30 Things You May Not Know About the Indigenous Cultures of Latin America
Photo: Unsplash/@bernardojbp

30 Things You May Not Know About the Indigenous Cultures of Latin America

Indigenous culture is important, and often ignored part of Latinx identity. There are foods we eat, words we speak, and customs we follow to this day that we don’t even know are Native American in origin. While it is hard to pinpoint your Indigenous ancestry to a particular group, it’s still cool to learn about the Indigenous peoples of your country or countries. Native American culture and history are Latinx culture and history, and we deserve to know more about them. In an effort to share as much as we can about the indigenous cultures of Latin America, we are taking this moment to decolonize, by sharing 30 things you may not know about the Indigenous cultures of Latin America. Read it, learn it, and pass it on!

About the Chorotegas of Nicaragua

The Chorotegas arrived from southern Mexico (believed to be Chiapas) to the Pacific coast of Nicaragua around 800 or 900 AD. The language (tribes are usually separated by the language they speak) is spoken in Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Costa Rica. Masaya, Managua, and Nicoya are all Chorotega (also known as Mangue) words.

Nahuatl Words


Classical Nahuatl is the language of the Aztec people. In Nahuatl, calli means “house.” It is the day sign for the third day of the Aztec calendar, dedicated to the god Tepeyollotl. In the above graphic, you can learn 19 other Classical Nahuatl words.

Indigenous Heroine: Comandanta Ramona


Comandanta Ramona was an officer of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) in Mexico. She helped found the National Indigenous Congress, after going to Mexico City for the National Indigenous Forum in October 1996. Ramona also was one of the Zapatista women to draft The Revolutionary Women’s Law/Revolutionary Law on Women, in January of 1994.

About the Wichí (Mataco) of Argentina

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#Orgullo #Wichi #Belleza

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The Wichí in Argentina live primarily between the Bermejo and Pilcomayo Rivers. They were victims of the government-caused genocides that occurred between 1850-1890, which killed thousands of Wichí, Mapuche, Pilaga, and Guaraní people.

Guarjiro (Wayuu) Words

Photo: Native Languages of the Americas

Guajiro, also known as Wayuu, is a language (and people — groups are usually identified by the language they speak) spoken by the indigenous people of the Guajira Peninsula in both Colombia and Venezuela. In Guajiro, jiérü means “woman.” The photo above will help you learn other Wayuu words for facial features.

Afro-Indigenous Heroine: Miriam Miranda

Garifuna Miriam Miranda has stood up for the cultural and environmental/land rights of the Garifuna community in Honduras. She is the leader/General Coordinator of the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH).

Taino Words

Photo: Pinterest

Taino was the language of the indigenous people of the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti. Nanichi is the Taino word for “heart,” or “love.” Above are 20 other Taino words you can learn right now.

About the K’iche’ of Guatemala

7 Indigenous Mayan Cultures of Guatemala Hiplatina
Photo: Leaders for Business

Also known as the Quiché, the K’iche people live primarily in the departments of El Quiché, Totonicapán, Quetzaltenango, and Sololá, with a total population of  1,610,013. The Popul Vuh is the Maya book of creation, recorded by the K’iche for preservation during Spanish rule. Activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchu is K’iche.

Potatoes originated in Peru and Bolivia, Not Ireland Or Idaho


We are taught to associate potatoes with Idaho and Ireland, but they are actually native to Peru and Bolivia. In fact, the word “potato” appears to be a mashup of the Quechua papa, and the Taino batata (a word they used for their sweet potatoes in Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and other Caribbean countries). There are currently over 3,500 varieties of potatoes in Peru. Just think of all the overpriced items that have sprung from this tuber, including, Swedish St. Erik’s chips, which cost $56 — for five chips! A potato itself (the Bonnotte potato), which grows exclusively in France, is harvested by hand and fertilized only with seawater and seaweed (the most expensive in the world, costing about $655 a kilo).

How to Say “Brother” in Garifuna

Photo: henry arzu/YouTube

The Garifuna, of countries including Honduras, Belize, Nicaragua, and Guatemala, are of mixed primarily African, Arawak, European and Carib ancestry. If you want to say “brother” in Garifuna, you would say namule.

