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In the Footsteps of the Lickan Antay - The People of the Atacama

Wandering through the vast golden brown sands, your throat parched, wanting for even a single drop of water while the hot desert sun beats down upon your shoulders. You begin to wonder if you will ever see civilization again, when suddenly, as if it had been there the whole time, a quaint pueblo made of red earth and volcanic stone appears in front of you. As you walk into the village, you see women weaving colorful wool blankets and men hammering away at copper bowls. Off in the distance, you see people bent over rows of vegetation built into the hillside, harvesting grains and squash.

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This could be a scene you find yourself in while in the Atacama Desert, also known as the driest place on Earth. For as long as man has kept records, there are places in the Atacama in which not a single drop of rain has fallen. Yet somehow, humans have lived in the area for thousands of years. 
 
One such group of desert dwellers are the Lickan Antay, or Atacamenian people. Around 11,000 years ago, the first people settled in the oasis of the desert in what is now Northern Chile, thriving on agriculture and trading handmade goods and produce with the coastal towns. 
 
While some of the traditions of the “atacameños” have all but been lost to the modern world, the people still live on. You find them scattered about the dry lands, forming tiny villages surrounding runoff streams at the base of volcanoes, or living simple, secluded lives in their own private oasis. Many still maintain livelihoods herding sheep and llamas, growing corn and quinoa, and working their tanned fingers around beautiful jewelry and artisan crafts.
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One of the major parts of the culture that has drifted off into the desert sands is their native language, Kunza. In day to day life, you will not hear it being spoken. The language has slowly diminished over the years in lieu of the Spanish spoken by their conquerors, leaving what is still known of the language for traditional ceremonies. 
 
Nonetheless, we must try to preserve what is left of the Kunza language, or the Atacamenian culture will continue to diminish. A dictionary of a wide selection of Kunza words has been compiled, and I will leave you a few here to practice up before your next trip to the Atacama! 
 
Sunset - Ckapnati                  Dry - Ckein’tcha                  Life - Ckausama
Sand - Horckte                      Dance - Tússuntur              To drink - Ckacktur
Hot - Hátur                            Cold - Tsérar                       Meat - Sábur
Corn - Lackar                        Devil - Ckunsanta                Sweet - Ckachi
North - Mutups                     South - Backa’psladis          East - Anta
West - Ladia                         Star - Haalar                       Lake - Tilo
Wool - Papur                         Honey - Lulan                     Night - Ttulti
Day - Huasina                       Salt - Ckuta                         Mountain - Caúr

 

Looking to get to know the land of the Lickan Antay? Check out these tours to discover for yourself the magic of the Atacama desert.