Indigenous peoples in Peru

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Dancers at Quyllurit'i, an indigenous festival in Peru
Wari culture sculpture, c. 6001000 CE, wood with shell-and-stone inlay and silver, Kimbell Art Museum

Indigenous peoples in Peru, or Native Peruvians, comprise a large number of distinct ethnic groups who have inhabited the country of Peru's territory since before the arrival of Europeans around 1500. Indigenous cultures developed here for thousands of years.

In 2014, the 13,248,943 indigenous people in Peru formed about 45% of the total population of Peru.[1]

At the time of the Spanish invasion, the indigenous peoples of the rain forest of the Amazon basin to the east of the Andes were mostly semi-nomadic tribes; they subsisted on hunting, fishing, gathering, and migrant agriculture. Those peoples living in the Andes and to the west were dominated by the Inca Empire, who had a complex, hierarchical civilization. It developed many cities, building major temples and monuments with techniques of highly skilled stonemasonry.

Many of the estimated 2000 nations and tribes present in 1500 died out as a consequence of the Spanish colonization of the Americas, largely because of exposure to new Eurasian infectious diseases endemic among the colonists, to which they had no acquired immunity.

Many survivors had unions with Spanish and their descendants were gradually assimilated into the general mestizo ("mixed race") Peruvian population. All of the Peruvian indigenous groups, such as the Urarina,[2] and even those who live isolated in the most remote areas of the Amazon rainforest, such as the Matsés, Matis, and Korubo, have changed their ways of life to some extent under the influence of European-Peruvian culture. They have adopted the use of firearms and other manufactured items, and trade goods at a remove from mainstream Peruvian society. These indigenous groups maintain cultural identities and practices that keep them distinct from majority Hispano-Peruvian society.

The Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest (AIDESEP) is the primary indigenous rights organization in Peru defending the interests of indigenous people in Peru. Its current president is Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.


Anthropological and genetic evidence indicates that most of the original population of the Americas descended from migrants from North Asia (Siberia) who entered North America across the Bering Strait in at least three separate waves. DNA analysis has shown that most of those resident in Peru in 1500 were descended from the first wave of Asian migrants, who are theorized, but not proven conclusively, to have crossed Beringia at the end of the last glacial period during the Upper Paleolithic, around 12,000 BCE. Migrants from that first wave are thought to have reached Peru in the 6th millennium BCE, probably entering the Amazon basin from the northwest.

The Norte Chico civilization of Peru is the oldest known civilization in the Americas and one of the six sites where civilization, including the development of agriculture and government, separately originated in the ancient world. The sites, located 100 miles (160 km) north of Lima, developed a trade between coastal fisherman and cotton growers and built monumental pyramids around the 30th century BCE.[3]

During the pre-Columbian era, the peoples who dominated the territory now known as Peru spoke languages, such as: Quechua, Jivaroan, Tsimané, Culli, Quingnam, Muchik, Tallán, Aimara, Puquina. The peoples had different social and organizational structures, and distinct languages and cultures.


Of the 29,248,943 estimated total population of Peru, the indigenous people represent about 45%.[1] 97.8% are Andean and 2.1%, Amazonian.[citation needed] Other sources indicate that the indigenous people comprise 31% of the total population.[4][5]

In the Amazonian region, there more than 65 ethnic groups classified into 16 language families.[6] After Brazil in South America and New Guinea in the Pacific Ocean, Peru is believed to have the highest number of uncontacted tribes in the world.[7]

After the Spanish conquest[edit]

After the arrival of Spanish soldiers in Peru,[8] local people began dying in great number from Eurasian infectious diseases that were chronic among the invaders. These spread by contact across the New World by indigenous peoples along trading routes, often years ahead of direct contact with the invaders. As the natives have no natural immunity, they suffered high fatalities in epidemics of the new diseases. Later more people died because of the harsh treatment of the conquerors: they were killed in battle, forced from their lands, or died from the ill-treatment of forced labor. Many indigenous people refused to be enslaved, retreating into the backlands, or if captured, committing suicide.


From the earliest years, Spanish soldiers and colonists intermarried with the indigenous women. The Spanish officers and elite married into the Inca elite, and other matches were made among other classes. A sizeable portion of the Peruvian population is mestizo, of indigenous and European ancestry, speaking Spanish, generally Roman Catholic, and assimilated as the majority culture.

In the late 19th century, major planters in Peru, particularly in the northern plantations, and in Cuba, recruited thousands of mostly male Chinese immigrants as laborers, referred to as "coolies." Because of the demographics, in Peru these men married mostly non-Chinese women, many of them indigenous Peruvians, during that period of a Chinese migration to Peru.[9] In the late 20th and 21st centuries, many scholars have studied these unions and the cultures their descendants created.[10][11][12][13][14][15][16]

The Chinese also had contact with Peruvian women in cities, where they formed relationships and sired mixed-race children. Typically the indigenous women had come from Andean and coastal areas to work in the cities. Chinese men favored marriage with them over unions with African Peruvian women. Matchmakers sometimes arranged for mass communal marriages among a group of young Peruvian women and a new group of Chinese coolies. They were paid a deposit to recruit women from the Andean villages for such marriages.[10]

In 1873 the New York Times reported on the Chinese coolies in Peru, describing their indentured labor as akin to slavery. It also reported that Peruvian women sought Chinese men as husbands, considering them to be a "catch" and a "model husband, hard-working, affectionate, faithful and obedient" and "handy to have in the house".[17]

As is typical in times of demographic change, some Peruvians objected to such marriages on racial grounds.[18] When native Peruvian women (cholas et natives, Indias, indígenas) and Chinese men had mixed children, the children were called injerto. As adults, injerto women were preferred by Chinese men as spouses, as they had shared ancestry.[18]

According to Alfredo Sachettí, low-class Peruvians, including some black and Indian women, were the ones who established sexual unions or marriages with the Chinese men, . He claimed this mixing was causing the Chinese to suffer from "progressive degeneration." In Casa Grande highland Indian women and Chinese men participated in communal "mass marriages," arranged when highland women were brought by a Chinese matchmaker after receiving a down payment for the marriage.[19][20]

Education and language[edit]

Significant test score gaps exist between indigenous students and non-indigenous students in elementary schools.[21] In addition, Peru has over 60 distinct Amerindian linguistic groups, speaking languages beyond Spanish and the Incan Quechua, not all of which are recognized.[22] Indigenous groups, and therefore language barriers to education, remain a problem primarily in the sierra (Andean highlands) and the selva (Amazon jungle) regions of Peru, less in the cities of the costa (coast).[23] Throughout the second half of the 20th century, steps have been made to target and strengthen indigenous communities' education, starting with the introduction of bilingual education throughout the country, promoting teaching in both Spanish and Quechua or other indigenous languages.[24] Quechua was made an official language of Peru in 1975, and while it was later qualified to specific regions of the country and for specific purposes, it is still recognized as equal to Spanish in some regions.[24][22]

Activists promoting intercultural bilingual education view it as being the solution for a more "equitable, diverse, and respectful society", garnering social economic, political, and cultural rights for indigenous groups while simultaneously encouraging "indigenous autonomy and cultural pride".[24] Criticisms of bilingual education have been raised, in some cases most strongly by Quechua-speaking highlanders themselves, strongly opposing intercultural efforts. These indigenous highlanders view intercultural efforts as an imposition of "disadvantageous educational changes" blocking their economic and social advancement, historically seen as only possible through learning to read and write Spanish.[25] While the legislation has been one of the most forward in Latin America concerning indigenous education,[23] the implementation of these educational programs has been technically challenging, with teachers agreeing in theory but finding it impossible in practice to bring an intercultural mindset and facilitate bilingualism, particularly with often very limited resources.[22][25] However, in contrast, studies by Nancy Hornberger and others have shown that the use of children's native language in schools did allow for far greater "oral and written pupil participation - in absolute, linguistic, and sociolinguistic terms".[26]

With a lack of political will and economic force to push a nationally unified bilingual education program, many disconnected efforts have been put forth.[23] The National Division of Intercultural Bilingual Education (DINEBI) was started, among other efforts, and worked to further incorporate bilingual and intercultural education. The Program for the Training of Native Bilingual Teachers (FORMABIAP) is another example of intercultural education efforts, focusing particularly on the Amazon regions of Peru.[24]

Political organizations[edit]

In the 21st century, individual indigenous groups have a variety of governance structures. MATSES, the Movement in the Amazon for Tribal Subsistence and Economic Sustainability, is an indigenous peoples rights organization that is working for the cultural survival of indigenous people in Peru. AIDESEP, the Asociacion Inter-etnica para el Desarollo de la Selva Peruana (Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Jungle), is another effort on the part of Aguaruna communities to reclaim land used for coffee and cocoa by settlers.[27]


Indigenous people hold title to substantial portions of Peru, primarily in the form of communal reserves (Spanish: reservas comunales). The largest indigenous communal reserve in Peru belongs to the Matsés people and is located on the Peruvian border with Brazil on the Javary River.

Laws and institutions[edit]

Peru is a signatory of the ILO Convention 169.[6] In 1994, Peru signed and ratified the current international law concerning indigenous people, the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989.[28] The laws made to protect the indigenous people are not always respected by the Peruvian government or the companies, such as Perenco, Repsol YPF, and Petrobras,[29] who seek to explore the natural resources of their land.[30]


There is an institution for Andean, Amazonian and Afro-Peruvian People called the INDEPA.[6] It is an autonomous ministerial-level decentralized public body that reported directly to the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, and was created by a law issued to the Congress of the Republic.[31] On 23 February 2007, the government decided to abolish the authority and make it a Native People' Department within the MIMDES, without consulting the indigenous people. But, on 6 December, Congress passed a law cancelling the executive decree.[31]

Territorial rights of the communities[edit]

The draft law 1770, presented by the government, wanted to formalise and title rural plots, peasant and native communities that may suspend the regulations protecting communal such as Law 22175 on native communities and Law 24657 on the Demarcation and Titling of Peasant Community Lands.[31] It would supersede the property titles of communities registered in the Community Lands Register and revise the community property titles according to the new law.[32] The draft law 1900, of the Peruvian Aprista Party, proposes to authorise the COFOPRI to return lands not cultivated by the communities to the state, so they may be sold in a public auction.[31]

