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The Calchaquí or Kalchakí were a tribe of South American Indians of the Diaguita group, now extinct, who formerly occupied northern Argentina. Stone and other remains prove them to have reached a high degree of civilization. Under the leadership of Juan Calchaquí they offered a vigorous resistance to the first Spanish colonists coming from Chile.


Their language, known as Cacán, became extinct in the mid-17th century or beginning of 18th century. Its genetic classification remains unclear. The language was supposedly documented by the Jesuit Alonso de Bárcena, but the manuscript is lost.

Friedrich Ratzel in The History of Mankind [1] reported in 1896 that among the Calchaquis of Northern Argentina is found pottery painted with line drawings of birds, reptiles, and human faces, which remind one of Peruvian and Malay work. The Calchaqui people had bronze age technology. [2]


The name of "Calchaquí" was not given until the 17th century. The Europeans called "Calchaquíes" to a set of Diaguita cultures, such as Yocavil, Quilme, Tafí, Chicoana, Tilcara, Purmamarca, among others. The denomination "Calchaquí" seems to derive from one of the main kuraka (chief) who opposed the Spaniards: Kalchakí called by the Spaniards Juan Calchaquí, who dominated in the valley of Yocavil. Kalcha means "courageous" or "brave" and Qui means "very" or "much".

Life and Culture

They were farmers, herders, and great potters. They worshipped the sun, the moon, thunder and the earth, and spoke their own language called kakán. With the third expansion of the Inca territory, in 1480, they were incorporated into the Inca Empire (Tawantinsuyu), from which they received a strong cultural influence. [3]

Calchaquí Wars

During the whole period of the conquest the Spaniards had not been able to penetrate in the Calchaquíes Valleys, where the Diaguita culture (Pazioca or Pazioc) had taken refuge, an advanced confederation of independent agro-pottery lordships belonging to the Santa María culture, united by a common language, the Kakán, and in turn part of the great group of the Andean civilizations. The Spaniards referred to their members, incorrectly, as Calchaquíes, name corresponding to one of the Pazioca lordships (called "curacazgos" by the Spanish). These lordships were gathered in three great nations: Pular to the north, Diaguita to the west and Calchaquí to the east. Minor groups were the Ocloy formed by 2,000 people and the Calchaquí, some 12,500 people (2,500 tributary Indians), according to Sotelo Narváez (1583). [4] An ancestral tradition of self-sufficiency of the Paziocas and the scarce number of Spaniards in Tucumán, allowed a series of defense acts of its territory by the Pular-Diaguita-Calchaquí confederation, known as Calchachi by the Spanish. These fights have been historically known as the Calchaquí Wars that extended for more than a century.

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  1. Ratzel, Friedrich. The History of Mankind. (London: MacMillan, 1896). URL: Archived 2009-10-13 at the Wayback Machine accessed 15 December 2009.
  2. Ambrosetti, El Bronce en la Región Calchaqui. Buenos Aires, Anales del Museo Nacional, serie 3a, IV, 163-312. (in Spanish)
  3. Revista de la Junta Provincial de Historia de Córdoba (in Spanish). Junta Provincial de Historia de Córdoba. 2004.
  4. Historia andina en Chile. Jorge Hidalgo Lehuedé, pp. 42-45, Editorial Universitaria, 2004.
  5. Sandra Sánchez & Gabriela Sica (1994). "Entre águilas y halcones. Relaciones y representaciones del poder en los Andes Centro Sur" [ dead link ]. Estudios Atacameños. Nº 11, pp. 165-178.
  6. Juan Ignacio Quintían. Andes - Articulación política y etnogénesis en los Valles Calchaquíes. Los Pulares durante los siglos XVII y XVIII. Andes. Enero-diciembre de 2008, nº 19, Salta. Referencia nº8
  7. Las ruinas de los Quilmes, una historia de heroísmo y destierro
  8. Tres Guerras, Equipo Nacional de Pastoral Aborigen (ENDEPA)