Monday, November 16, 2009

Culture of Peru

Identification. Peru has a long and rich history. The Spanish conquistadors Francisco Pizarro (c.1475–1541) and Diego de Almagro (1475–1538) received news of a mighty and rich empire lying just south of the present territory of Central America. The indigenous population of Panama referred to this powerful state as the land of Piru or Peru (word meaning "land of abundance" in the region's native Quechua tongue). The northern and central part of the South American continent was described as such in all the early chronicles and ethnohistoric accounts. Although the name Peru was used by foreigners to describe the indigenous Inca population, they called themselves the Tahuantinsuyu (meaning "the four-quarters" in Quechua). To this day, one of the most powerful groups to challenge Peruvian national identity is that of the contemporary Indian population, which at different times in history has seen itself as the rightful heirs of the Inca empire and has resisted European influence on its culture. The name Peru was pervasive during the colonial period and was used to denominate the larger sections of the powerful viceroyalty of Lima. Upon independence, Peru was the name given to the country.

Location and Geography. Peru has an approximate land area of 496,225 square miles (1,285,223 square kilometers) and is located in the central western section of the South American continent. It borders Ecuador and Colombia to the north, Brazil and Bolivia to the east, Chile to the south, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Peru's capital, Lima, is located on the coast, about 8 miles (13 kilometers) from the Pacific Ocean. Lima is home to almost a third of Peru's total population, with a total of two-thirds of the country's population living in the coastal region.

Peru is divided into three major regions. The western coast contains dry, desertlike regions to the north as well as to the south, with more agriculturally productive lands along the major valleys formed by the western-draining Andean rivers. The Central Andes run as the backbone of Peru and are comprised of two large mountain ranges with spectacular snow-capped volcanoes and temperate mountain valleys. The Andean mountains were the traditional home of the ancestral Inca kingdom. To this day, the Andes support many of the current surviving indigenous populations, some still claiming a direct Inca ancestry. Finally, in the northeast, the large region of Amazonian tropical forest has recently been the scene of oil exploration and political colonization projects. Peru's tropical forest basin also is the source of three of the major tributaries of the Amazon River, the Ucayali, Huallaga, and Marañón Rivers.

Since the 1980s, there has been the growing of impact of the El Niño (the child) current. This strong southern current, called El Niño because it occurs around Christmas, is responsible for a warming of the water temperature off the Peruvian coast that leads to great rainfalls, large-level floods along the coast, and periods of drought along the southern highlands.

Demography. Peru's population in 2000 was approximately 25 million. At the moment of conquest (mid-1500s), the original indigenous population numbered around 12 million. Only in the last forty years of the twentieth century was Peru once again able to reach that initial number, since the indigenous population had been almost completely decimated. Two-thirds of Peru's population is concentrated along the major urban centers of the coast and the rest is in the Andes, making the Amazon the least populated of its regions. There are four major ethnic groups in Peru: (1) whites (of European ancestry);

(2) mestizos (of mixed European and Indian ancestry—pejoratively referred to as cholos ); (3) Indians (of Native American ancestry); and (4) Afro-Peruvians (of African descent). Accurate statistics for each of these four populations are difficult to collect because of the fluidity and arbitrariness in defining people as members of each community. The following rough estimates are usually given for each group: the Indian population is the largest, comprising almost 45 percent of the overall population; the mestizo population is second, with around 40 percent; and whites and blacks are a distant third and fourth with 10 percent and 5 percent, respectively.

In the late twentieth century, the Asian-Peruvian community (mainly of Chinese and Japanese descent) gained greater public recognition, especially with the election of a Peruvian president of Japanese ancestry (Alberto Fujimori). Both Asian populations have similar migration histories starting in the late 1800s and tend to be incorporated into the same racial/ethnic category.

Linguistic Affiliation. Spanish and Quechua are both recognized as official languages in Peru. Spanish, however, is the language enforced by both the education system and the government. Introduced by the Spaniards, Spanish was forced upon the indigenous population throughout the colonial period by the Spanish Crown. This enforced linguistic practice continued throughout Peru's republic period (from the 1830s to the present). The Spanish spoken in Peru is also unique to the region, combining the Castillian tongue with many native Quechua and Aymara terms.

