Ten Aymara names and meanings

18 Jul, 2011 | Helen Reid

Culture

In the Aymara culture names are very important as they symbolize personality traits; the name is the expression of parents´ ambition for their child. Approximately 70% of Bolivians have Aymara or Quechua roots, the highest percentage of indigenous population of all South American countries. However the indigenous Aymara culture is astonishingly badly known, due in part to the legacy of the devastating colonization by the spaniards. Cultures around the world affirm and maintain their cultural identity by continuing a legacy of names given to daughters and sons, but here in Bolivia it is very rare to meet a person with an Aymara name. Wilmer is one paceño who decided, with his wife, to research and find Aymara names for his children; he shared with me ten better-known aymara names and their meanings.

GIRLS

1. Nina in Aymara means “fire which will never be extinguished”. This name denotes a strong character, positive energy, vivacity, but like all Aymara names, it can also have negative connotations: stubbornness, excess.

2. Nayra = Eye. Nayra has a capacity for clairvoyance, sees things and can analyse and resolve problems with great clarity.

3. Rina Aymara = Aymara path. This unusual name is also quite controversial as it clearly shows the desire of the parents to reconnect with indigenous roots. It also denotes a pragmatic and ambitious personality, a life which will follow a clear path.

4. Sartaña means “to lift oneself up”; this name has deep spiritual significance, linked to the Quechua world vision of three planes: the kay pacha, this world, the janaq pacha (world of above) and the ukhu pacha (world of below). Sartaña has the capacity to communicate with janaq pacha.

5. Kantuta is a sacred flower for the Aymara, and the national flower of Bolivia, also known as “flower of the Incas”. This name is linked with Inca nobility, and denotes beauty and purity. The colours of the specific “Kantuta tricolor” are red and yellow, which along with the green of the leaves reflect the colours of the Bolivian flag; thus the name affirms Bolivian as well as Aymara identity.

BOYS

1. Inti = Sun. The sun is a crucial deity for the Aymara; part of the sacred couple of Sun and Moon who, together with the Pachamama (Mother Earth) created the world. To be called Inti is an honour, and Inti has a responsibility to guide others; he has to work from the earliest hours of the day!

2. Amaru = Snake. The snake is also an important Aymara deity, and the name is quite popular throughout the Andean region, has roots in the Quechua culture. The spiral shape of the snake is iconic of the Andean vision of the world in which the idea of cycles is very important; the symbol represents the cycle of life and death as well as agricultural cycles.

3. Katari means viper. Katari has a different representation than Amaru, and the name has more political significance for the Aymara. Tupac Katari was a great Aymara leader famous for his uprising against the Spaniards in the 18th century. The name thus carries great historical weight and is greatly respected. Katarism is the name given to the model of society in which the Aymara lived in pre-Hispanic times: the ayllu.

4. Tunupa is the name of a volcano in the Salar de Uyuni, the great salt flatlands of the south of Bolivia. Sacred to the Aymara, its bright red colour and towering presence explain the belief that Tunupa was a supreme god and father of Aymara civilization, as well as god of volcanoes and lightning. The cult of Tunupa is thought to date back to pre-Tiwanaku times. Tunupa would be a natural leader with great influence.

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5. Illapa is the name of the god of climate; thunder, rain and lightning. A boy named Illapa has a powerful relationship with nature; he can have medical powers, the ability to cure physical as well as spiritual ailments. In pre-Hispanic times many sacrifices were made to Illapa in periods of drought, to invoke rain, which Illapa was believed to pour out of a jar from the Milky Way.

It is not so much the meanings of Aymara names which are important, but rather the decision some Bolivian parents are making to relinquish the names of the Catholic calendar in order to better know and make known their indigenous roots. In Wilmer´s case it was not easy for his decision to be accepted by his family. He tells me that in jailón circles it is acceptable to have a name of Aymara origin, and sometimes gringos or expatriates will give their children Aymara names for the sake of eccentricity (often not understanding their significance), but in the majoritarily indigenous lower social classes it is shocking to give children Aymara names. Wilmer talks of a sense of shame attached to them and at school his daughters would receive strange looks from teachers. According to him “education is the problem”; since colonial times Bolivians have been pushed to “get rid of the Indian part of [their] identity”. Are things changing today? There is hope that Morales´ government will develop a fairer education system, in which proper attention is given to Aymara history and culture. A process of reaffirmation of Aymara identity has started, Wilmer tells me, and continuing the legacy of Aymara names is the first step to recovering a cultural identity as descendants of the great Aymara people.

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