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Yungas, tropical river valleys of Bolivia that spread northeast to southeast beyond the temperate valleys of the eastern Andean slopes. Here, Amazon winds maintained the humidity necessary for the cultivation of crops not available in the highlands. The pre-Inca Aymara empire sustained its highland centers by sending Mitmaes (colonists) down to the yungas to cultivate fruits, maize, and, for highland elite consumption, the stimulant coca. In return, the highlands sent items not produced in the tropical zones, such as meat, potatoes, quinoa, and wool, thus fulfilling their obligations in this Andean system of reciprocity.

With the Spanish conquest and subsequent discovery of silver, coca use changed dramatically and was no longer confined to the native elite. Coca consumption now enabled Andeans to endure harsh mining activities for protracted periods of time. Production in Cuzco could not meet the increased demand, and the yungas of La Paz became a major coca zone. Not only did Aymara agricultural migrants continue to replace the nomadic peoples of the region, merchants imported African slaves, who by the early nineteenth century had become a viable Aymara-speaking subgroup in this region. La Paz and its neighboring yungas now thrived while other regions experienced economic decline.

Other less accessible yungas existed in the provinces of Cochabamba and Santa Cruz. The Chaparé region, northeast of Cochabamba, formerly controlled by the Yuracarés, today produces prodigious amounts of coca. In the colonial period, La Paz merchants intervened and prevented Chaparé competition. The yungas of Pocona, which was first settled in 1538 and incorporated into the jurisdiction of Mizque before the end of the century, were mass-producing coca by 1557.

Even today, the fertile yungas and Oriente regions remain largely underdeveloped despite their year-round growing season. Poor infrastructure, disease (human and plant), pests, floods, and soil erosion discourage serious agricultural activity.

See alsoAndes; Incas, The; Mining: Colonial Spanish America; Yungas.


Josep M. Barnadas, Charcas: Orígenes históricos de una sociedad colonial (1973), pp. 35, 427.

Alberto Crespo R., Esclavos negros en Bolivia (1977), pp. 143-146.

Herbert S. Klein, Bolivia: The Evolution of a Multi-Ethnic Society (1982).

Morris D. Whitaker and E. Boyd Wennergren, "Bolivia's Agriculture Since 1960: An Assessment and Prognosis," in Modern-Day Bolivia: Legacy of a Revolution and Prospects for the Future, edited by Jerry R. Ladman (1982), pp. 238-239.

Brooke Larson, Colonialism and Agrarian Transformation in Bolivia: Cochabamba, 1550–1900 (1988), p. 47.

Additional Bibliography

Lagos, Maria L. Autonomy and Power: The Dynamics of Class and Culture in Rural Bolivia. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994.

Klein, Herbert S. Haciendas and Ayllus: Rural Society in the Bolivian Andes in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1993.

Kuznar, Lawrence A. Ethnoarchaeology of Andean South America: Contributions to Archaeological Method and Theory. Ann Arbor, MI: International Monographs in Prehistory, 2001.

Léons, Madeline Barbara and Harry Sanabria. Coca, Cocaine, and the Bolivian Reality. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997.

Meruvia Balderrama, Fanor. Historia de la coca: los Yungas de Pocona y Totora (1550–1900). La Paz: Plural Editores: CERES, 2000.

Sanabria, Harry. The Coca Boom and Rural Social Change in Bolivia. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998.

Spedding, Alison. Kawsachun coca: economía campesina cocalera en los Yungas y el Chapare. La Paz: PIEB, Programa de Investigación Estratégica en Bolivia, 2004.

                          Lolita GutiÉrrez Brockington

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