Valley of the Spirits: A Journey Into the Lost Realm of the Aymara


In a secluded valley high in the Andes Mountains, long before the time of the Incas and the Aztecs, the empire of the Aymara rose from the shores of Lake Titicaca and flourished for nearly a thousand years. The secrets of the Aymara civilization, one of the first great empires of the Americas, have only recently been deciphered from the haunting ruins of their splendid temples, among which their contemporary descendants still live and work ...

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In a secluded valley high in the Andes Mountains, long before the time of the Incas and the Aztecs, the empire of the Aymara rose from the shores of Lake Titicaca and flourished for nearly a thousand years. The secrets of the Aymara civilization, one of the first great empires of the Americas, have only recently been deciphered from the haunting ruins of their splendid temples, among which their contemporary descendants still live and work today.

In Valley of the Spirits, Alan Kolata takes us deep into the mystical world of the Aymara, where past and present come together and the spirits of ancient ancestors still speak to shamans in the voices of mountain springs. Kolata's unique knowledge of the Aymara is based on 17 years of research at the site of the ancient empire.

Its crown jewel was the dazzling ancient capital of Tiahuanaco, whose gold and silver-appointed temples and "monumental stone sculptures intensified the mythic aura of the city, imbuing it with a quality of the supernatural." From A.D. 400-1100, it was the spiritual center of the Andean world. According to Aymara myth, the creator god Viracocha brought man to life from the springs and rocks of Tiahuanaco's sacred landscape.

The city's rich symbolism linked man inextricably to the majestic plan—and the cyclical fates—of nature. Royal priests performed elaborate animal and human sacrifices and buried human trophy heads and the mummified remains of Aymara kings in lavish religious pageants. So impressive was the legacy of Tiahuanaco that the Inca rulers claimed descent from the Aymara kings more than 500 years after the empire's mysterious catastrophic demise.

Kolatadeciphers the mysteries of the ancient monuments, from the massive Akapana pyramid, the symbol of sacred mountains, and of fertility and abundance, to the imposing archway known as the Gateway of the Sun, among the most exquisite artistic monuments of the ancient Americas. And he takes us into the contemporary world of the Aymara as well, where shamans recite the names of ancestral spirits in a hypnotic protocol of remembrance and homage to Lady Earth and Lord Sky.

"To anyone fascinated by the total experience of humans, to anyone who wishes to go beyond the familiar world, to anyone wanting to push the envelope of their own perceptions, a sojourn into the mind and history of the Aymara is disturbing, exhilarating, and ultimately unforgettable."—Alan Kolata, in his Introduction to Valley of the Spirits

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Columbus's coming brought only grief to native Americans, as the Spanish destroyed civilizations as glorious as those of Europe. Such was the Andean realm of the Aymara around Lake Titicaca. Far from being victimized by a desolate environment, the Aymara formed a spiritual bond with nature that industrialized society fails to comprehend. In their culture, which survives to this day, time and space merge; the order of the universe is as it is. After 17 years of study, Kolata, who is a leading authority on the ancient cultures of Latin America and director of the Center of Latin American Studies at the University of Chicago, induced the Aymara to recapture their future through the raised-bed agriculture that worked wonders for them in the past. Less intense than his previous book, The Tiwanaku: Portrait of an Andean Civilization (Blackwell, 1993), and with fine pictures, this is fascinating reading for the lay reader. A similar book on the universe of the neighboring Quechua is Catherine J. Allen's The Hold Life Has (Smithsonian, 1988). Highly recommended.-Louise Leonard, Univ. of Florida Libs., Gainesville
Kirkus Reviews
An absorbing introduction to the culture of the Aymara, whose past and present are intimately linked to the landscapes of the high Andes.

University of Chicago anthropologist/archaeologist Kolata has been working among the Aymara for two decades on agricultural projects that have captured international attention. His long acquaintance with this hard-working culture of farmers is evident throughout, as Kolata lucidly explains concepts that have guided that society for millennia. For instance, he explains that for the Aymara "the place of time is inverted. It is the past that is in front of us, visible, knowable, graven in the physical world and in memory. . . . The future, on the other hand, lies behind, invisible and knowable only through ritual specialists trained in the arts of prognostication." Kolata guides the reader through the Aymara year, writing of seasons of sowing and harvest, of ritual cycles and pilgrimages, and of the small moments of everyday life in marketplaces, pool halls, and homes, giving us telling glimpses of the world in which these people live and removing somewhat their alien qualities—alien, at least, in First World eyes. At the heart of Kolata's book lie his descriptions of the ancient capital of Tiahuanaco, once a sacred city full of temples and stelae and now in ruins. Here Kolata occasionally falls into Indiana Jonesschool prose: "Like all empires," he writes, "Tiahuanaco, in its time, was forsaken by the gods and the ancestors. No amount of sacrificial blood flowing on the great earth shrines of the city would change its fate." Such lapses are atoned for by Kolata's well-reasoned consideration of the life and death of empires across history, an inexorable cycle of growth and decline.

Kolata's clear perceptions and appreciations make this a fine study of a little-known society.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471575078
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 3/16/1996
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 296
  • Product dimensions: 0.75 (w) x 6.14 (h) x 9.21 (d)

Meet the Author

ALAN L. KOLATA, Ph.D., is the Director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Chicago, and a professor of anthropology. His work at the site of the ancient capital city of Tiahuanaco has been featured in numerous publications, including U.S. News & World Report, TheWashington Post, the Chicago Tribune, Smithsonian, and National Geographic.

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Table of Contents

Into the Aymara World.
The Trembler on the Mountain.
Andean Genesis.
The Sacred City.
The World Turned Around.
The Past Is Prologue.
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