Although Quechua is spoken by most of Peru's Indian population, a significant amount of the Indian population speak Aymara as their native language. Aymara speakers are typically located in the southern region of the country along the shores of Lake Titicaca, which Peru shares as a border with Bolivia. Because of large migration within the country, Aymara and Quechua speakers are also found throughout the major urban centers of Peru.

Originally spoken by the Incas, Quechua was imposed upon all the populations conquered by them, allowing the Incas an easier medium of communication and domination. After the Spanish conquest, Quechua gained recognition as the indigenous lingua franca and also took on a characteristic of resistance rather than domination. There are also several other dozen languages spoken by other indigenous groups, most of which live in Peru's Amazon basin. The rich African influence also has contributed to a culturally and stylistically distinct variation of Peruvian Spanish.

Symbolism. The archaeological remains of the royal Inca estate of Machu Picchu is one of the most striking images emblematic of Peruvian culture. The majestic image of this ancient ruin perched high in the Andes is used to symbolize the resilience of Peruvian traditions. The fact that Machu Picchu lies on an 8,000-foot (2,440 meter) mountaintop and that it escaped destruction by the Spaniards looms large in the imaginations of Peruvians and tourists. The ruins evoke the nation's Indian past and legitimizes both Peru's historical heritage and cultural tradition.

Other emblematic figures of Peru are that of the Lake Titicaca and the island of the sun. The island of the sun is the largest of the islands in Lake Titicaca and was considered sacred by the Incas. As a result of this sacred status, the Incas maintained a temple to the sun on the island and a group of religious servants including celibate women (called acllas ) year round. The highest navigable lake in the world at 12,500 feet (3,810 meters) above sea level and with an extension of 3,200 square miles (8,300 square kilometers), Titicaca is a natural border between Peru and Bolivia. The temperate waters of Lake Titicaca, as well as the different Indian communities that still make their livelihood off the lake's resources, are reminders of Peru's ancient traditions. Like other South American countries, Peru also imbues its flag, national anthem, and national coat of arms with sacred value. These three national symbols are held in enormous esteem and provide a common ground for Peruvians to memorialize their country's political and military struggles.


Emergence of the Nation. The current configuration of Peru took form on 28 July 1821 when it declared its independence from Spanish rule. The declaration followed the occupation of Lima by the Argentinian general José de San Martín and the fleeing of the royalist forces to the interior of the country. But it really was not until 1824 and the battles of Ayacucho and Junín that the royalists were defeated and Spanish power in the whole continent was finally overthrown. These final battles were led not by San Martín, but rather by the Venezuelan generals Simón Bolívar and Antonio Joséde Sucre. San Martín had already retired to Europe after seeking Bolívar's support to secure Peru's independence. In this manner, Peruvian independence was obtained a couple of years later than most other South American states. This tardiness was due to the politically and religiously more conservative nature of the Peruvian aristocracy, the large presence of Spaniards in the territory, and the solid Spanish military stronghold of Lima.

National Identity. Peruvians maintain a very strong sense of national identity supported by a series of common characteristics such as language, religion, food, and music. Spanish and Catholicism have historically provided a zealous sense of national belonging and cultural identity. These national characteristics have also enabled a national ethos to withstand the regional and ethnic differences inherent in the Peruvian population. Before the advent of roads or railways, the sheer difficulty in traversing Peru's geography was one of the greatest obstacles to solidifying a national identity. Since the 1960s, and especially due to a large internal migration toward the major urban centers, regional differences have seemed to present less of a destabilizing peril. This same migration phenomenon also has provided some relief to the divisive hierarchical structure of racial and ethnic differences. Since independence, mainly Indians and blacks, and mestizos to a lesser degree, have suffered the brunt of racial discrimination. This uneven ethnic structure has made it difficult for these groups to fully participate as national citizens and to identify solely as Peruvians. Nevertheless, even with these regional and ethnic differences, a national identity is still solidly in place, most probably also due to the centralized nature of the education system and bureaucratic structures.

Ethnic Relations. A Peruvian identity is most firmly found among the white elite and large mestizo communities. The three other ethnic groups—Indians, blacks, and Asians—tend to have much more complex identity formations as Peruvians. Indians above all have faced five centuries of ethnically discriminatory and genocidal practices against its population. Even after independence their general treatment was not radically different. Indians are still portrayed as backwards and inferior and perform the hardest and less remunerative forms of labor. The more than sixty Amazon Indian groups still face cultural extinction as a result of oil exploration, agricultural production, and mining colonizing campaigns.

Afro-Peruvians also have suffered the brunt of racial and cultural discrimination since their emancipation in 1854. Through the lack of opportunities to improve their social situations, most Afro-Peruvians have been limited to rural work or domestic labor. The black community has traditionally occupied the coastal parts of the nation and has its major concentrations along the areas of Chincha (three hours south of Lima) and the neighborhoods of La Victoria and Matute within Lima. Meanwhile, black men in Peru have been particularly enabled to excel as national icons within both local and national soccer teams. This iconization of Afro-Peruvian athletes as national sports heroes stands in sharp contrast with the friction that the community has on the whole encountered as part of Peruvian culture.

Chinese and Japanese immigrants came to Peru in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Both groups were brought in to work as rural laborers in the large hacienda/estate holdings. Japanese migrants have experience a more difficult integration because of their lesser tendency to marry outside their culture. The election of a Peruvian president of Japanese ancestry, however, has brought into question many of the traditional assumptions regarding the friction between Asian-Peruvians and their national counterparts. Some analysts have argued that Fujimori was voted into power by Indians and mestizos who saw themselves being closer to an Asian-Peruvian candidate than to one representing the traditional white elite.


There are three major architectural traditions in Peru. The pre-Hispanic tradition represents all those indigenous architectural traits existing in the territory before the Spanish conquest. The ruins of places such as Machu Picchu in Ayacucho, the temple of the sun in Cuzco, and the ruins of Sacsahuamán, also in Cuzco, solemnly stand as testimonials to a non-Western form of architecture and space dynamics. Pre-Hispanic buildings are made out of stone masonry and are fitted expertly with each other, to such a degree that not even a needle can be pushed in between them. The main constructions of all Inca urban centers are the Inca's palace, the main temple of the sun, and the house for the Acllaconas (females virgins selected for religious service).

The Spanish conquest brought with it a completely different architectural sensibility. In most places pre-Hispanic buildings were destroyed and Catholic churches were built on top of the major Indian temples, such as the convent of Santo Domingo that was built over the temple of the sun in Cuzco. This colonial architecture brought with it many of the styles in vogue in the European courts of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, including that of the Baroque. Some of the best examples of this colonial period are the cathedrals in both Lima and Cuzco, as well as the Church of San Agustín and the residence of the Marqués de Torre Tagle in Lima. Traditionally, the colonial architectural sensibility impacted the whole urban space, creating a central plaza surrounded by the most important buildings in the administration of the city, such as the government palace, the cathedral, the archbishop's palace, and the city government building. The oldest Peruvian cities such as Arequipa, Cuzco, and Lima are the best examples of this colonial style.

Since the nineteenth century, however, a wider notion of modernist tradition has become popular in Peruvian culture. This has meant the expansion of the urban space and the construction of much more architecturally modern buildings and housing

Lima residents wait to vote for a new mayor. Peruvian voters tend  to vote for the most charismatic candidates, not those of a particular  party or ideology.
Lima residents wait to vote for a new mayor. Peruvian voters tend to vote for the most charismatic candidates, not those of a particular party or ideology.
throughout Lima, but more strikingly in the adjacent city of Miraflores. Banks and other financial institutions throughout the country also are reflective of this modernist trend. These financial towers and their glass constructions are very much indicative of a dramatic shift in the architectural style of Peru.

The urban space, especially that of Lima, changed rapidly in the last three decades of the twentieth century. Lima has experienced a significant increase of its population as a result of inner migrations and the creation of shanty towns ( pueblos jóvenes ) around its perimeter. People take over abandoned lands just outside the city limits and overnight construct flimsy homes of aluminum steel, plywood, and other malleable materials. Only after the pueblos jóvenes have survived possible forceful removal at the hands of the police will cement and sturdier materials be used for reconstructing the residences.


Food in Daily Life. Peru is known for its distinct cuisine. The daily food customs are marked regionally between the coast and the highlands even though both rely heavily on soups and rice as dietary staples. In this manner seafood and plantains are typical of the coastal diet, while different kinds of meat, corn, and potatoes are much more frequently consumed in the highlands. Ceviche, fish marinated in ají, a hot sauce made mainly from spicy peppers, tomato, onions and lemon, is an example of a particular Peruvian delicacy. African dishes such as the cau cau (tripe casserole) and the mazamorra ( chicha drink made from maize) are particular Peruvian dishes that reflect this tradition more than others. Meanwhile, roasted guinea pig is also an Andean delicacy dating most probably to pre-Hispanic days.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. All Peruvian festivities are accompanied by large levels of eating and drinking, a practice that seems to have a long tradition in both indigenous and Spanish cultures. Typical indigenous celebrations, such as the Inti Raymi (summer solstice), are accompanied by large roasting of meats (such as llama, guinea pig, pork, and lamb) and the ritual drinking of chicha de jora (maize beer). Another Peruvian ceremonial occasion, the observation of holy week, has strong food restrictions. During this time the consumption of meat is religiously restricted, providing for a whole array of seafood-based dishes. High on this list of alternative foods are fish and bean dishes, mainly the consumption of cod fish ( bacalao ), as well as fanesca, and the infamous humitas (corn and cheese cakes). Humitas are highly regarded since they were originally made only for the holy week observation, but in the last couple of years have become part of the national cuisine found at restaurants and food shops.

Basic Economy. Peru is traditionally portrayed as a country with a developing economy dependent upon the export of raw materials and the import of manufactured goods. It is also one of the leading fishing countries in the world and ranks among the largest producers of bismuth, silver, and copper. Traditionally, Peru has also been an agricultural-based society with almost a third of its workforce involved in farm labor. Until the 1980s, Peru had been able to be more or less self-sufficient in terms of food; since then, however, the nation began the large-level importation of wheat, corn, rice, vegetable oils, dairy products, and meat to feed its population. Since the 1980s there also has been a concerted effort, with limited success, to create nontraditional export industries (such as fish meal, shrimp, minerals, and oil) and to manufacture certain consumer goods rather than importing them.

Land Tenure and Property. After independence, land ownership remained in the hands of the traditional family elites that had governed the colonial territory. These large landholders maintained the traditional hacienda structure in which the indigenous population and other rural workers labored almost as indentured servants. Since the 1960s large projects of agrarian reform have been implemented, and these radical land transformations have significantly altered the traditionally skewed land accumulation practices. The lack of modern agricultural techniques as well as the limited size of the land plots, however, have impacted negatively on the overall production of these new farming strategies.

Commercial Activities. Hernando De Soto's book, The Other Path (1989), was quite influential in making explicit the large place occupied by the informal economy in Peru. According to some, over half of Peru's population is part of this informal economy as noncontractual workers making a living off the streets or in nonregulated small business ventures in addition to street vendors who sell anything from food to flowers, with some of the most typical jobs in the informal sector include car cleaning, windshield wiping, and working in family-owned stores and businesses. But even the other half of the workforce that labors under signed legal contracts must also rely on informal labor (such as selling jewelry, and driving taxis) in their spare time to make enough for themselves and their families to survive.

Major Industries. Most of Peru's industries are located within the greater radius of the capital, Lima, even after concerted efforts from the state to disperse their location. Traditionally Peru had provided the labor force and minor raw materials for its assembly industry. However, the recent state tendency has been to provide wider support for industries that meet the national demand for consumer goods, as well as in the laws that regulate the production of cement, steel, fertilizers, processed food, textiles, and petroleum. The support has come in the form of tax relief and trade protection policies that have allowed manufacturing to become one of the fastest growing segments of the economy. The demand for increased manufacturing has been met to some degree, although the fact that many of these incipient industries still fall within the ranks of the informal economy makes it quite difficult for the state to regulate their growth and secure the complete benefits.

Trade. Because of Peru's colonial past, trade has always played a major role in the economy—mainly the export of raw materials and the importing of manufactured goods. The United States is by far Peru's most important trading partner, accounting for-one third of all its imports and exports. Western Europe, Japan, Colombia, and Brazil comprise most of the rest of the country's trading relationships. The main products sold to these countries are minerals (silver, lead, copper, bismuth, and zinc) and agricultural products (cotton, sugar, and coffee). Oil has also become a major export item since the 1980s when a large reserve was found in the Amazon basin along with the reserves already being exploited along Peru's northern coast. Both shrimp and other types of fish (anchovies and tuna, for example) also figured high in Peru's exports in the late twentieth century.

Division of Labor. In general, the most menial forms of labor in rural and urban settings are reserved for those populations with the lowest social status: Indians, blacks, and mestizos. It is not a coincidence that these populations are the ones with the least amount of formal schooling or secondary education. Meanwhile, political office and high-level financial positions are traditionally occupied by both the white and mestizo elite. These individuals tend to have at least a secondary school education, although the majority of the time the positions are much more a result of family relationships than personal merit. Peru also suffers from a "brain exodus" ( fuga de cerebros ) since many of its most capable and educated professionals have left the country for better paying and more secure jobs abroad.


Classes and Castes. Peru does not recognize any official form of caste system but in fact its treatment of the indigenous population can be seen in many ways as an implicit caste arrangement. In this implicit caste system, race and/or ethnicity is the major variable to divide the population into strongly (and after five centuries, voluntarily) enforced groupings. In Peru's racial hierarchy, very much a remnant of its colonial past, whites occupy the highest rung of the ladder while the rest of the population clings to the lowest part depending on their skin color and implied cultural status. Class also plays a significant role in the social structure, superimposing itself upon the skewed racial hierarchy of the country. Not surprisingly, whites tend to occupy the highest positions in the country and also posses the greatest amount of schooling. The class arrangement, however, is somewhat more fluid and

Apartments in suburban Lima. The architecture of the city is  strongly influenced by the Spanish colonizers.
Apartments in suburban Lima. The architecture of the city is strongly influenced by the Spanish colonizers.
has allowed for traditionally discriminated individuals to occupy high status positions either in politics or in the arts (nationally recognized writers such as César Vallejo and José María Arguedas were of Indian ancestry). But to a great degree these are individual exceptions that testify to, rather than question, the harsh caste and class arrangement present in Peru.

Symbols of Social Stratification. Language and dress are the most common symbols to designate either caste or class differences in Peru. Native American communities still maintain their indigenous languages such as Quechua, Aymara, and the lesser known Indian languages spoken by the Amazon groups. Many of these Indian communities have also maintained some form of traditional dress that identifies them as belonging to their group of origin. Both the colonial legacy and the contemporary market economy have contributed to widespread competition for Western status markers. The ownership of cars, expensive clothing, knowledge of English or other foreign languages, and modern appliances are typical markers of elite status in contemporary Peru. Meanwhile lower-class Peruvians can be seen wearing secondhand clothes and battling to survive almost on a day-to-day basis.


Government. The constitution decrees a popularly elected president serving a five-year term. The president selects the prime minister who presides over the rest of the ministers, who comprise the cabinet. The country also possesses a unicameral legislature of 120 senators, popularly elected to five-year terms. Meanwhile judges are elected to the Supreme Court by the president himself from a list of nominees submitted by the National Justice Council. The judges must be approved by the Senate before they are sworn into office and are allowed to serve until they reach seventy years of age.

Leadership and Political Officials. Peru, not unlike most other South American nations, is very prone to populism, that is, to vote for and support the most charismatic figures of the political leaders. In the last three decades of the twentieth century alone, there were four such figures who were able to achieve the presidency: Alberto Fujimori (both reelected president and ousted of power in 2000), Alan García Pérez, Fernando Belaúnde Terry, and Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre. Haya de la Torre founded the APRA party (Alianza Popular Revolucionaria Americana), which was also the party of the socialist García, who gained the presidency in 1985. Candidates rather than parties or ideologies, however, are the key voting elements in electing people into office. It is also typical for parties to be formed or rallied around individuals considered to have good chances of being elected.

Social Problems and Control. Peru has faced the serious challenge of one of the most ruthless guerrilla groups on the continent, popularly known as the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso). Since erupting in the early 1980s, the armed struggle between the Shining Path and the Peruvian state has cost over thirty thousand lives and has helped to justify the increasing police and military repression. This has meant a greater military presence in the cities and a significant increase in the incarceration of both males and females. In the 1990s jails also became a target of military crackdowns since in several prisons their educational administrations were controlled by the inmates rather than by the police. Also during this decade, because of the increasingly violent threats made on judges, secret trials (where the judges remained hooded) were carried out.

The increase of the cocaine drug trade also contributed to a greater United States presence in the country and more military activity in the eastern Andean slopes where 80 percent of the world's coca used in cocaine production is harvested. Between the guerrilla presence (including that of other groups, such as the Tupac Amaru), drug trafficking, and general conditions of poverty, the judicial system is continuously under attack for its real deficiencies and questionable practices.

Military Activity. The Peruvian military is composed approximately of 180,000 persons, divided as follows: the army, 75,000; the navy, 18,000; the air force, 15,000; and paramilitary personnel, 70,000. Almost 2 percent of the gross domestic product is spent on defense. Peru has had major wars with two neighboring countries: Chile and Ecuador. Its first war with Chile (called the Pacific War) in the late 1800s was a great reversal and resulted in a loss of territory for Peru. Its more recent armed struggles with Ecuador in the 1940s, 1980s, and 1990s had a much more positive territorial and diplomatic outcome for Peru. Because of the unstable social conditions, guerrilla warfare, and the drug trade, however, Peru's military in the late twentieth century concentrated more on maintaining internal order than in fighting national wars.


The Peruvian government has traditionally been involved with national health and social security benefits; however, the government has had very limited success in providing Peruvian citizens with adequate care in both areas. In terms of national health programs, the lack of sufficient doctors and nurses, adequate hospital facilities, competent rural medicine agenda, and general funding has contributed to a deficient health system. Meanwhile, shortages of affordable housing, stable labor conditions, and retirement benefits has also impacted negatively with the increase of informal economy and the construction of shanty towns (pueblos jóvenes) around Lima. Modernization, which looks to privatize many of the social services provided by the Peruvian state, has also had a negative impact on social welfare programs.


The main nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Peru are strongly linked to human rights, ethnic identity, and women's issues. There has also been concerted efforts to encourage and support social welfare programs but they have met with limited results. Among these programs the three most successful have been the comedores populares (soup kitchens), vaso de leche (glass of milk), and wawa wasis (child care centers). There have also been social organizations such as the asentamientos humanos linked to the pueblos jóvenes (shanty towns) around Lima. Guerrilla activities (mainly from the Shining Path), however, have seriously limited these organizations' activities by threatening and killing several of its most popular leaders, including María Elena Moyano, an Afro-Peruvian grassroots activist. These scare tactics have even impacted international NGOs making them less willing to support development programs in Peru.


Division of Labor by Gender. Men and women have traditionally occupied different labor roles. Since Incan times, women customarily (but not exclusively) were in charge of weaving and minor agricultural obligations while men took care of road construction, farming, and military obligations. A division of labor by gender is even further reinforced today. There are also areas, however, where this division is being blurred. As women gain more training and formal education, traditional occupations

A farm worker stands in a harvested field holding a threshing  fork. About one-third of Peru's workforce traditionally consisted of  farmers.
A farm worker stands in a harvested field holding a threshing fork. About one-third of Peru's workforce traditionally consisted of farmers.
such as in business, politics, and the police are becoming viable options. At the same time the large local and international migration has left women in charge of households and forced them to get involved in social movements and in the fight for progressive change.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Although some would argue otherwise, Peru could be described as a patriarchal society. Men are preferentially treated in most, if not all, aspects of society. Sons are preferred over daughters, are given more freedom, and are less burdened with household chores and family obligations. In theory men are expected to marry and provide for their families. There are, however, large numbers of female-run households where the mother has to work and provide for her children. Meanwhile, it is a common social practice for men to have other female lovers and children outside of their initial marriage.


Marriage. In general, Peruvians have free choice about who they can or cannot marry, with class and money being the two most significant variables in terms of marriage decisions. Many couples decide to live together (as opposed to getting married) because of their lack of resources for carrying out both the legal and religious ceremonies. Lack of economic resources is also a key reason for couples to continue to live with one of the spouses' families until they are financially secure enough to move out on their own. Heterosexual and monogamous marriages are the only ones sanctioned by the state and the Catholic Church, although men having more than one household is tolerated and even expected. Divorce and remarriage are very much a legal possibility but the Catholic Church and the conservative society strongly frowns upon remarriage following a Catholic (or other) religious ceremony.

Domestic Unit. The Peruvian model for a domestic unit is the Western nuclear family. Nevertheless, because of traditional indigenous traditions and scant resources, extended kin can also be the norm. Men in general have the highest authority within the house, although women also have much of the decision-making power, especially concerning children and family matters, even though it tends not to be explicitly recognized.

Inheritance. Males and females have equal legal rights in regard to inheritance, although in some instances women must either work harder or get

Market in the Sacred Valley. In Peru's informal economic sector,  street vendors sell anything from food to flowers.
Market in the Sacred Valley. In Peru's informal economic sector, street vendors sell anything from food to flowers.
legal representation because their claims might not be taken seriously.

Kin Groups. Unlike most urban Peruvians (over two-thirds of the country), the rural populations still maintain strong ties to their extended kin. Many rural populations, even when they have moved to urban centers, recognize their ties to large extended kin groups known as ayllus . Since pre-Hispanic times ayllus have defined land distributions, social obligations, and authority figures within each kin group. At present, ayllus still play a powerful part in defining people's roles and obligations in village social structures.


Infant Care. The greatest differences in child rearing practices are between the indigenous and white/mestizo populations. Indian mothers tend to carry their infants in colorful slings upon their backs even while performing trying agricultural labor. Indian mothers also openly nurse their children in public places, seeing it as a natural function, a practice that is shunned by the more Westernized mestizo and white mothers.

Child Rearing and Education. Boys and girls are strongly encouraged to attend grade and high school although either lack of money or the need for a child's labor at home persuades many lower-class families to keep their children from attending public schools. In general children are brought up to be respectful of their elders, obedient, and hard working.

Higher Education. The oldest university in South America is located in Peru. The Universidad Nacional de San Marcos in Lima was founded 12 on May 1551. Public universities have recently suffered from a credibility crisis because of their large graduation numbers and the increasing infiltration of leftist political groups. This has also contributed to the emergence of several private (including Catholic) universities, which have developed much more discriminating characteristics for admissions and graduation.


Possibly as a legacy of the strongly hierarchical pre-Hispanic cultures or European colonialism, self-discipline is strongly advocated among Peruvians. The control of one's emotions and feelings is highly valued among all Peruvians, but especially among men. Respect for elders, shown through such actions as giving up one's seat for elderly people on buses, also has a strong place among public values. These values of discipline and respect for others are in sharp contrast to a political scene marked with great levels of authoritarianism and widespread corruption. Youths are also responsible for providing a strong alternative counterculture to main normative values. This counterculture is mainly expressed through musical outlets, such as the national adaptation of rock and punk music, and North American tastes in fashion and popular culture. Public expressions of sexuality, including that of homosexual behavior, is strongly discouraged.


Religious Beliefs. Peru prides itself on being a Catholic country since the late 1500s. At present, about 90 percent of the population are Catholics while the other 10 percent belong to Protestant faiths, the most important being Evangelists, Adventists, and Mormons. Indigenous communities have also created a symbiotic form of religion not really recognized with any other name than a popular form of Catholicism. Indian groups have mixed Catholic saints with pre-Hispanic traditions, thus allowing them to maintain ancient forms of worship under the guise of Catholic rituals. For example, the indigenous feast of the Inti Raymi (summer solstice) is celebrated in many communities as the feast days of Saints Peter and Paul.

