Llama Origin & Domestication

Llamas were domesticated by the Incas in the higher Andes Mountains near Lake Titicaca around 4,000 B.C. They were able to utilize poor quality forage from elevations of 3,000-5,000 feet and still produce wool, meat, fertilizer and be beasts of burden.

During the Inca period, the breeding and production of llamas was controlled by the state "Llama-Michis" or llama herders. Llamas were the property of the government and breeding was closely monitored. The hunting of llamas and alpacas was forbidden.

The Inca empire used the llama in a variety of ways. Males were sacrificed and played a prominent role in religious ceremonies. Females who could not reproduce were occasionally used for sacrifice as well. The llama fiber was collected and used to weave the course fiber product "Aluascay" for the common people. The finer alpaca and vicuna fiber was reserved for the nobility. The meat from llamas was consumed fresh and any surplus was salted and dried for later use. Some parts of the llama digestive tract were used as medicinals.

Late in the Inca period, llamas became invaluable as beasts of burden. The capital of the Empire, Tiwanaku, was sustained by intensive farming around Lake Titicaca. Llama caravans linked Tiwanaku to farming areas and distant provinces to help maintain the power of the central government. Llamas were used to transport commodities which were important to the economy. The Ecuadorian Spodylus shell was coveted by the wealthy and brought into Tiwanaku by caravans. At the time a large ceremonial platform was under construction from 500-200 B.C., llama remains increased sharply. The llamas were probably used for the transport of construction materials. In 562 A.D., Tiwanacu was hit by a prolonged drought which effected all areas of the economy. This was partially because great numbers of llamas died from starvation and decreased resistance to parasites and disease. Fewer llamas were then available to transport food and goods to the capital. Many llamas and alpacas had to be moved to lower elevations with better forage.

All agricultural resources, including llamas, were organized into three parts, all of which had to be farmed by the peasants. One group of llamas was only for the support of gods. These are given priorty for use by priests, shrine attendants, and at religious functions. The second herd provided for the royal court and the needs of the government. These two groups of llamas together were called "capac llama" which means rich herds. The "hucchac llama," which means poorer herds, was cultivated last to provide for the community's support. Llamas were a source of wealth for the people, but the government would redistribute the poor community's llamas annually based on family size.

The Incas maintained a strong commitment to increasing the numbers of llamas and alpacas. Llama herders were considered members of nobility and were paid very well to tend the herd. Any animal found to have mange or scabies, which killed some llamas, had to be "buried alive and buried deeply" to prevent the spread of disease. It was against the law to try to cure these animals or use them as food. Females were not to be killed unless barren and designated for sacrifice. These governmental strategies resulted in a huge increase in numbers of llamas and alpacas.

After the Spanish conquistadors came in the 1500's, diseases killed off many people as well as llamas. Despite this, llamas were still the only means of transporting products from the mines to the towns. Llamas held the role as beasts of burden for several centuries. After years of service, llamas were appropriately designated "ships of the Andes". Early this century, roads and motorized vehicles began to replace llamas as a transporter of goods over land.