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People, Languages & Religions in Bolivia


Estimates of the makeup of the Amerindian population are 30% Quechua and 25% Aymará. Cholos (Bolivians of mixed white and Amerindian lineage) make up another 25 to 30%, and those of wholly European background account for virtually all of the remainder. One reason for the uncertainty of these estimates is that although the distinction between Amerindian, Cholo and white was at one time racial, it has gradually become at least partially sociocultural. Amerindians become Cholos when they abandon their native costumes, learn to speak Spanish and acquire a skill or trade. Not all those classified as whites are without some Amerindian mixture.

The rapidly disappearing Amerindians who populate the tropical plains in the southeast, the Chiriguanos, are believed to be a Guaraní tribe that moved west from Paraguay before the Spanish conquest. The Mojenos, Chiquitanos and Sirionós inhabit the forest-grassland border in the far east. In all, Amerindians number about 100,000.

Also noteworthy is the Afro-Bolivian community that numbers more than 0.5% of the population, descended from African slaves that were transported to work in Brazil and then migrated westward into Bolivia. They are mostly concentrated in the Yungas region (Nor Yungas and Sud Yungas provinces) in the department of La Paz, some three hours from La Paz city. There are also Japanese who are concentrated mostly in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, and Middle Easterners who became prosperous in commerce.


Spanish, Quechua and Aymará are all official languages. About 40% of Bolivians speak Spanish as a mother tongue. As spoken by educated Bolivians, it differs less from Castilian than do the dialects of many regions in Spain itself. Approximately 37% of the people still speak Quechua and 24% speak Aymará, although an increasing number of Amerindians also speak Spanish.


The great majority of Bolivians are Roman Catholic (the official religion), although Protestant denominations are expanding strongly. According to a 2001 survey conducted by the National Statistical Institute, 78% of the population is Roman Catholic, 16% is Protestant and 3% follow other religions of Christian origin. Islam practiced by the descendants of Middle Easterners is almost non-existent. There is also a small Jewish community that is almost all Ashkenazi in origin. More than 1% of Bolivians practice the Bahá'í faith, giving Bolivia one of the largest percentages of Bahá'ís in the world.





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