Indigenous Heroine: Nina Pacari

Nina Pacari (born Maria Estela Vega Conejo) is Kichwa (Quichua) indigenous leader, lawyer, and politician in Ecuador. She is the first indigenous woman elected to Ecuadorian parliament (in 1997), became its first indigenous vice president in 1998, and in 2007, was elected to the country’s Supreme Court.

About the Zenú of Colombia

Photo: Traveling The World

The Zenú, also known as the Senú or Sinú, are known as “the people of the word.” As of 2005, there are 233,052 Zenú, who hail from northeastern Colombia. The traditional and iconic The Sombrero vueltiao is an example of Zenú weaving.

Guarani Words

Photo: 101 languages

Guarani is a language native to Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina, and Bolivia. Yvága means “sky” in Guarani. This portion of a dictionary pictured shows you several other words for everyday things that you can learn in the Indigenous South American language.

Indigenous Heroine: Bartolina Sisa

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#internationalindigenouswomensday On September 5th, the anniversary of Bartolina Sisa's death, we celebrate International Indigenous Women's Day. .. Watch Hidden Figuras: Bartolina Sisa on BESE ( @bese ) ———— One of the best things we can do to support indigenous peoples is to educate ourselves on the history of abuse that colonialism and imperialism has wrought upon them, and to be extremely aware of the ways those abuses are still being inflicted to this very day, all over the world. Without understanding, we can’t have proactive compassion. Sympathy is not enough. It’s time to #decolonizeyourmind The next best way we can support indigenous people is to lend our time, voices, and dollars to organizations like @survivalinternational Which bravely protects the rights of uncontacted indigenous tribes. My heart is with indigenous women today, who have suffered greatly. My heart is with those mothers and grandmothers who have so much to teach and to share. Whose life ways are endangered. Please take a moment today, #indigenouswomensday to do something meaningful for our native sisters, whatever that means to you, even if it’s just reading an article and saying a prayer 🙏🏽 #blessbartolinasisa #andallheroineslikeher #sayhername #bartolinasisa

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Aymara Bertolina Sisa is considered an indigenous heroine. The Bolivia native, along with husband Tupac Katari, and sister-in-law Gregoria Apaza, rose up against the Spanish in 1781. Sisa was executed on September 5, 1872; September 5 is now considered International Indigenous Women’s Day, in her honor.

You Can Thank the Arawaks for Barbecue

Barbecue may be a big thing in places like Texas and Kansas City, but the name and delicious practice are all Indigenous/ Caribbean in origin. The Arawaks used the word barabicu, meaning “sacred fire pit,” to describe how they cooked foods over a fire. The word barabicu became barbacoa, when then became barbecue and BBQ.

Warao Words

Photo: Native Languages of the Americas

Warao is an indigenous language spoken in Venezuela, among other South American countries. The word ya, in Warao, means “sun.” With this compact dictionary, you can learn the first five numbers and other important words in the Indigenous South American language.

Avocados Are An Indigenous Food

Avocados are thought to have originated in the South of Mexico. Just think about it — the Spanish word for avocado, aguacate, comes from the Nahuatl word, āhuacatl. Before the Spanish arrived in what is now Latin America, the avocado was cultivated from the Rio Grande all the way down to Peru. What was originally an indigenous food is now outrageously overpriced in a lot of areas, in the form of avocado toast, guacamole, and just plain avocados themselves. According to an article in Time magazine, Americans are spending a whopping $900,000 a month on avocado toast, paying upwards of $11 (in Chicago) for avocado on a piece of bread. Meanwhile, most of us who grew up eating avocado toast or what we call pan con aguacate, know it actually cost WAY less than that.

How to Say “Mom” and “Dad” In Mapuche (Mapudungun)

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Mapuche (also known as Mapudungun), is spoken in both Chile and Argentina. Ñuke signifies “mom” in the Mapuche language. “Dad” is Chaw

The Hammock is a Taino Invention

The cozy hammock, perfect for chillin’ on a lazy sunny summer day, is another thing that we can thank the Taíno people for. They used hammocks, called hamacas, to sleep in. The term means “stretch of cloth” in Haitian Arawak. We still use this exact term in Spanish to describe these leisurely beds.

Indigenous Heroine: Berta Caceres

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Repost from @unacuhcp @TopRankRepost #TopRankRepost Berta Cáceres was a groundbreaking environmental and indigenous Lenca activist in Honduras. As a student, she co-founded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) to support and mobilize her community against illegal logging on their lands. ⠀ ⠀ She rose to international prominence as a leader in the fight against the construction of the hydroelectric Agua Zarca Dam on the sacred Gualcarque River. The dam was approved following the 2009 military coup in Honduras along with hundreds of other environmentally harmful contracts. Cáceres lead peaceful protests and a grassroots campaign against Agua Zarca, ultimately pressuring the world’s largest dam developer to pull out of the project.⠀ ⠀ In 2016, after years of threats on her life, Cáceres was assassinated in her home. Her legacy is one of indigenous resilience and brave environmental activism. ⠀ ⠀ #LatinxHeritageMonth #HispanicHeritageMonth #HispanicHeritage #BertaCaceres #BertaVive #NosEstanMatando #Lenca #Honduras #JusticiaParaBerta #Indigenous #Indigena #EnvironmentalJustice

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Lenca Berta Caceres Flores was an indigenous leader, who fought for the environmental/land rights of the Lenca people in Honduras. She co-founded the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), and was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015. Caceres became a martyr when she was murdered in 2016.

You Can Thank the Aztecs for Chocolate

Can you imagine a life without chocolate? We can’t either! We have the Aztecs from Mexico to thank for chocolate bars, cake, brownies, hot chocolate, and all other things chocolate.  The word chocolate itself comes from the classical Natuatl word for cacao, which is chocolātl (and xocoatl which is “bitter water”). While there is still a lot of inexpensive chocolate available throughout the world — thank God — there are also many with exorbitant price tags. Take, for instance, To’ak’s outrageous $685 aged Ecuadorian chocolate bar. Or, how about the House of Knipschildt’s La Madeline au Truffe. The pricey chocolates, some of the most expensive in the world, are a whopping $250 — each.

How to Say “Welcome” in Lenca


Lenca is spoken in El Salvador and Honduras. If you would like to say “welcome,” or bienvenidos in Lenca, you would say she ushatal.

Quinoa is an Indigenous Peruvian and Bolivian Food

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LA QUINOA Con mucha frecuencia las personas me preguntan: “He escuchado mucho acerca de la quinoa, pero dígame, ¿para qué sirve, cómo se prepara y cuáles son sus beneficios?” Originaria de Perú y Bolivia, la quinoa es un alimento muy nutritivo. Para los incas era el alimento de oro. Ellos le llamaban Chisaya Mama que en quechua significa “la madre de todos los granos”. Lo que para la antigua civilización inca fue un integrante muy valioso de su régimen alimentario cotidiano está hoy a tu alcance. Veamos algunas propiedades de la quinoa y sus beneficios para la salud. Fuente de proteína La quinoa contiene aproximadamente de 16 a 23 por ciento de proteína, un porcentaje excelente comparado con otros granos y semillas. Pero no se trata solo de la cantidad, si no también de la calidad. Se considera que la mayoría de los granos son insuficientes como fuentes de proteínas completas, porque carecen de cantidades adecuadas de lisina e isoleucina, pero “la quinoa cuenta con los aminoácidos esenciales para hacer una proteína completa y que son fácilmente digeribles para ser aprovechados mejor”, explica la doctora Jenny Ruales, de la Universidad de Lund, en Suecia. Ayuda en la digestión De acuerdo con el Dr. Yikyung Park, del Instituto Nacional del Cáncer: “La fibra contenida en este alimento provocaría una rápida sensación de saciedad, por lo que te ayudaría a comer menos durante el día, facilitando la pérdida de peso”. Una porción de quinoa proveerá aproximadamente el veinte por ciento necesario para un día. Libre de gluten Según una encuesta realizada en 2013,* alrededor de un tercio de las personas en los Estados Unidos están tratando de minimizar el consumo de gluten, o evitarlo. La quinoa es excelente para las personas con intolerancia al gluten (la proteína del trigo) que en muchos casos causa inflamación estomacal o flatulencias. Puedes incluir la quinoa en sopas, cereales, licuados, postres y mucho más. Si tienes intolerancia al gluten, la quinoa es una buena opción. ¡Que tengan un Feliz Sábado! #nutricionnaturista #quinoa #alimentacionconsciente #natural #alimentacion #habitossaludables #eating #comersano #greenfood #recetas

