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

From: Journal of Latin American Geography
Volume 12, Number 2, 2013
pp. 221-243 | 10.1353/lag.2013.0009



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.


Los españoles y otros europeos idearon a las llamas y alpacas de los Andes como ovinos. Al ser considerados “carneros de la tierra” o “ovejas de la tierra,” las particularidades zoológicas de estos animales fueron ignoradas. No obstante, en el siglo XVIII, la ciencia clasificadora de Linneo volcó la fórmula eurocéntrica para reubicar los llamados auquénidos en la familia camélida. De allí en adelante, la llama y la alpaca como vocablos entraron en los léxicos de las principales lenguas europeas. La predominancia durante dos siglos de esta analogía zoológica falsa puede considerarse como ejemplo histórico de la imposición de la epistemología europea en su contacto con los pueblos colonizados de América. Perspectivas coloniales suministran una base para entender la actualidad y el futuro.

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