The Diaguitas were sedentary agriculturalists dispersed in the transversal valleys of the Andean cordillera (northwest Argentina and north-central Chile) from the mid-first millennium to the sixteenth century. Archaeological studies indicate that Diaguita culture in the region emerged in the transition from transhumant hunting and gathering to complete sedentary agriculture in the second half of the first millennium. Archaeologists detect three distinct periods in the material culture left by the Diaguitas in the following centuries until the mid-fifteenth century, when they were first conquered by the Inca, and then by the Spanish in the sixteenth century.
When the Spanish first contacted the Diaguitas, they found evidence of Inca domination in clothing, beliefs, and technology. Archaeological findings suggest also that the Diaguita culture was at its apogee when Inca expansion to the south incorporated the Diaguitas in the mid-fifteenth century. At that time, the Diaguitas occupied the transversal valleys on both sides of the cordillera from present-day Aconcagua to Copiapó, where they grew corn, beans, potatoes, quinoa, squash, and, according to the climate, cotton, in irrigated valleys fertilized with sardine heads or llama and alpaca manure. They herded llama and alpaca for wool and for transport; hunted Guanaco, chinchillas, and fowl; and also fished to supplement their diet.
In each settlement consanguineous relations linked all members; communal lands were assigned by the chief to each nuclear family. Within each valley settlements were further organized according to moieties with one half near the coast and the other half near the cordillera. The relative isolation of each of the valleys allowed the development of notable political autonomy, and even different dialects.
The incorporation of the Diaguitas under Spanish colonial rule was achieved without major resistance, and Diaguita tribute was important in providing the foundation of the colonial settlements in the region established to supply the Potosí mines with mules, textiles, and food.
Although many had previously believed that the Diaguitas were an extinct ethnic group, the 2001 Truth Commission (Comisión de verdad y política del nuevo trato entre el estado, sociedad y mundo indígena en Chile) launched by then-President Ricardo Lagos confirmed that many citizens still self-identify as Diaguita. Although contemporary Diaguita culture has been mostly overlooked by scholars, some anthropological studies conclude that Diaguita social and cultural patterns have indeed survived colonization and assimilation.
On September 8, 2006, the government passed Chilean Law 20.117, recognizing the "existence and cultural attributes of the Diaguita ethnicity and the indigenous nature of the Diaguita people." Whereas official state recognition should facilitate the recovery of ancestral lands, transnational corporations such as Nevada Ltd., a subsidiary of Canadian Barrack Gold Corporation, control a large portion of Diaguita territory. How the Chilean government will respond to this difficult situation is yet to be determined.
Julian H. Steward, ed., Handbook of South American Indians, vol. 2 (1946), pp. 587-597.
Jorge Hidalgo L. et al., eds., Prehistoria: Culturas de Chile desde sus orígenes hasta los albores de la conquista (1989).
Grete Mostny, Prehistoria de Chile (1991), p. 117.
Yáñez, Nancy, and Sarah Rea. "The Valley of Gold." Cultural Survival Quarterly 30, no. 4 (2006).
Kristine L. Jones