Religious Practitioners. In the Catholic tradition male priests, especially bishops and archbishops, still demand an enormous amount of respect and authority. Nuns come in second place and are well respected for their religious commitment to sexual abstinence, obedience, and poverty. Among Indian communities the shamans, or brujos/curanderas are deemed the local counterparts of priests in terms of religious and spiritual authority.

Rituals and Holy Places. Huacas (sacred mountain places) are still deemed sacred deity dwellings that demand the respect and veneration of the indigenous populations. The Spanish Catholic missionaries were very aware of these Andean practices, which is why many Catholic churches were built on top of huacas and other pre-Hispanic temples.

Death and the Afterlife. Peruvians' notion of an afterlife very much follows Catholic notions of heaven, purgatory, and hell. Even indigenous groups have been heavily influenced by the Christian notions of Armageddon and rebirth. In Indian communities there are long-standing traditions of millenarians and of the second coming of the Inca ruler to punish the white colonizers. This symbiotic Christian/Andean second-coming myth initially gained strength in the resistance movement of Tupac Amaru that initially challenged Spanish colonialism in the seventeenth century.


Life expectancy in Peru is sixty-seven years, which is quite high considering the serious deficiencies in the country's public health systems. Only two-thirds of its population has access to public medical attention, and only 25 percent of those living in conditions of extreme poverty. In general, misinformation, poverty, and malnutrition are the greatest impediments to improving the country's health conditions. Since the mid-1980s there has been a concerted effort to combat infant mortality and to implement national infant vaccination campaigns that have proven quite successful. Along with Western medicine there is still a tradition of curanderos (natural healers), and parteras (midwives) who are still regularly consulted, especially by the rural and Indian population.

Remaining structures of the ruined city of Machu Picchu, built by  the Incas in the Andes.
Remaining structures of the ruined city of Machu Picchu, built by the Incas in the Andes.


The major secular Peruvian celebrations are National Independence Day (celebrated three consecutive days, 28, 29, and 30 July); the Battle of Arica (7 June); and Carnival (a movable holiday celebrated on the three days just before Catholic Lent). Religious festivities with the exception of Christmas used to have a greater level of public celebration than they do in modern times. All holidays tend to be celebrated with large quantities of food, alcoholic beverages, sports (mainly soccer and volleyball), and general gaiety and relaxation.


Support for the Arts. Because of the difficult economic conditions of the country, the arts in general are one of the areas the government least supports.

Literature. Peru boasts a world-class literary selection of authors, starting with writers such as Ricardo Palma (1833–1919) who was the first to utilize Peruvian themes in his writing. In the twentieth century alone Peru produced such accomplished authors as Ciro Alegria, José María Arguedas, Alfredo Bryce Echenique, and probably the country's best-known literary figure, Mario Vargas Llosa. Meanwhile César Vallejo is hailed as Peru's most gifted poet, and is for many second on the continent only to the Chilean nobel laureate, Pablo Neruda.

Graphic Arts. Peru has a long artistic tradition, starting with the famous colonial painting and sculpture schools of Lima, one of the most accomplished schools on the continent. Contemporary artists, such as Fernando de Szyszlo (a painter) and Joaquín Roca Rey (a sculptor), have continued a more abstract tradition.

Performance Arts. Theater had an early start in the colonial period and the country also maintains a National Symphony Orchestra, a national ballet company, as well as folk dance companies. Meanwhile, the popular music genre has offered such singing giants as Lucho Barrios, Jesús Vasquez, Chabuca Granda, and Susana Baca, to mention a few.


The sciences in Peru had an early development closely tied to the foundation of the Universidad Nacional de San Marcos in Lima. The social sciences more than the physical have had a more prestigious development, with the work of intellectuals such as Gustavo Gutiérrez (liberation theologist and philosopher), Julio C. Tello (archaeologist), and José Carlos Mariátegui (political philosopher). The country's difficult political conditions as well as the limited resources of the universities have seriously limited the general advancement of the physical and social sciences.


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