The High Plain

Jules Bucher
Miriam Bucher
Production Date: 
Julien Bryan
Tom Kraber
Run Time: 
Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs

Establishing shot:Opens with a title superimposed over drawn topographical map of South America.  Title reads: “The land of Bolivia rises from tropical jungle to a great high plateau, where the Aymara Indians lived long centuries before the Incas.  On this plain their descendants still till the soil.”  First live action shot is a 180 degree panorama of the wide, flat Altiplano plateau alluded to in title.
Named locations:
Lake Titicaca (2:52), Petaca Hacienda (throughout).

Major themes covered: Julien Bryan portrait of the highlands of Bolivia and the descendents of the ancient Aymara Indians who live “on the very rooftop of the Western world” (1944).  Aymara life and work on Petaca Hacienda near Lake Titicaca, focusing on agricultural and religious practices of Aymara people, and including relationships between Aymara and patron of the hacienda.
Native activities shown:  Aymara activities depicted in the film: rowing in reed boats (2:48); wearing a black “mourning shawl” (3:01); Aymara children herding calves, goats and other livestock (4:40); old Aymara woman hand-preparing and –spinning llama wool for weaving (5:08); Aymara women sitting together spinning wool, tossing ball of wool back and forth and preparing the loom (5:35); Aymara man making “tethers”/rope from long grass (8:30); Aymara men and women tilling/plowing fields with oxen, spades, pickaxes, (9:27); Aymara man greeting patron of Petaca Hacienda, bowing (10:22); Aymara men and women unloading truck of barrels, farming materials and equipment (10:35); Aymara men coming in from field to tip their hat to patron (10:52); Aymara men and women pulling up crops, hauling them in woven sacks on their back (11:09); Aymara man preparing peet for lyme extraction? (11:57); Aymara man digging trench for irrigation system (12:03); Aymara man tilling his own patch of potato and quinoa crops (12:59); major religious festival, presumably anata (carnival), and ceremonies, attire, masks, libations, panflutes, dances (14:20-15:15); praying to Pachamama/ “Maria Purisima” (15:31); potato harvest (16:02); herding sheep (17:45); Aymara women making quinoa porridge (18:13); Aymara men playing quena (18:30); jilakata/taskmaster/community officer calling out the next day’s orders from the top of a hill (18:42)

Aymara activities implied or alluded to in the film: carving large statues, pictured (2:10); presence in Bolivia/South America before the time of the Incas (3:20); establishment of ayllus, “states within states” (4:08); bartering quinoa and barley for weapons and tools with the Spanish (4:36); 3 days working for the patron of the Hacienda, 3 days working for themselves, resting on the holy days (8:13); Aymara man fashioning plow from forked branch of a tree (8:38); lending and borrowing looms within the Aymara community (12:34); special prayers to guard against hail damage (13:18); selling potatoes to mines and mills (16:38).

Individuals Named: No indigenous individuals named.

Native language spoken: None

Print Resources:

Buechler, Hans C.  The Bolivian Aymara.  New York: Holt, 1971

        *This fairly comprehensive overview of Aymara culture is based on ethnographicresearch conducted in the Compi community on the shores of Lake Titicaca.  Books includes sections on economic and land management, family customs, carnival, and religion. 

Clark, Ronald J. "Land Reform and Peasant Market Participation on the North Highlands of Bolivia." Land Economics. 44.2 (1968): 153-172.

       *Somewhat dated but nevertheless useful article discusses history of economic involvement of agrarian workers in the altiplano, including pre-reform history.  Article seems slightly biased in its focus on how the land reform has created market opportunities for workers, and how those opportunities are promising.

Eisenberg, Amy. Aymara Indian Perspectives on Development in the Andes.  Tuscaloosa: U Alabama, 2013.

      *This new book presents the findings and oral testimonies of a collaborative research project between the author and the Aymara people of northern Chile.  From the book’s press release: “Within a multidisciplinary framework and with a detailed understanding of issues from the Aymara point of view, together we explore the enduring reciprocal relations between the Aymara and the elements of land, water, and the supernatural amid exogenously imposed development within their holy land.”

Heyduk, Daniel. "The Hacienda System and Agrarian Reform in Highland Bolivia: a Re-Evaluation." Ethnology. 13.1 (1974): 71-81.

     *Well-researched article offers a re-evaluation of the influence of the hacienda system on the Bolivian land reform projects of the later twentieth century.  Discusses Aymara involvement in development of the altiplano.

McFarren, Peter, Sixto Choque, and Teresa Gisbert. Máscaras De Los Andes Bolivianos: Masks of the Bolivian Andes. La Paz: Editorial Quipus, 1993.

      *Photography book by Aymara photographer Sixto Choque featuring a wide variety of Aymara carnival masks, and including bilingual essays by Teresa Gisbert on symbolism and function of masks.

Online Resources:

International Film Foundation entry for The High Plain:

Includes information about the production of the film, the type of film used in production, feet of footage used, and other production-related details.

Smithsonian Institution Research Information System entry for The High Plain:!219402!0&term=.

Includes a summary of the film that is useful for its insight into the Smithsonian’s perspective on the film.  Also includes helpful tag terms.

Native Planet page on the Aymara:


Statistics on population, lifestyle, classifications and language of the Aymara.

Ethnologue site on Aymara language:***EDITION***

Includes statistical information on language usage and development.

Encyclopedia Britannica entry for “Aymara:”

Brooklyn Museum collection of Aymara textiles:

Includes shawls and other textile works.

Bolivian Vice-Minister of Culture page on Anata:

Very informative and thorough Spanish-language resource that details Aymara ceremonies and beliefs surrounding the carnival celebrations.

Bolivian Tourism PDF on Anata:

Fairly extensive brochure on Aymara holidays and calendar, with special emphasis on Anata.

--Adam Iddings, 2013