Digitisation of Bolivian indigenous communities records on ayllu structure, tax and land tenure (EAP160)

Aims and objectives

This project aims to digitise and microfilm 163,000 pages of the records of the indigenous population who lived in communities and large private properties in rural areas of Bolivian Altiplano, from around 1829 to 1930. Bolivia has the largest indigenous population in Latin America and undoubtedly the least developed in the region. Most of the indigenous population has lived since the Colonial period in the high plateau -known as the Altiplano boliviano- at 4,000 meters above sea level.

After Bolivia's independence and throughout the 19th century, only 10% of Bolivians lived in the urban area. The bulk of the population was concentrated already in the department of La Paz, and specifically in the rural area.

The indigenous population that lived in the communities and in the haciendas (large private estates) continued paying, as in the Colonial period, a state tax known as the indigenal contribution, amounting as much as 40% of the state total income. For tax purposes, the government registered all the indigenous population in the communities and haciendas.

This project aims to record certain types of documents of the 19th century, called padrones, in a digital and microfilm format for the following principal reasons:

(i) These documents are testimonies of an old tributary system associated with land tenure. Given that the Agrarian Reform of 1952 has not completely abolished the community system, those documents are important legal sources for present day land tenure consolidation. These documents register all the names that were community and hacienda members as tax contributors.

(ii) These existing files have high demand among the indigenous communities. Many indigenous communities and individuals use these records as proof of their community membership and land tenure.

(iii) These documents are a source of information on social and political organizations of that time, revealing the segmentary form of the ayllu system. During the XIX century it can be seen how these entities were changing and how some of them became haciendas.

(iv) These are documents that can be easily handed to each of the communities as they solicit them for their own use in a CD-ROM format.

(v) The condition of these documents has been deteriorating with time and are at present in a very bad condition given their constant use and slow destruction as a result of photocopying.

The documents will be digitised and then a microfilm copy created from the digital images. The digitised data will be not only available for the general public and researchers, but will be delivered, in CD-ROM and in print, to the Indian communities and to the local authorities in the departamento of La Paz. In addition, the knowledge acquired through the whole experience will be a good training base for the archive personnel in the departamento of La Paz.

This project will preserve some of the few written records of the history of the indigenous peoples - due to the essential oral nature of their cultural tradition, there remain very few historical records. It will preserve an important and unique collection of an old tax system associated with their social organization, land tenure, Indian views and colonial situation and it will make these records available for many indigenous communities and individuals so they can use them in order to prove their community membership and land tenure.


This project successfully created 92,000 digital images from 441 books containing the Padrones, or records of indigenous population that lived in communities, and large private properties.

Two complete sets of the images have been stored in TIFF format, one set on 2,161 DVDs, the second set on 16 external hard drives.

Two training workshops were held, to instruct 78 people on digitisation methods and techniques. The digitised material has been distributed to 89 Community Authroities from the 20 provinces of La Paz Department.

Through this project, the documents have been preserved from further deterioration on account of handling by national and foreign researchers.

The records copied by this project have been catalogued as: