People of Peru

Since pre-Columbian times Peruvians have been divided by nature. From the arid deserts of the coast, the Andean Sierra rises up to 19,700 feet. The highlands comprise about a quarter of Peru's territory, but are home to about half of Peru's population. This mountain mass poses major problems for development and integration into a single society. The result is dramatic regional diversity, and considerable inequalities in services and living standards. Health, education and law enforcement programs are unevenly distributed across Peru.

At first sight, Peruvian culture may seem brutally divided between indigenous and colonial societies - the mountains and the city. Elite white creoles trace their bloodlines back to the Spanish Conquest in 1536. Like generations before them, most live in Lima, where a European visitor will feel a comfortable familiarity in the cafes and supermarkets.
The social organization of communities in the Andes differs greatly from that of Europeanised Creole culture. Work, marriage and land-ownership are centred around a complex extended family organization called the ayllu in Quechua which dates back to at least Inca times. One of the main functions of ayllus is to organize reciprocal work exchange. Over the past 400 years, there has been a long process of inter-cultural mixing, creating the mestizo of part-American Indian, part-European heritage. Today the majority of Peruvians would fall into this category. In Peru, you can become mestizo not only by birth but by choice. Peruvian social divisions can thus be said to be not so much racially as culturally defined.

The Andes have two large ethnoliguistic groups: the larger of the two speaks Quechua; the smaller group speaks Aymara and is settled around Lake Titicaca and also in neighbouring Bolivia. Beyond these global distinctions, other complexities arise. There are "white" ethnic groups called the Morochucos of Pampa Cangallo who have light-coloured eyes and hair and speak Quechua. The misti, the dominant social class in the Andes, may speak Quechua and share other cultural traits but enjoy access to education and the luxuries of the modernization. Meanwhile in the Amazon jungle, there are at least 53 ethnolinguistic groups, although only around 5 percent of Peru's population live in the Selva (the tropical region east of the Andes in the jungle).

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