The Kallawaya are an itinerant group of traditional healers living in the Andes of Bolivia. They live in the Bautista Saavedra region, a mountainous area north of La Paz. They are members of the Mollo culture and are direct descendants of Tiwanaku culture. According to the UNESCO Safeguarding Project, the Kallawaya can be traced to the pre-Inca period. The Kallawaya performed brain surgery as early as 700 CE and knew how to effectively prevent and treat malaria with quinine before the Europeans. They also helped to save thousands of lives during the construction of the Panama Canal.
According to Enrique Oblitas Poblete, a Bolivian ethnobotanical specialist, Kallawaya may be a corruption of khalla-wayai ("beginning of a drink offering") or k'alla or k'alli wayai ("entrance into priesthood").
Kallawaya doctors (médicos Kallawaya), are known as the naturopathic healers of Inca kings, and as keepers of science knowledge, principally the pharmaceutical properties of vegetables, animals and minerals. Most Kallawaya healers understand how to use 300 herbs, while specialists are familiar with 600 herbs. Kallawaya women are often midwives, treat gynecological disorders, and pediatric patients. Kallawaya healers travel through northwestern Bolivia and parts of Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Panama, and Peru. Often they are on foot, walking ancient Inca trails, through the tropics, mountain valleys and highland plateaus, while looking for traditional herbs.
Prior to leaving their homes to heal the sick, the Kallawayas perform a ceremonial dance. The dance and regalia are expressed as the yatiri ("healer"). The choreography is noted for the llantucha of suri, clothing made of rhea feathers and used as protection against the elements while they travel to their patients, carrying khapchos ("male bags") that contain herbs, mixes, and talismans. Groups of musicians perform Kantu, playing drums and pan flutes during the ritual ceremonies to establish contact with the spirit world before the healer visits patients.
The language of their trade is the Kallawaya language, a language based on Quechua grammar but retaining an esoteric vocabulary for terms reflecting medicinal knowledge, which appears to be a remnant of the vocabulary of the now extinct Puquina language. For general conversation, they speak the more common Quechua language.
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- Janni, Kevin D, and Joseph W Bastien. 2004. Special Section on Medicinal Plants - Exotic Botanicals in the Kallawaya Pharmacopoeia. Economic Botany. 58: S274.
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- Articles list, various authors, prepared by Dr. K. David Harrison, Swarthmore University
- Encyclopædia Britannica on Kallawaya people
- Encyclopædia Britannica Photo of Kallawaya near Charazani, Bolivia
- Kallawaya by Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages