Llamas and Alpacas as “Sheep” in the Colonial Andes: Zoogeography Meets Eurocentrism

Spaniards and other Europeans who went to the Andes persisted in thinking of llamas and alpacas as “sheep.” The colonial writings in Spanish referred to them as “ovejas” or “carneros,” a nomenclature that is inapplicable both in terms of appearance and human use. In the mid-eighteenth century, the advent of scientific classification corrected that mislabeling, assigning these animals instead to the camel family. Since then the words llama from the Quechua and alpaca from the Aymara, and variants thereof, became the names used for them in the major European languages. The sheep analogy that prevailed for more than two centuries reflected a European epistemology that honored its perception and discounted that of native peoples. Colonial perspectives on these animals provide a baseline for assessing their place in the recent past, present, and future.