The Atacameños (also called Atacamas or Likan-antay) are a Native American people who inhabited the Andean portion of the Atacama Desert, mainly in what is today Chile’s Antofagasta Region. Their language is known as Kunza.
The most ancient people of the Atacama Desert were nomadic hunters that followed herds of wild camelids. Later, the existence of vast herds of camelids and the better knowledge of primitive agricultural methods contributed to the development of a semi-sedentary lifestyle with seasonal movements.
Around 2000-1000 BC, the Atacameño people fully adopted the sedentary culture. At this stage, they had an economy mainly based on llama breeding and maize agriculture. Between 400 BC and 100 AD, Atacameño farming reached a peak in its development, mainly in the oases of Lasana, Chiu-Chiu, Calama, San Pedro de Atacama, Peine, Tilomonte, and Toconao. About 2,000 Atacameño people remain today, although nobody is known who currently speaks the Kunza language. Their language is thought to have been extinct since the 1950s.
Festivals and Ceremonies
The Atacameño festivals and ceremonies are imbued with a deep and intense interaction with nature. Main offerings are made to the Pachamama, (the earth); tata-cerros (the mountain spirits); tata-putarajn (the water) as well as to the ancestors, tata-abuelos. Traditional patterns of beliefs, knowledge and symbolism, based on mythological conceptions, ritually re-enacted, have lasted until today. The main Atacameño festivities are carnivals, the cleaning of irrigation canals, the birthing of livestock, and the celebration of pre-Hispanic ancestors. (tata-abuelos )
The main Atacameño arts include ceramics, basket weaving, textile weaving, goldsmithing, music and dance. The ancient ceramics of this region, made by the San Pedro culture, were monochrome red or black, and very finely polished. Common pieces include pukos (bowls), pots, round pitchers, jars and cups. Some of these are decorated with abstract images of human faces or geometric patterns of triangles and zigzags. These monochrome ceramic vessels are still made today, some with animal-shaped molded adornments.
Although some of the ancient basket weaving techniques seem to have been lost, modern weavers still produce remarkable large baskets and flat plates. In addition, modern Atacameños maintain a rich and diverse tradition of textile weaving using different types of looms to make bags, sashes, ornamental cloths, blankets, items of clothing, mule blankets and other accessories for herding. Lastly, music and dance are central artistic and ritualistic expressions that are most often performed during the festival celebrating a community’s patron saint.