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Kallawaya people are an itinerant group of healers living in the Andes of Bolivia. They live in the Bautista Saavedra region, a mountainous area north of La Paz.[1] They are members of the Mollo culture and are direct descendants of Tiwanaku culture.[2] According to the UNESCO Safeguarding Project, the Kallawaya can be traced to the pre-Inca period.[1]



Kallawaya doctors ("m├ędicos Kallawaya"), are known as the naturopathic healers of Inca kings,[3] and as keepers of science knowledge, principally the pharmaceutical properties of vegetables, animals and minerals.[2] 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.[4] 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.[5]

Prior to leaving their homes to heal the sick, the Kallawayas perform a ceremonial dance. The dance and costumary are expressed as the "yatiri", or healer. The choreography is noted for the "llantucha" of "suri", clothing made of ostrich feathers and used as protection against the elements while they travel to their patients, carrying "khapchos" or "male" bags that contain herbs, mixes, and talismans.[2] Groups of musicians, "kantus" play drums and pan flutes during the ritual ceremonies to establish contact with the spirit world before the healer visits patients.[1]


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.[6][2] For general conversation, they speak the more common Quechua language.[7]


Further reading

  • Abdel-Malek, S, et al. 1995. Drug Leads from the Kallawaya Herbalists of Bolivia. 1. Background, Rationale, Protocol and Anti-HIV Activity. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 50, no. 3: 157.
  • Bastien, Joseph William. Healers of the Andes: Kallawaya Herbalists and Their Medicinal Plants. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1987. ISBN 0874802784
  • Janni, Kevin D, and Joseph W Bastien. 2004. Special Section on Medicinal Plants - Exotic Botanicals in the Kallawaya Pharmacopoeia. Economic Botany. 58: S274.
  • Krippner, S., and E. S. Glenney. 1997. The Kallawaya Healers of the Andes. The Humanistic Psychologist : Bulletin of the Division of Humanistic Psychology, Division 32 of the American Psychological Association. 25, no. 2: 212.

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