Culture and traditions

Ethnic groups in South America and their characteristics

The ethnic groups of South America or Amerindians were the first people who inhabited the south of the American continent thousands of years ago. Even today there are still indigenous communities or tribes throughout the subcontinent, each with its own language, customs and beliefs.

Below you have an index with all the points that we are going to deal with in this article.


The first indigenous settlements in Argentina date back to about 8,000 years ago and were mainly in Ayamapatín (Córdoba), Inti Huasi (San Luis) and Tafí (Tucumán). Numerous investigations about these ancestral groups have shown that these communities lived primarily from stone and ceramics.

It has also been shown that the civilizations of La Aguada (650-800 years ago), a territory that lies between San Juan, La Rioja and Catamarca, lived largely from the cultivation of corn and working with bronze.

Today, the National Institute of Indigenous Affairs (INAI) records the existence of various indigenous communities in Argentina, the most numerous being the number of inhabitants ava guaranĂ­. This group is mainly located in Jujuy and Salta and the population is over 17,000 inhabitants.

Argentina map

This community is followed by the following ethnicities: chanĂ©, charrĂşa, chorotĂ©, chulupĂ­, comechingĂłn, calguquĂ­ diaguita, guaranĂ­es, huarpe, kolla, mapuche, mbyá guaranĂ­, mocovĂ­, onea, pilagá, rankulche, tapiete, tehuelche, toba, tupĂ­ guaranĂ­ and wichĂ­. These groups are divided between the provinces of Salta, Entre RĂ­os, Formosa, Catamarca, Santa Fe, C.A.B.A, Mendoza, San Luis, Chubut, NeuquĂ©n, RĂ­o Negro, Santa Cruz, Tierra del Fuego, La Pampa, Buenos Aires …

The vast majority of tribal communities live from sedentary agriculture of intensive type with irrigation and artisanal work. For example, comechingones make use of artificial irrigation and the cultivation of cereals in underground silos. They also breed llamas and collect fruits.


Currently, 33 ethnic communities coexist in the Plurinational State of Bolivia. These are spread throughout the country: from the Andean mountains, spend the Chaco plains. Thus, in the northern part of the country, Quechua and Aimá are the number of inhabitants, who descend directly from the Inca civilization.

The indigenous groups of the Bolivian East have struggled for many years to be recognized before the Government and, since the 1980s, these peoples are visible when one thinks of Bolivia as a State, hence the official name as a Plurinational State.

In Bolivia, Guarani communities also live together, which are especially concentrated between RĂ­o Grande (Santa Cruz) and RĂ­o Bermejo (Tarija), on the border with Argentina.

Bolivia map

It is estimated that there are about 250 GuaranĂ­ communities spread between the departments of Tarija, Chuquisaca and Santa Cruz. The communal organization of the Guarani works by following traditional criteria. GuaranĂ­ workers are concentrated in large estates, where groups of families whose economic system is based on debt coexist: they work on the farms until they pay their debt owed through money or species that are called hitch.

Other Bolivian ethnic groups are the Ayoreo, BaurĂ©, Canichana, Cavineño, Cayubaba, Chácobo, Chiman, Chipaya, Chiriguano, Guarayo, Yuqui, Yuracare …


The indigenous groups of Brazil make up 0.4% of the total Brazilian population and there are currently 240 indigenous tribes in Brazil, whose members total a total of almost one million people. The Brazilian Government, for its part, has recognized up to 690 territories destined for the lives of its indigenous people, of which the vast majority are located in the Amazon.

However, Guaraní and Kaingangs indigenous communities are also found in the savannas and the Atlantic forests of the south, as well as in the interior of the northeast area, such as the Tupinambás and the Pataxo Hã Hã Hães, who were the first Brazilian inhabitants to enter in contact with the European colonizers back in 1500. The Kamayura, located in Mato Grosso, the Quechua and the Aymara are also noteworthy.

Map of Brazil

Although they have been in contact with Brazilian society for centuries and centuries, which is in continuous process of expansion, most indigenous groups retain their own culture, which encompasses both language and customs.

The Guarani they are the most numerous indigenous people, with 51,000 inhabitants registered today. Precisely because they are the largest group, they have lost much of their traditions, so many communities live in massive reserves or even in improvised canvas shelters.


The Indigenous Law 19,253 of 1993 of the Government of Chile recognizes as indigenous peoples the following groups: the Aymara, Quechuas, Atacameños, Collas, Diaguitas, Mapuches, Kawashqar, Alacalufe, Yámana, Yagán and Rapa Nuí.

However, there are also other minority groups that were not recognized in said Law, such as the aoniken or tehuelches and the onas or selkman of Tierra del Fuego, who were virtually extinguished in the twentieth century. In this way, Chilean Indians total a total of almost 700,000 inhabitants which translates into almost 5% of the total population.

The Mapuches are the largest tribe, followed by the Aymara and the Atacameños. The groups Aymara, for example, they are located in the highlands of Visviri in the north and also in Laguna del Huasco, as well as the Lluta and Azapa rivers.

Indigenous communities in Chile

The cultural heritage of this group stands out especially for its language, its religiosity, its modes of expression and knowledge of nature. Quechuas, meanwhile, are basically defined from their language, that is, the Quechua language, and coexist between the areas of OllagĂĽe and the San Pedro River.


