Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino

Native peoples > Colla


The indigenous people of Copiapó and Chañaral provinces were given the name of Collas in the 19th century, but the term was also used generally to refer to other indigenous inhabitants of the Atacama Puna region and the highland valleys of Northwest Argentina. The Atacama Puna belonged to Bolivia until 1900, when the territory was traded with the Republic of Argentina for Tarija. Since then, the term “Colla” has been used to refer to the indigenous herding peoples living on the Altiplano in the present-day Argentinean provinces of Jujuy, Salta and Catamarca. These herders were from different ethnic groups—Atacameños from the eastern or western Andes, Aymaras who had migrated from their traditional territories, and possibly even Quechuas who had come from further north—that had mixed with the local indigenous population of these trans-Andean valleys. (It is important to note that the Colla people of Chile have no historic relation to the so-called Colla Señorío of the Aymaras, which was based on the shores of Lake Titicaca in pre-Hispanic times).
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, some of those Colla families living in the Atacama Puna and the Circumpuna valleys of Argentina (many of them from Fiambalá and Antofagasta de la Sierra) migrated to the Chilean foothills. Installed their new home, these Collas merged with families that had lived in the old “Indian town” of San Fernando de Copiapó and some traditional herders that had come from the Norte Chico region of Chile.

In the past, the Collas complemented their traditional subsistence economy by supplying goods such as meat, fuelwood and textiles to mining settlements, nitrate “offices” and other settlements. They also supplemented their herding way of life by hunting guanacos, vicuñas and chinchillas, gathering firewood, making wood coal, and practicing small-scale mining and mule driving. After the 1970s, the mountain-dwelling Colla population decreased steadily as more and more Collas migrated to nearby urban centers. And so when the first Colla indigenous communities were officially constituted in the early 1990s, most of their members already were living in towns and cities, working as salaried employees. Nowadays, only a few Colla families still practice herding in the mountains, mainly with goats.