Ethnic groups[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b "People and Society: Peru." CIA - The World Factbook. Retrieved 28 Dec 2011.
  2. ^ Dean, Bartholomew. (2009) Urarina Society, Cosmology, and History in Peruvian Amazonia, Gainesville, Florida: University Press of Florida ISBN 978-0-8130-3378-5 [1]
  3. ^ Grossman, Ron. "Americas' cradle of civilization." Chicago Tribute. 23 Dec 2004. Retrieved 9 Oct 2013.
  4. ^ (in Spanish) / Conclusiones del presidente de la Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación (p.4) Archived 2016-03-03 at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ (in Spanish) / Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación
  6. ^ a b c d e Wessendorf 158
  7. ^ " 'Uncontacted' Tribes Fled Peru Logging, Arrows Suggest", National Geographic News, 6 Oct 2008.
  8. ^ Dobyns, Henry F., Their Number Become Thinned: Native American Population Dynamics in Eastern North America (Native American Historic Demography Series), University of Tennessee Press, 1983
  9. ^ Teresa A. Meade (2011). A History of Modern Latin America: 1800 to the Present. Volume 4 of Wiley Blackwell Concise History of the Modern World (illustrated ed.). John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 1444358111. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  10. ^ a b Isabelle Lausent-Herrera (2010). Walton Look Lai; Chee Beng Tan, eds. The Chinese in Latin America and the Caribbean. Brill ebook titles. BRILL. pp. 143–144. ISBN 9004182136. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  11. ^ Adam McKeown (2001). Chinese Migrant Networks and Cultural Change: Peru, Chicago, and Hawaii 1900-1936 (illustrated ed.). University of Chicago Press. p. 47. ISBN 0226560252. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  12. ^ Robert G. Lee (1999). Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture. Temple University Press. p. 75. ISBN 1439905711. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  13. ^ Chee-Beng Tan (2004). Chinese Overseas: Comparative Cultural Issues (illustrated ed.). Hong Kong University Press. p. 47. ISBN 9622096611. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  14. ^ Josephine D. Lee; Imogene L. Lim; Yuko Matsukawa (2002). Re/collecting Early Asian America: Essays in Cultural History. Temple University Press. p. 181. ISBN 1439901201. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  15. ^ Walton Look Lai (1998). The Chinese in the West Indies, 1806-1995: A Documentary History. Walton Look Lai (illustrated ed.). Press, University of the West Indies. p. 8. ISBN 9766400210. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  16. ^ Michael J. Gonzales (2014). Plantation Agriculture and Social Control in Northern Peru, 1875–1933. University of Texas Press. ISBN 1477306021. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  17. ^ From an Occasional Correspondent (28 Jun 1873). "THE COOLIE TRADE.; THE SLAVERY OF THE PRESENT. THE TRAFFIC OF PERU HIRING OF THE COO-LIE HORRORS OF THE MIDDLE PASSAGE THE COOLIE'S FATE" (PDF). New York Times. CALLAO, Peru. Retrieved 28 Jul 2015. 
  18. ^ a b Isabelle Lausent-Herrera (2010). Walton Look Lai; Chee Beng Tan, eds. The Chinese in Latin America and the Caribbean. Brill ebook titles. BRILL. pp. 145–146. ISBN 9004182136. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  19. ^ Michael J. Gonzales (2014). Plantation Agriculture and Social Control in Northern Peru, 1875–1933. University of Texas Press. ISBN 1477306021. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  20. ^ Michael J. Gonzales (1985). Plantation Agriculture and Social Control in Northern Peru, 1875-1933. Brill ebook titles. Volume 62 of Texas Pan American Series. University of Texas Press. p. 100. ISBN 029276491X. Retrieved May 17, 2014. 
  21. ^ Hernandez-Zavala, Martha; Patrinos, Harry Anthony; Sakellariou, Chris; Shapiro, Joseph. Quality of Schooling and Quality of Schools for Indigenous Students in Guatemala, Mexico and Peru. doi:10.1596/1813-9450-3982. 
  22. ^ a b c Cenoz, Jasone; Genesee, Fred (1998-01-01). Beyond Bilingualism: Multilingualism and Multilingual Education. Multilingual Matters. ISBN 9781853594205. 
  23. ^ a b c Freeland, Jane (1996). "The Global, the National and the Local: forces in the development of education for indigenous peoples -- the case of Peru". Compare. 26:2: 167–195 – via tandfonline. 
  24. ^ a b c d Banks, James A. (2009-09-10). The Routledge International Companion to Multicultural Education. Routledge. ISBN 9781135897284. 
  25. ^ a b García, María Elena (2003). "The Politics of Community: Education, Indigenous Rights, and Ethnic Mobilization in Peru". Latin American Perspectives. 30 (1): 70–95. JSTOR 3184966. 
  26. ^ Hornberger, Nancy (2006). "Voice and Biliteracy in Indigenous Language Revitalization: Contentious Educational Practices in Quechua, Guarani, and Māori Contexts". Journal of Language, Identity, and Education. 5:4: 277–292 – via tandfonline. 
  27. ^ Refugees, United Nations High Commissioner for. "Refworld | World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Peru". Refworld. Retrieved 2018-02-08. 
  28. ^ "ILOLEX: submits English query". 2004-01-09. Archived from the original on 2009-12-25. Retrieved 2010-06-26. 
  29. ^ "Peru bars oil companies from uncontacted tribes' reserve". Survival International. 2009-12-31. Retrieved 2010-06-26. 
  30. ^ "Uncontacted Indians of Peru". Survival International. Retrieved 2010-06-26. 
  31. ^ a b c d Wessendorf 159
  32. ^ Wessendorf 160


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