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Remember when you didn’t know what quinoa was? When you most likely pronounced it wrong (unless it was part of your culture, or you knew about it before it became a big trend)? As you can probably tell by the indigenous name, quinoa is actually a food that has been around way before it became an overpriced superfood, available at your local, expensive, and natural grocery store. Quinoa is native to both Peru and Bolivia, where it was consumed before the arrival of the Spanish. Now, it’s everywhere. According to the NACLA, the North American Congress on Latin America, between 2005 and 2013, quinoa prices skyrocketed by 600%.

Thank the Totonacs for Vanilla

Yes, vanilla. Americans love themselves some vanilla and it’s been around in this country for ages. But did you know it’s actually native to South and Central America and the Caribbean? The plant from which vanilla is derived was cultivated by the Totonac of what is today Mexico. The country produced the majority of vanilla up until the 19th century when vanilla was exported and grown in other countries (including Madagascar and Indonesia, the current largest producers in the world). These days, vanilla has been known to be more expensive than silver and is the most expensive spice after saffron. On this site, a 4-ounce, one-cup bottle of 100% vanilla bean powder will set you back $110.

Tamales are an Aztec Food

It’s not uncommon for traditionally Latinx and/or indigenous food to become mainstream. The prices start to climb, and different versions of the original begin to be made. Not surprisingly, tamales are yet another popular indigenous, then Mexican food, with an Aztec origin. In fact, the word tamale comes from the Nahuatl word tamalli. They were made as far back as 7000 BC to 8000 BC, and were the brainchild of the Olmec and the Toltec, and later the Aztec and the Maya. The concept spread around Latin America, where each country gave it its own twist. The United States also has created its own versions, with higher than usual prices. For instance, luxury retailer Neiman Marcus sells theirs for $92 (for 72).

Learn Some Colors in Pipil

Photo: Native Languages of the Americas

Pipil is spoken in El Salvador. In the language, tultik is the word for “yellow.” The graphic above shows you the Pipil words for five other everyday colors, including red, green, and black.

About the Aymara of Peru

Aymara is one of the major indigenous languages spoken in Peru, with about 220,000 Aymara people in the country. Since the 1920s, the Indigenous women of this group, in Peru and Bolivia, have worn bowler hats (bombin in Spanish), introduced by British railroad workers, as part of their traditional dress.

K’iche’ (Quiche) Words

Photo: Native Languages of the Americas

K’iche’ (or Quiche) is an indigenous language spoken in Guatemala. Q’iij is the K’iche way of saying “sun.” Check out the graphic above to learn eight other words in the Indigenous Central American language.

Mayans and Aztecs Knew About Chia Seeds 5,500 Years Ago

chia seeds
Photo: Unsplash/@joannakosinska


Chia seeds are another indigenous food you may not have heard about until recently. Today, you will see it in trendy smoothies, yogurts, and chocolate puddings, but, it has been used as a food in Mexico since 3500 BC. The name chia was actually given by the Mayans, who consumed the seeds; it means “strength.” So, before the pricey health food stores started stocking the superfood, the Mayans and Aztecs, were on that hype over 5,500 years before. Oh, if only the prices were the same. On another note, never eat them dry! They need moisture or they’ll expand in your throat or intestines, with whatever moisture they can get, which can create dangerous blockages.

Carib (or Kari’nja, Cariña, etc.) Words

Photo: Wiktionary

Carib/Kari’nja/Cariña is a language spoken by the indigenous people of Brazil, Venezuela, and other South American nations. Panare is the Carib way of saying “friend.” Want to learn some other Carib words? Just check out the handy mini dictionary above!