People and Culture
Even before the Spaniards arrived, Peru was covered by a patchwork of diverse cultures created by Peru’s extreme geography. Valleys on the coast are separated by long stretches of barren desert. The canyons and peaks of the high Andes created such a degree of isolation that one anthropologist likened them to an archipelago. But the most culturally diverse area of Peru is the Amazon, where at least 65 different ethnic groups live today.
Peru’s population, especially on the coast, is an exotic cocktail of world cultures that have been mixing for nearly five centuries. The mixing of Peruvian culture began with the Inca’s forced-labor scheme, mita, where rebellious tribes were moved to other parts of the empire where they would cause less trouble. The Spaniards continued mita and moved highlanders long distances to work in different mines.
The mixing between the Spanish and Peruvian cultures began the moment the conquistadores landed on the shores of Peru, giving rise to Peru’s first mestizo population. The cocktail of racial mixes got richer when African slaves were brought to Peru during the viceroyalty. After slaves were freed in the mid-19th century, large numbers of Chinese and Japanese coolies were imported to work in plantations and on the railroad lines from 1850 to 1920. There were also waves of Italian and Palestinian immigrants, and a pocket of German and Austrian colonists established themselves in the jungle at Oxapampa, in the Chanchamayo area. From the 1960s onward, huge waves of immigrants from the Andes settled in the shantytowns around Lima, especially during the height of Shining Path terrorism during the 1980s.
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition