pleasure in sexual activity.

Reference on sexual practice of aymaras before colonial times are few, for example Ellefsen (1989) talks about ritual orgies in memory of Mama Kocha. Bertonio (1612-1984)has commented on anal coitus in indigenous populations as a contraceptive measure, feminine homosexuality being accepted and male homosexuality being repelled.

Adultery was considered a felony, similar to stealing. It was not the same with concubines when they were single. The single were flogged in public, and generally the man was exiled. In case of adultery, the man, his wife and children were condemned to be yanas of their community, while the woman was shut away in an ajllawasi to be the maid of the ajllas (Ellefsen 1989, p.289-290).

Oblitas is an author who in 1963 lived for some years in Callawaya (Aymara doctors) communities of Curva and Amarete in Bautista Saavedra province of the state (department) of La Paz, the most highly populated state in Bolivia, heart of South America. His first descriptions of the myths in that opportunity are coincident with newer research of Montes 1999 and Montaño 1999.

The callawayas (aymara doctors) punished adultery of the woman with death, for this they danced the ‘soul and lariat’, gathered all women in the community near a ravine. Musicians played a slow and repetitive melody, while everyone sang redundant verses until they felt guilty, would not stand it anymore and would throw themselves to the ravine. Oblitas translates this way the song ‘my heart is in sin of soul and lariat (…)/women are guilty soul and lariat/ they should run to the ravine soul and lariat’ (Oblitas, p.198).

The erotic huacas of Mochica culture (100 to 175 AC) (See Gonzales 2007), are artistic pieces representing a diversity of forms in sexual activity of their people. It is possible, from archeological findings, to consider that sexual life in Amerindians was repressed by Spanish culture (Larco 2001).

Even in the second decade of the XX century, they thought that ‘sexual love between Indians was free, instinctive, and detached from hindrances that curtail it, and education that dignifies it. Beyond a lack of honesty and virtue which they don’t have, a lack of sentimentality, idealism and reverie can be noted in them’ (Paredes 1920-1995 p.214).

Catholic priests tried to impose norms that would lead their moral through persuasion and violence (Lavrin 1995). For example, Fray Gabino Carta in 1653, unleashes the sixth commandment in seven lascivious sins: the simple fornication, adultery, incest, dishonest abuse, kidnapping, sins against nature and sacrilege. Amerindians would commit sin when they had relations outside the marriage, kidnap their women, had sex against nature, masturbated or had oral or anal coitus.

The myth of Achalay condenses the aymara attitude, assimilated from Christian moral towards women. The Achalay is a woman who lives in the forests and lone places, presents herself to careless traveler totally naked and seduces him with her songs, then demands to be sexually satisfied many times until he is tired to death (Oblitas 1963). This narration is coincident with the Christian idea that the woman carries lasciviousness and tempts men (Rodriguez 1999).

Data collected in the XX century and after

A study on attitudes towards sex in the Andes done by Milliones and Pratt in 1989 talks about the analysis of photographs of the Sahrua tables (Peru); 28 pictures of popular art painted over wood, each 35ccm by 40 cm, refer to romance and quechua marriage during the 60s in the XX century. They are paintings made to be given to a just married couple.

Through fifty interviews they identified two types of sexual relations: the passionate and the peaceful. Licentious sex and adultery are carried out in the sach’asch’a (forest), using one term to refer to both. The qiwa (the grass) and the mayupata are places for licit and peaceful sex.

Sex is seen as an exclusively physiological function, and kids get together around pigs and lambs when they are copulating. ‘In poetry they express love and desire many times through animal world, especially through birds. (Milliones and Pratt p.35).

The shame produced by nakedness is shown in women by using the word q’alalsuyaña (to be totally naked) to refer to doctors who make them get naked ‘I went to the doctor, he made me undress and I almost die from the fright’ (Arnold and Yapita 1999 p.198).

Very exceptionally do children see their parents naked. ‘Even though the sexual act is carried out in the same room where children sleep, it is with great discretion and the couple generally does not undress’ (Carter and Mamani 1989, p.153).

The contact with their own body is censored, for instance ‘ when children start playing with their genitals they are rapidly distracted and if they insist, it is thought that the yaq’a t’aqa (appendicitis) will attack them or when they grow up they will fall to be victims of madness’ (Carter and Mamani 1989, p.151).

They have a negative attitude towards sexual pleasure; they relate it to madness: ‘Thinking too much in sexual pleasure can lead them to madness. It is believed that mad people in both sexes are possessed by an unstoppable desire which forces them to go after any person of the opposite sex they see’ (Spedding 1997b, p.338).

Menstruation is considered filthy and even dangerous: ‘if a woman sows seeds during her period, they will rot; if they want to break their husband’s will, they only have to put a little blood in his coffee for breakfast’ (Carter and Mamani, p. 192).

The attitude towards virginity is different to the conception in Christian morality, for instance in Huancavelica virginity is disowned. ’If any quechua male finds the woman that he took as companion being virgin, he breaks up the commitment saying manas pipapas munanami kasqa, making understood that she has been despised by everyone’ ( Valderrama and Escalante 1977, p.157). In general virginity is not valued, on the contrary, virgin young females are rejected and are victims of ironic comments. In quechua a virgin woman is told: ‘khaway acayta thanta guitarra, mana nipi tiuuu ni chinan! (See that old guitar, that no one has touched even to make it say tiuuu)’ (Paredes Candia, 1977, p.79).

During transculturation of aymara women, there has been a process of recovery of the sexual pleasure, manifested in the figure of the chola in the XIX century and part of the XX. The ‘ladies’ should repress their sexual desire and pleasure following the mandate of Catholic Church, but they would consent on their husbands to have sex with cholas; they considered the men had sexual needs to satisfy. An event that reflects this is when Chilean prostitutes came to the city of Sucre. The cholas were offended and expressed it: ‘So what have they come for, these Chileans, for sure to try to take away our lovers from us. They are whores. They say they have sex with these and those and they charge… See how smart! We do it for sympathy and whenever we want! (Oporto 2001, p.217)

The situation in rural areas has been different: ‘Discretion typical from first loves is a value that husbands have to maintain, as well as the home. The distant style, the almost furtive expression of feelings, is a training, a learning stage of another basic quality of the couple: the Andean (as Amerindians in general) don’t like to express very much on the outside, and even less to be showing off in front of third parties, about the feelings of love towards their couple. The affection is shown in intimacy, it is not a matter that should be seen by others, not even their children. This fundamental disposition really seals the Andean idiosyncrasy: little to say, discreet, but with sporadic outbreaks of intense humor’. (Ortiz 1993,p.164)

A woman who enjoys sexuality is badly seen by the communities of Apurimac, Cuzco and Huancavelica, they say about the short women: 'a short woman always mad and yelling is also sexually active' (Valderrama and Escalante 1997,p.169).

It is accepted that the young may be sexually hot, but they should learn to inhibit the desire when they become adults: 'sexual desire, and an active combating sexuality, is something attributed to women and men in Los Yungas. But it is inappropriate in certain stages of life- moreover in adolescents and young adults - and in certain social contexts'(Spedding 1997b, .338).

Men usually have their first sexual experience around 12 years old, while women only have it after they turn 15. 'Small holes, high grown barley in the fields and the anaqa (sheepherding place) are the best places to experiment sex, but even then, they are in constant danger of being discovered' (Carter and Mamani 1989, p. 192). 'It is considered that one is supposed to have a lot of flirtings before getting married, and it is supposed that a couple has had sex before marriage (meaning they live together, as there are few legal marriages in Yungas). But once they are 'together' the couple must remain faithful' (Spedding op, cit. p.338)

In general, that first sexual experience is violent:'the man takes possession of the young single woman almost always violently, the force and not the will is what rules in those acts, without motivating scandal, neither attracting the anger of the parents of the injured girl' (Paredes 1920/1995 p.215). All types of erotic relationships are associated to violence. 'one way to caress each other between lovers, is pinching each other, the person who loves stands the pinch without feeling pain.' (Oblitas 1963, p.152, Paredes 1920/1995 p.214).

Coitus is likely to present violent behaviors also: 'Coitus is a transcendental form of violence in marriage.(...). The coitus, as a synthesis of opposing halves, is equivalent to physical violence: people spank each other in bed' (Spedding, op. cit. p 186).

Conjugal violence is seen as indispensable in their relationships. 'When a woman establishes a home with a man, she gives him the right to spank her inside and outside the bed. It is believed that the couple, in the first years, will fight a lot, as part of the process of getting to know each other and learning to lead a life being married' (Spedding op.cit. p.86).

The only reference to any type of loving caress is mentioned by Oblitas: 'the kiss between callawayas consists in masuraña meaning the man rubs his beard in the forehead and the face of the woman' (1963, p. 152).

Vital cycle of Aymara couples

The vital cycle in the aymara culture, is necessary linked to the vital cycle of the couple: one begins being a wawa (baby), without difference in sex, then the girl becomes imilla, and the boy becomes yuqalla. Young women are tawacus and young man are waynas. Adults are called jaqi, the woman is called warmi and the man is called chacha. The spouse is called jumanquiri (the person who is always yours) with no mention to gender or sex. Old people are called achachi. After death all people become amaya, not having sex or gender (Spedding, 1997b).

All exigencies to single men are directed towards the election of a partner for a relationship: 'in the typical aymara family singles sons are considered literally minors. They only become persons (or jaqi - adults) when they are married and have their own land. Before that they have very little to say in the community...' (Albo 1976, p. Four).

Albo (1976) orders the vital cycle of an aymara couple in the following stages: sart'asiña (engagement announcement); irpaq'a (take away); sirw iskiwa (serving); karasaña (getting married). There is a stage for falling in love that could be called wayllusiña.

Aymara marriage is the nucleus of the society (De la Cadena 1997), because from there on the family is organized as the main part of the ayllu (community), which has the fundamental purpose of making the land produce. For this reason, the working attributes are more important than physical beauty for the election of the spouse.