The indigenous communities of Colombia have been censored and the result obtained has been that of 87 peoples, which contrasts with the figures of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), which affirms the existence of a total of 102 ethnic groups in Colombia .

The cultural richness of Colombia could not be appreciated without taking into account precisely the indigenous groups that coexist there, their own languages, customs and worldviews, that is, ways of understanding life. In the Amazon area it is where more indigenous peoples exist, namely: the andoke, bora, barasana, cocama, inga, karijona, kubeo, letuama, makuna, matapi, miraña, ocaina, yagua, yakuna, yuri …

Emberá tribe (Colombia)

In the department of Antioquia there are the Emberá, the Emberá Chamí and the Emberà Katio, as well as the Senú and the Tule.


Currently, it is estimated that there are 13 indigenous nationalities with a presence in Ecuador, each with its own language and culture. Highlights include the Kichwa, who maintain dialectic customs and deep-rooted economic activities.

The Manta, Huancavilca and Puná peoples, which are located on the coast, have developed a recovery of their identity in recent years, although, nevertheless, they have not been able to preserve their ancestral language. There are also some towns that have no contact with the national society, such as the Tagaeroi, the Taromenane and the Oñamenane, which are also distributed in the areas of Orellana and Pastaza, in the Amazon.

Kichwa community in Yasuni National Park (Ecuador)

We basically distinguish three geographical areas in which numerous indigenous groups are located: those located on the coast, those located in the Amazon and those located in the mountainous area of ​​the country. On the coast, the Awá, the Chachi, the Epera, the Tsa’chila, and the Huancavilca stand out, among others.

In the Amazon area we can name the Sequoia, the Huaorani, the Achuar, the Siona … Finally, inside the mountain we find the Karanki, the Natabuela, the Otavalo …


The forests of Guyana are the means of subsistence and even the way of life of the indigenous groups of Guyana, who make traditional use of forest lands and live on rotational agriculture. The problem facing these groups is the high annual deforestation rate.

Of the almost 800,000 inhabitants of this country, 68,812 with indigenous people, that is, 9.2% of the total population. Highlights include groups such as akawaio, lokono, arekuna, kariña, makushi, patamona, waiwai, wapishana, warau … These Native American groups suffered the slavery regime when European colonizers arrived in America.

Kaieteur Falls, Guyana

Of the groups mentioned above, the most numerous are the Lokono, which total 16,000 inhabitants in total. In 2006, the Government of the country drafted the Amerindian Act, which was intended to "pave the way for Native Americans in social, economic and political aspects."

The indigenous people of Guyana live in a practically virgin ecosystem, because they remained isolated until the end of the 20th century and the sustainable use that these people made of resources.


The indigenous peoples of Paraguay have increased their population figures in the last two decades, from almost 40,000 to more than 80,000. Of these figures, the masculinity index stands at 52% compared to 48% of women. Currently, the national census records 20 different ethnic groups that inhabit the country, which are mainly divided by linguistic families.

We found the Guarani language family, which includes the AchĂ© ethnic group, which has the Cerro MorotĂ®, YpetĂ®mi, Tapy, Arroyo Bandera … and the Ava GuaranĂ­ ethnic group, which includes the indigenous people of Santa Ana, the Takuarita, the Tahekyi …

Paraguay map

The second linguistic family is that of the Maskoy language, within which the Riacho Mosquito, Castilla, BoquerĂłn Kue, etc. Other linguistic families are mataco mataguayo, zamuco and guaicuru. The culture of these groups is based on pride towards their indigenous roots and the ability to survive in very precarious conditions.


In Peru there is a large number of indigenous peoples: a total of 54 communities have been identified by the Peruvian Vice Ministry of Interculturality. Of all these villages, it is estimated that at least 15 of them are in isolation.

Peru ethnic groups

Thus, these are some of the indigenous peoples that are recognized by the Government of Peru: the achuar, aimara, amahuaca, arabela, ashaninka, awajĂşn, bora, capanahua, cashianahua, chamicuro, chitonahua, iquitu, jaqaru, kakataibo, maijuna, Muniche, Nahua …


Indigenous people currently living in Venezuela have adopted many of the customs of modern society, but also keep their ancestral customs alive. They are mainly affected by the impact produced by the country's economic activity.

Thus, the main indigenous groups in Venezuela are: the acahuayo, the arahuac of the Delta Amacuro and those of the Río Negro, arutani, the bari, cariña, guajibo, guajiro, guayqueri, maquiritare, etc.


In its origins, Suriname was, in fact, a Dutch colony. Over the years, it has become a multi-ethnic country whose inhabitants have reached a total of 400,000.

Among the Kari’ña, the Trio, the Wayano, the Akurio die, etc. They add up to 25,000 indigenous citizens who keep their ancestral customs alive and are primarily engaged in agriculture, fishing and hunting. In addition, its communal structure remains that of its beginnings.

Indigenous Peoples of Suriname

The indigenous peoples of Suriname have not yet obtained recognition from the government, which means that they do not have legal protection or have the official status of an indigenous community.

However, two organizations have been created that fight for the rights of the indigenous people: the Organization of Indigenous Peoples of Suriname (OIS) and the Association of Leaders of Indigenous Peoples of Suriname (VIDS). The OIS represents the following tribes: Wayana, Katujana, Lo-kono, Okomajona, Katujana …

Top photo by Maria Grazia Montagnari

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