Indigenous peoples in Peru or Native Peruvians, comprise of a large number of ethnic groups who inhabit territory in present-day Peru. These indigenous cultures were developed for thousands of years prior to the arrival of the Spanish in 1532.
According to 2017 census, almost 6 million indigenous people formed 25.7% of the entire population of Peru. Although Peru enjoys a good international image, the country is still characterized by great economic inequalities, and unfortunately, indigenous communities bear the brunt of poverty. Houses are basic, consisting of adobe or stone walls and roofs thatched with ichu or straw.
Peru is a great travel destination to learn about the rich cultures and old histories of indigenous peoples from these regions. The Peruvian government recognizes all of the country’s nearly 100 different languages as ‘official.’ The country also continues to build designated reserves, which aren’t just about saving the Amazonian rainforest itself, but also about establishing protected resources on which the rainforest’s people can continue to rely for generations.
Visitors to Peru are often given the opportunity to eat a home-cooked meal with the residents of the places visited on various tours. Interacting with the people of the Amazon Basin isn’t just drive-by tourism, it creates the opportunity for cultural exchange rather than exploitation. The takeaway can be a deeper understanding of the relationship between the people of these lesser-mapped regions and the environment upon which they depend.
Here is a list of 6 different indigenous peoples that you could encounter during a visit to Peru.
There are about 220,400 Aymara people in Peru. Peru isn’t the only place to find the Aymara people, you can also find them in Bolivia, Chile, Argentinia, and Spain. On your next trip to this region, you’ll see that it’s still common today for Aymara people to wear colorful knitted caps with earflaps called lluchu.
At various markets and in Aymara villages, you’ll get to see their beautiful textiles and colorful handicrafts. Aymara people are skilled weavers, a tradition that dates back before the Incas. The Aymara use a great many materials in their weaving, including cotton, as well as wool from sheep, alpacas, and llamas. The Aymara also use totora reeds to make fishing boats, baskets, and other articles. Hot peppers are used to season a lot of dishes, but their main ingredient in a lot of their cuisine is quinoa.
Aymara mythology has many legends about the origin of things, such as the wind, hail, mountains, and lakes. The Aymara share with other ethnic groups some of the Andean myths of origin. In one of them, the god Tunupa is a creator of the universe. He is also the one that taught the people customs: farming, songs, weaving, the language each group had to speak, and the rules for a moral life.
In Peru, the Quechua people are the largest group of indigenous peoples with an estimated population of 3.8 million. The Quechua people may also be found in other regions such as; Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, and Spain. Quechua people can also be broken up into smaller communities/ethic groups within Peru, some of them are: Huanca, Chanka, Q’ero, Taquile, Amantani, Anqaras, Quechuas Lamistas, and Southern Pastaza Quechua.
Many places you’ll go in Peru, you will come across the term Quechua. It has a massive influence in not only Peru, but all across the Andes. You already maybe familiar with some words that originated in Quechua culture, such words as; coca, condor, guano, jerky, llama, pisco, puma, and quinoa.
During a trip to Peru, you’ll experience a lot of Quechua culture and traditions. Festivals, music, dance, food, and even dresses. Quechua is like no other language save for the few added Spanish familiarities. There are multiple variations because of how segregated some sects are. In some areas of Peru, they may end up using a more original form, while in others, it could be highly influenced by Spanish.
Previously known as Shipibo and Conibo separately, both these groups merged and became known as Shipibo-Conibo. The people of Shipibo-Conibo are along the Ucayali River in the Amazon Rainforest in Peru. The estimated population of all the communities is between 20,000-25,000. Shipobo is an official language of Peru.
The Shipibo of the village of Pan-Yan used to have a diet of dish, yuca and fruits, however, the situation has diminished because of global weather changes and there is now mostly just yuca and dish. Most of the fruit trees have wilted away from draught. Large amounts of the Shipibo-Conibo communities have relocated to urban areas, in particular the eastern Peruvian cities of Pucallpa and Yarinacocha.
The women of these communities are well known for their beadwork, textiles and most of all their pottery. These products are now available all through the tourist markets. It’s a must see the next time you visit the region and your purchases greatly support the local communities. These tribes are also known for a sweet plantain beverage called chapo. Give it a try on your next visit.
Part of the Peruvian jungle, the Aguaruna people live primarily on the Marañón River in northern Peru along the border to Ecuador. They also live near the Santiago, Nieva, Cenepa, Numpatakay, and Chiriaco rivers. Their community lands can be found across four regions in Peru; Amazonas, Cajamarca, Loreto, and San Martin. According to the Peru census data; the population of the Aguaruna people back in 1993 was approximately 5,000. In the year 2000, that data estimated over 8,000. There is no updated data as to the population almost 20 years later.
The Aguaruna people do hunting, gathering, and agriculture. Some of the specifies of animals they hunt include: Sajino, Brazilian Tapir, Huangana, Swamp Brocket, Ocelot, and Otorongo. They not only hunt animals for meat, they use the skin, feathers, teeth, and even the bones. Every part is used. Hunting has a huge purpose for the Aguaruna people as it makes all their items for medicine, handicrafts, and even items for their witchcraft.
The Spanish conquistadors first encountered the Aguaruna back in 1549 when the towns of Jaén de Bracamoros and Santa Maria de Nieva were founded. While traditionally the Aguaruna economy was based mostly on hunting, fishing, and agriculture, over the last few decades they have increasingly engaged in capitalism. Some communities even cultivate coffee, rice, cocoa, and bananas and they even participate in local markets.
Located in the Amazon Basin jungle, the Machiguenga people have a population of just over 7700 in the southeastern region of Peru, east of the Machu Picchu and close to the borders of Bolivia and Brazil. Most Machiguenga don’t have personal names. Members of the same tribe are individuated using kin terminology, while members of other tribes are referred to by their Spanish names.
The main crop that they grow is the cassava, and their main source of protein is the paca. A paca is a large 6-12kg rodent. During the dryer seasons, the Machiguenga also use fishing to supplement their food sources. As with many tribes, it’s traditional that when eating, men always eat first, while the women and children split up what is remaining of the food.
The Yagua people number approximately 6,000 in Colombia and northeastern Peru. Currently they live near the Amazon, Napo, Putumayo and Yavari rivers. It wasn’t until 2005 when some of the Yaguo tribe migrated away from Peru and settled more north towards Colombia. There are over 30 Yagua communities scattered throughout part of the Peruvian and Colombian Amazon basin, around 70,000 sq miles.
Peba-Yaguan language is the classification of the Yagua language. Only other closely related language ever documented was Peba and Yameo, both of these languages are now extinct. Over 2000 Yagua people in Peru were monolingual back in the year 2000, with three quarters being women. The rest of the Yagua people are bilingual in some form of Spanish to a varying degree.