One of the most remarkable travel experiences I have had was the visit many years ago to Peru and the land of the Inca culture. I have shared this amazing adventure through two previous blog postings entitled THE INCA RUINS OF MACHU PICCHU and CUSCO AND THE SACRED URUBAMBA VALLEY.
The Spanish word for “llama” is “llama” even though the name “llama” was originally a Quechua word of the indigenous people of Peru long before the arrival of the Spanish.
In Spanish and English the word “llama” (the animal) has the same meaning. The one difference is that the word llama is pronounced “yama” in Spanish since double ll’s have a soft sound like in the English word “yard.”
A lama, on the other hand, is a title for a Tibetan or Mongolian Buddhist spiritual leader and monk of Lamaism. A prime example of a lama is the the Dalai Lama of Tibet
Got it? OK, let’s meet our four-legged llama (pronounced “yama”) of South America.
The llama is native to the high puna eco region of the South American Andes. Peru and Bolivia form the heart of this region with portions of Argentina, Chile, Colombia, and Ecuador forming the periphery. The llama is one of the four species known as New World camelids which inhabit this region which is characterized as a high treeless plateau. The other species are the alpaca, the guanaco, and the vicuna. All four species are thought to have originated from a common North American ancestor who is also the supposed predecessor of the African and Asian camels.
The name llama (which was also spelled 'lama' or 'glama' in the past) was adopted by European settlers from native Peruvians. Southerly migration into the South American Andes formed the ancestry of the guanaco and vicuna which adapted to the harsh climate, sparse moisture, high elevations, large daily temperature fluctuation, and unpredictable food supply of the region.
About 12,000 years ago the lama genus (guanaco, vicuna, domestic llama and alpaca) appeared throughout South America and was the leading herbivore in that part of the world as it would remain until a century after the conquest of Peru in 1532.
New research has confirmed that, while the alpaca was bred by the Incas out of a Vicuna ancestor, the llama was bred by the Incas from a Guanaco ancestor. All four of these animals are members of the camel family, but the rare and endangered Vicuna is famous as the animal with the finest fleece in the world.
Before the Spanish conquest of the Americas, llamas and alpacas were the only domesticated ungulates (hoofed animal) of the South American continent. They were kept not only for their value as beasts of burden, but also for their flesh, hides, and wool. As a result of evolution llamas can thrive at elevations of 12,000 to 14,000 feet above sea level and are a hardy, durable, and low maintenance animal.
The Inca culture (approximately 1200 to 1532 AD) which had not yet discovered the wheel, relied upon the llama to carry trade goods, produce, and military supplies throughout their empire.The key role that llamas and alpacas played in the Inca culture and economy elevated them to a highly regarded status. The domestication of the llama and alpaca marked the beginning of a high dependence on these animals by the Inca culture of the Andes.
Domestication allowed the llamas to be used as a beast of burden as well as selective breeding for other specific traits. The llama was bred specifically to produce a large, strong animal for the packing function.The llama's adaptability and efficiency as a pack animal in the mountain terrain of the Andes made it possible to link the diverse altitude zones and to cover the great linear distances of the region.
The reign of the llama and alpaca in the Andean region ended abruptly in the early 1500's with the Spanish conquest of that region of South America. The Spaniards initiated their colonization with the systematic destruction of the llamas and alpacas and replaced them with their own domestic species which was principally sheep. Baa, baa black sheep!
Llamas typically live for 15 to 25 years with some surviving 30 years or more.They are very social animals and live with other llamas as a herd. The wool produced by a llama is very soft and lanolin-free. Llamas are intelligent and can learn simple tasks after a few repetitions. When using a pack, they can carry about 25 to 30% of their body weight for 8 to 13 km (5–8 miles).
Over 6300 years of selective breeding for gentleness have made llamas the safest and easiest to train pack animals in the world. The Aymara Indians who live near Lake Titicaca in Peru and Bolivia call the llama a "speechless brother" because only a brother would carry the burdens they do without complaint!
As of 2007 there were over seven million llamas and alpacas in South America and due to importation from South America in the late 20th century there are now over 158,000 llamas and 100,000 alpacas in the United States and Canada.
The llama continued its obscure existence until about 30 years ago. The Andean countries, especially Peru and Bolivia, have recently recognized the importance of native camelid species in their cultures and have begun to restore them to their rightful place as the preferred inhabitants of their varied landscape.
The alpaca has led in this resurgence because of its desirable fiber. Strong world demand has fostered growth of an economically significant industry and, more importantly, has caused these Andean countries to recognize all the camelid species which include the llama, guanaco, vicuna, and alpaca as unique to their region and as a part of their heritage. As a result the animals are once again viewed as a national treasure to be protected and promoted. Bravo!
"It might be diminutive in stature, but this llama tells of a large portion of history. The miniature figurine, wrought from hammered gold, would have been offered as an addition to the human sacrifices that the ancient Inca people were known to have made to their mountain gods.
This statue has been dated to around 1500 AD. Measuring approximately 2.4 inches this gold llama gives us an insight into the culture of the Inca tribes that lived in the Peruvian Andes which had a vast empire reaching more than 2,400 miles along the length of the Andes mountain range. The Inca revered gold believing it to be the "sweat of the sun" and that it represented the sun’s regenerative powers. All gold belonged to the ruler, the supreme Inca himself, who claimed to be descended from the sun god.
Llamas were the Inca’s most important domesticated animal providing food, clothing, and acting as beasts of burden. They were also often sacrificed in large numbers to the gods. This llama is important because very few Inca gold figures have survived. After colonization the Spanish melted most of the gold figures down and used the resulting gold for their own wealth." SOURCE
I believe this small gold figure of a llama was a fitting offering for an Inca mountain god. It can be viewed at the wonderful Museo de Oro (Gold Museum) in Lima, Peru. I thank the gods, that not all of the llamas were sacrificed to extinction!
The following are some of my llama "amigos" who thank you for your visit: