Peru is located in the western part of the South American continent. The country was the birthplace of the ancient Inca Empire and remains famously known for the archaeological wonders of this civilisation, such as Machu Picchu. At the height of the empire, its borders extended from the current Colombia-Ecuador border to central Chile. Spanish deeply influenced Peruvian culture through introducing institutions such as the Catholic religion and Spanish language. In certain parts of Peru, such as Cuzco, one can see how these two cultural histories merged; for instance, there are Inca walls topped by Spanish structures.
Although Inca culture is a source of pride for many Peruvians, modern-day Peruvian culture is rich in diversity. Indeed, Peru is immensely diverse in terms of geography and landscapes, which has contributed to the variety of its people concerning language, , lifestyles, values and attitudes. Nonetheless, there are also some common traits in Peruvian culture, such as pride in their hospitable nature and strong community bonds.
Ethnic Composition and Language
Contemporary Peru’s diversity is rooted in its history. The country was already incredibly ethnically diverse with various indigenous groups before . However, the period saw further diversity through the introduction of a sizeable Spanish population, an African demographic under slavery, Chinese migrants as indentured labourers as well as many other Europeans over history. Thus, categories are plentiful, ranging from various indigenous groups to new groups based on inter- marriages.
Today, Peruvians tend to identify with numerous categories that reflect how these indigenous and migrant groups have integrated over time. These include but are not limited to and Amazonian indigenous groups, Afro-Peruvians (such as mulattos), mixed groups such as zambos (African-) and mestizos (European-), those of predominantly European heritage (blanco), and more recent migrant groups such as Chinese or Japanese. Generally, skin colour and place of birth are common determinants of how people perceive .
The official languages of Peru are Spanish (the dominant language of the country) and the indigenous languages of Quechua and Aymara. There are also various unofficial languages (such as Ashaninka and other native languages) spoken throughout the country. Many Peruvians, particularly those in Cusco, Puno, Ayacucho and other cities and rural areas of the highlands, are bilingual, speaking both Spanish and an indigenous language. Indeed, it is commonplace to hear Quechua or Aymara languages used in daily conversations throughout major cities. The dialect of Spanish spoken in Peru is quite distinct from its counterparts, as it incorporates many native Quechua and Aymara terms.
Indigeneity and Identity
Indigeneity and the diversity of indigenous groups is an important part of Peru’s composition. According to Minority Rights Group International, there are 51 indigenous groups in Peru.1 The common Peruvian proverb states that ‘El que no tiene de Inga tiene de Mandinga’, which generally means that every Peruvian has either some indigenous or African ancestry. Indeed, as of 2017 it is estimated 25.8% of the population is and 60.2% are ( and European).2
Longstanding stereotypes persist throughout Peru and are often referenced, especially between those from rural and urban areas. For instance, those with Andean or features are sometimes derogatorily referred to as ‘cholo'. The concept of cholo broadly describes somebody of indigenous origins residing in urban areas. This word can have positive or negative connotations (as the term can also sometimes be used as a unifying identity marker). However, the general trend is for the word to be used in a pejorative sense. Similarly, those from the Costa region may subject to stereotypes when traveling through the Andes (for example, some may be referred to as a ‘gringo’ or ‘foreigner’.
While some Peruvians are deeply proud of their indigenous heritage and traditions, others may feel a sense of shame or may attempt to distance themselves from their indigeneity. For example, some of the younger generation from the Andes may prefer to learn Spanish rather than their local indigenous language. There have been efforts to disassociate from social stereotypes; for instance, the census conducted in 2017 asked respondents to self-identify by rather than select pre-determined categories.3
Geography and Space
As one of the largest countries on the South American continent, Peru contains a diverse set of climates and landscapes. There are quite noticeable divides between the urban and rural areas of Peru, with the general pattern being that indigenous peoples reside in rural areas and those living in urban spaces are of European ancestry. The country is divided into three distinct regions: the high mountains (Sierra) of the Andes in the centre, the dry and narrow coastal plains (Costa) in the west, and the tropical lowlands (Selva) of the Amazon Basin to the east.
The geographic distinctions between these regions are one of the major factors contributing to the country’s cultural and social diversity. Those who reside in the mountainous Andes are often referred to as ‘Andinos', while those in the forested Amazonia are referred to as ‘Charapas'. Meanwhile, Peruvians who live in the coastal plains may be referred to as 'Costeños'. Indigenous Peruvians (known collectively as ) tend to populate rural areas, particularly in the Andes. Moreover, the 50+ different indigenous tribal groups in the Amazonian region maintain cultural lifestyles that are distinct from most other , owing to how isolated the Amazon is from the rest of the Peruvian population.
In contrast, the Costa region is the most developed and densely populated part of the country, home to most of the country's urban spaces. Indeed, approximately 78.3% of the population resides in urban areas that are predominantly in the Costa region.4 The large proportion of people living in urban spaces is in part due to the lack of suitable land for farming. Civil war has also prompted the internal migration of many to urban areas over the last few decades (see section on ‘Politico-Economic Changes and Internal Conflict’ below). This has dramatically changed the urban spaces of Peru and also led to the creation of pueblos jóvenes or barriadas (shanty towns) around city perimeters.
The diversity of landscapes that partition the habitable regions of Peru have long posed a challenge in forging a national identity. Instead, Peru's geography has profoundly contributed to the forming and maintenance of social and political identities based on one’s region of birth. Nearly all Peruvians associate with a local identity, such as a limeño from Lima, a cuzqueño from Cusco, a chalaco from Callao and so forth.
A deep association with one’s birthplace is noticeable throughout the country. For example, there are thousands of regional and local clubs in cities run by migrants from rural parts of the country that allow people to maintain a connection with their regional culture. Regardless of where a Peruvian is located, one remains connected to their place of birth, particularly in major cities like Lima where many become self-aware of traits.
Social Stratification and Interactions
Peruvian society tends to be stratified between quite distinct socioeconomic groups that are often related to one’s . The class largely reflects Peru’s past, with those of lighter skin (typically of European heritage) usually belonging to the upper socioeconomic classes. Meanwhile, those with darker skin or indigenous heritage are generally more economically and socially disadvantaged.
While the demographics of social classes in contemporary Peru are not ethnically homogeneous, there is less social mobility for people of certain . For example, people of descent who have migrated to urban centres often face difficulties in securing stable employment. Nevertheless, improvements in Peru's economy have seen greater fluidity and mobility, which has enabled people from groups that have traditionally experienced discrimination to move into the higher socioeconomic class or occupy influential positions. However, interactions between social classes are usually fleeting, occurring mainly through workplaces or public places such as a businessperson interacting with a driver.
Diversity of Lifestyles
Differences in lifestyles and daily routines are quite pronounced depending on one’s place of birth, and socioeconomic class. Those of European descent dominate the government and industry sectors, while generally form the middle class of Peruvian society. Many from the latter group hold managerial and professional jobs with some as small landowners and labourers. The urban middle to upper classes have more affluent lifestyles. Many reserve the afternoon as a time for the siesta (nap), followed by a return to work or to participate in social activities. Lower-socioeconomic domestic helpers perform many daily tasks in the home, such as cooking and house cleaning.
Meanwhile, the recent internal migration of and indigenous persons to cities has created new lifestyles more reliant on technology and transportation. Some live in makeshift housing and live more precariously. There are many employed in the informal sector of the economy, outside government regulation and the protection provided by legal employment. Some jobs in the informal sector include street vendors, car windscreen cleaners and workshop owners in shanty towns.
Those in rural areas, usually of heritage, often live according to agricultural cycles. For example, planting and harvesting periods are quite demanding and involve communal-based work, whereas other times of the year are much more relaxed. People rise and go to sleep early to complete work during daylight hours. Those who work as pastoralists follow a more distinct and isolated annual cycle by herding sheep, llamas and alpacas in elevations above the limits of agriculture.
Politico-Economic Changes and Internal Conflict
Over the last few decades, Peruvians have experienced various changes and challenges to their political and economic situation. One major political event was an internal conflict that erupted between the government and various citizen-organised guerilla and military groups.
The most well-known actor in the internal conflict has been the left-wing socialist organisation known as the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path). In the 1980s, Sendero Luminoso began a campaign of guerrilla warfare aimed at overthrowing the government. The group sought to restructure society and resurrect aspects of Inca social order and systems. Along with other organisations, Sendero Luminoso engaged in an armed struggle against the Peruvian state. The internal conflict resulted in approximately 70,000 casualties between 1980-2000.5 The conflict began in the mountainous regions of Peru, leading to the displacement of many indigenous persons from the Andean highlands. Violence eventually reached urban areas, resulting in Lima being placed under curfew amid fragile social relations among citizens and the government.
During the internal conflict, the government changed hands numerous times, with each leader implementing new laws or restricting civil rights. In 1990, Alberto Fujimori, a son of Japanese immigrants, was elected as president. With promises of government reform, economic growth and an end to the internal conflict, Fujimori suspended the constitution, dissolved congress and restricted civil liberties. Fujimori is commonly known for ending the ongoing conflict with Sendero Luminoso as well as imposing a series of severe economic policies in an attempt to boost the economy. These measures, known as the ‘Fujishock’, led to many financial struggles for Peruvians.
These political and economic events still impact present-day Peruvian politics. For some Peruvians, particularly those from the Andes, the political upheavals during the guerrilla warfare continue to be a highly sensitive topic. Fujimori is quite a controversial person in Peru. While some consider his economic decisions problematic, others believe these decisions helped alleviate many economic problems of the country. For this reason, many Peruvians, especially those who experienced the serious economic crises in the 1980s and 1990s, continue to support him.
Although Peru has now returned to a much more , politically and economically stable country, this turbulent political history has deeply affected the outlook of many Peruvians. One major consequence is the cultural tendency to avoid uncertainty and ambiguity as reflected in the culture’s high score of 87.6 The country’s geographical position also contributes to this score, as nearly all of Peru periodically endures extensive infrastructure and agricultural damage from earthquakes, landslides, El Niño rains and other natural disasters.
Indeed, many Peruvians approach life with a mentality of planning for only one day at a time. When making decisions, they tend to draw on lessons from the past and focus on the present context. Peruvians also tend to communicate indirectly and avoid conflict in their day-to-day lives. At the same time, Peruvians have learnt the importance of dissent and political activism. Many are willing to voice their concerns through participation in protests and public demonstrations. For the most part, these forms of resistance have remained peaceful.
Solidarity and Hospitality
Peruvians tend to be highly and share a sense of solidarity. People are often interdependent and will often prioritise the needs of their group over personal desires. This sense of solidarity shines through during times of adversity. For example, the frequent occurrence of natural disasters in Peru has seen many Peruvians set aside social, cultural and economic differences to assist one another. On a more local level, communities and families will often play a vital role in supporting their weakest members, particularly in rural areas and the impoverished urban boroughs. Football (soccer) is also a major unifying force in the country.
Peruvians are also usually very warm, welcoming and hospitable. Many enjoy celebrating and indulging when the opportunity arises, such as during weekends and holiday periods. Indeed, it is common for Peruvians to invite guests to their home and show their hospitable nature by offering food and drink. For some Peruvians, there is a general expectation that people will reciprocate acts of kindness, favours and hospitality.
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