What women do against violence at present

In the last 20 years aymara men leaded by people like Evo Morales, Felipe Quispe and others have gone too far in changing the peaceful ways of women turning them into violent speakers. Thus, women leaders, in the negative side, have concealed the negative deeds of men with their strong voice. In the positive part, they have taken the stand to create their own working places to upgrade their economy. They still obey men, but now they are not so silent . They are speaking out more, breaking the silence. But it will take a lot longer, maybe some generations, for women to realize that their power is not ‘given’ to them by their male partners in life.

Morales has also changed some cultural constructions of aymaras: he is single, and should not be considered jaqi (adult), but he is. This fundamental change will also affect single women, hopefully for the best, so they become part of the aymara society in a more equal way.

It is usual for Bolivians to ‘say’ they are against something that bothers them, but they will not ‘do’ anything about it until women get together to do it. Aymara women have taken the stand these last two decades through the empowerment they have received by many NGOs working with them. They still are subdued to man, but hopefully they will get together and stop violent attacks from men at home, more and more every day.


Albó, X (1976) Esposos, suegros y padrinos entre los aymaras. La Paz: CIPCA
Arnold, D., Yapita, J.D. (1998a)K’ank’isiña: Tranzarse entre la letra y la música de las canciones de boda de Qaqachaka, Bolivia. En: Arnold, D. (1998) (Compiladora) Gente de carne y hueso. Las tramas de parentesco en Los Andes. La Paz: CIASE/ILCA (pág. 525-575)
Arnold, D., Yapita, J.D. (1999) Vocabulario aymara del parto y de la vida reproductiva de la mujer.
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Bertonio, L. (1612/1956) Vocabulario de la lengua aymara. La Paz: Don Bosco
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De la Cadena, M. (1991) Las mujeres son más indias: Etnicidad y género en una comunidad del Cusco. Revista Andina No. 9, Vol. 1. Cusco: Bartolomé de las Casas.
De la Cadena, M (1997) Matrimonio y etnicidad en comunidades andinas. En: Arnold, D (1997) (Compiladora) Más allá del Silencio. Las fronteras de género en Los Andes. La Paz: CIASE/ILCA. Pags. 123-149.
Ellefsen, B. (1989) Matrimonio y Sexo en el Incario. Cochabamba, Bolivia. Los Amigos del Libro.
Gonzales, A. (2007) Huacos eróticos de la cultura Mochica (Video). Available at:
Larco, R (2001)Los mochica. Lima: Servicios Editoriales del Perú.
Lavrin, A. (Coordinadora) (1991) Sexualidad y matrimonio en la América hispánica. Siglos XVI-XVIII. México DF: Grijalbo.
Millones, L., Pratt, M (1989) Amor brujo. Imagen y cultura del amor en los Andes. Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos.
Montaño, M. (1999) Diccionario de mitología aymara. La Paz: CIMA
Montes, F. (1999) La máscara de piedra. Simbolismo y personalidad aymaras en la historia. La Paz: Armonía.
Oblitas, E. (1963)Cultura Callawaya. La Paz. Talleres Gráficos Bolivianos.
Oporto (2001) (Compilador) Las mujeres en la historia de Bolivia. Imágenes y realidades del siglo XX (1900-1950). Antología. La Paz: Embajada del Reino de los Países Bajos/Sol de Intercomunicación.
Ortiz, A (1993) La pareja y el mito. Estudios sobre las concepciones de la persona y de la pareja en Los Andes. Lima: Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú. Ramos, M.A. (2005) Masculinidad y reproducción en comunidades indígenas peruanas. Trabajo presentado en Caxambú – MG- Brasil. Disponible en:
Paredes-Candia, A. (1977) El sexo en el folklore bolivianos. La Paz: Isla
Paredes, R (1920/1995) Mitos, supersticiones y supervivencias populares de Bolivia. La Paz: Isla.
Rodriguez, P. (1999) Dios nació mujer. Barcelona: Ediciones Grupo Z.
Spedding, A. (1997a) Investigaciones sobre género en Bolivia: Un comentario crítico. En: Arnold, D (1997) (Compiladora). Más Allá del silencio. Las fronteras de género en Los Andes. La Paz: CIASE/ILCA (Pags. 53-74).
Spedding, A. (1997b) Esa mujer no necesita hombre: En contra de la dualidad andina.-Imágenes de género en Los Yungas de La Paz. En: Arnold, D (1997) (Compiladora). Más Allá del silencio. Las fronteras de género en Los Andes. La Paz: CIASE/ILCA (Pags. 325-343).
Valderrama, R., Escalante, C. (1998) Matrimonio en las comunidades quchuas andinas. En: Arnold, D. (1998) (Compiladora) Gente de carne y hueso. Las tramas de parentesco en Los Andes. La Paz: CIASE/ILCA (pág. 153-170)

All quotes are a freelance translation from Spanish to English by the author of the article.

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