South America covers a large area and in this region there are numerous groups of indigenous people that have survived for thousands of years. It is believed that the first people to arrive in the region came over Asia across the Bering Strait and travelled down from North America. The earliest human inhabitants can be dated back to 14,000 BC in Mount Verde in Southern Chile, and their descendants went on to populate the rest of the continent. The indigenous people were very much hunter gatherers however some practiced advanced agricultural techniques, such as irrigation to farm the land.
On the continent today the largest group of indigenous people are found in Bolivia. Over 62% of the country’s population have some type of Indigenous ancestry and they belong to one of the 36 ethnic groups. There are also another 30% of the population that count as Mestizo, which is having mixed European and indigenous ancestry. One of the largest populations is the Quechua people who speak the Quechua language. Bolivia is not the only country where large populations of these people are found they also appear in Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Chile and Columbia.
They inhabit the Andes Mountains with many of the lowland areas being inhabited by the Quechua who farm crops. The higher up one travels then the agriculture is more likely to be based around pastoral farming. The land is often owned by the local community and fields re either shared or distributed at the start of each year. The Quechua also survive by selling traditional handcrafts. Woven shawls, hats and bags are popular items that are sold. Many have been made from Llama wool, or Alpacas wool, with the animals grazing in the mountain pastures.
Another popular indigenous population in Bolivia are the Aymara people. Speaking their own language they also reside in the Andes but more specifically in the area around the Lake Titicaca basin. The group for centuries have grown and chewed the cocoa plant and used the leaves for medicinal purposes. This has now put them at conflict with the authorities over the continuing campaign against Cocaine.
Peru is another country where a large percentage of the population is made up of a large proportion of indigenous people. It is in fact 45% and this is split between the populations that hail from the Andes Mountains and the people who come from the basin of the Amazon rainforest. The groups from the rainforest were hunters and gatherers who live off the land and the Amazon River and its tributaries. Many of these groups lived basic lives with fish being the staple diet. These indigenous groups were totally different from those that were found in the Andes.
The Peru part of the Andes gave home to the Inca Empire. In the 16th century this was one of the largest Empires in America, and even the world. It had a sophisticated administrative, political and military centre and it ran its operations from Cusco in Peru and language spoken was Quechua. Although the Empire did not have iron or steel, or anything like the wheel it still excelled in certain areas. The Empire had remarkable architecture and the major settlements were joined together by an extensive road network. Its finely woven textiles were also a feature of the highly successful and flourishing Empire.
The Amazon itself is home to a number of indigenous people and many of these tribes are found in Brazil. When Europeans first entered the forest they passed on so many of their ailments to the Indians, that huge numbers of the local population lost their lives. The forest is home to many groups of people and it has been estimated that there are 67 tribes in the forest that have not made any contact with man. Their life style is subsistent with the people simply working from day to day, with the sole purpose of surviving. Hunting and gathering, with many of the locals fishing, use ancient practices that have been passed down through the generations. South America still has huge numbers of indigenous people living everyday lives in the continent.