La Rioja, Arid Abundance
Lying in northern Argentina, at the foot of the Andes, La Rioja is one of the most arid and less populated provinces in the country.
The traces of two very ancient histories are conjugated in La Rioja: the history of the planet and the history of mankind. Dozens of millions of years ago, a great part of this colored land used to be covered by the sea. Submarine animal and plant fossils give evidence of this fact. So do strong folds with plates whose borders have raised up to an almost vertical position. One sample of that is Talampaya Provincial Park, which contains grand red soil outcrops from the Paganzo geological stratum.
This area features significant archaeological remains of primitive art created by prehistoric peoples that settled down in this region approximately ten thousand years ago. Back then, rainfall was plentiful and wildlife was lush. The life of hunters and gatherers was relatively easy. We learn this from the
petroglyphs found in the wild rocks of this are, which have perpetuated what probably were important ritual centers.
The Diaguitas that dwelled in northern Argentina belonged to the group of the Cacanos, made up by the Calchaquíes, the Diaguitas and the Pulares. The former used to live in southern Salta and some parts of Catamarca and Tucumán. The Diaguitas inhabited mainly Catamarca and La Rioja, and the Pulares used to live in Salta. The name “Diaguitas” – which means “people from the mountains” in the Quechua tongue– was imposed by the Incas, to which they were culturally related, though their tongue was called cacá or
canana. The chief would distribute the land and organize the construction and care of cultivation terraces on the hillsides. They would work the land as a community and put away part of the harvest at the common deposits. They used to grow squash, peppers, corn and gather wild fruit such as carob beans.
Also, they raised llamas and alpacas, especially in high cold areas.
The Diaguitas were wonderful potters. Each family made pots, jars and vessels. Besides, there were specialized craftsmen who gave shape to true works of art, such as the funerary urns, where they buried the dead. Some of these urns were decorated with eye-catching colors. Metallurgy was also
outstanding, as not only could they handle various metals but they also made alloys. Copper and bronze were the most popularly used, though gold and silver were also utilized.
They used to live in villages established in the local valleys and ravines, giving origin to chiefdoms with particular names. They raised their hamlets in sites that were hard to access in the valleys. The constructions were rectangular and the walls were made without mortar.
They featured regular height. Both men and women wore a kind of long shirt with or without sleeves as a garment. They wore sandals and headbands, with which they held feathers against their foreheads. Their personal ornaments consisted in feathers, bracelets, silver breastplates and sometimes gold and silver tiaras. They had long hair, which they braided and tied in the shape of bows or buns.
Their weapons of war were the bow and arrows.
Approximately in 1000 AD, the northwestern peoples were characterized by a strong demographic growth and by the emergence of thriving communities that possessed well-controlled and well-watched territories. When the Spaniards entered the present territory of Argentina, they made contact with native
groups featuring diverse degrees of development. One of them was the Diaguitas.
After the arrival of the Spanish in America in 1492, the conquest and colonization of these territories began. Their main purpose was to obtain precious metals and spread the Catholic faith.
In spite of being outnumbered by the natives, the Spaniards succeeded due to their fire weapons, horses and armors. Other factors that contributed to the Spanish victory were the element of surprise, which led the natives to mistake the invaders for gods.
On May 20, 1591, Juan Ramirez de Velazco, founded Todos los Santos de la Nueva Rioja (present day La Rioja) with the purpose of settling down a strategic post to fight the indigenous people.
The place was named after an ancient Spanish shire. As the founder laid out the urban grid, he reserved some spaces for religious orders, namely: the Franciscan, the Mercedarian, the Dominican and the Jesuits.
He also destined a plot located in front of the main square to build a church devoted to Saint Peter Martyr.
Due to the proximity of the Famatina mineral deposits, during Colonial times, the city gained importance for the socioeconomic movement.
The large indigenous population number in the area was distributed into encomiendas. Around 11,000 natives were distributed into different regions of the country.
Using the Quechua word Tinkunaco, (which means meeting, fusion or mixture) every year the denizens of La Rioja commemorate the events of Easter 1593, when the Diaguitas could not stand the mistreatment exerted by the Spaniards and resolved to attack the city. The weapons kept at Fort
Las Padercitas were not enough to resist the attack carried out by approximately 9,000 natives led by 45 chiefs from many other settlements. In consequence, the Spaniards resorted to San Francisco Solano, who succeeded in restoring peace.
Between 1632 and 1636, the uprising of Chief Chelemín against the conquerors ruined the development of the province. The Spaniards lost most of their cattle and the natives living in the encomiendas, which were the basis for their economy.
The foundation of Catamarca helped the communication of the inhabitants of La Rioja with Tucumán.
However, the scarcity of water limited the expansion of cotton plantations and vineyards.
During the second half of the eighteenth century, Chilecito, a community organized around Hacienda Santa Rita (Santa Rita Estate), gained importance. A century later, the population of this city surpassed that of the very capital of the province.
The largest population growth in the province took place during the nineteenth century.