Exploring the Indigenous Culture of Peru

We are thrilled to have Kirby Gilman, editor here at MFNERC, as our guest blogger this month. Kirby just returned from a trip to Peru, where she had the chance to interact with many Indigenous Peruvians. We hope you enjoy her stories about the vibrant Quechua culture.

Recently, I went on a hiking trip to Peru. I had many questions in my mind about the Indigenous Quechua culture. Are there similarities and differences between First Nations and Peruvian Indigenous peoples in terms of language, religion, and colonial experiences? Though I ended my visit with more questions than answers, I also left with a deep respect and admiration for the Quechua traditions and culture.

Llamas & Quechua Herders
Llamas & Quechua Herders

Many people associate the Inca with South American countries such as Peru. Quechua cultural groups actually existed before and after the Inca were in power. The Inca unified vast lands in South America and adopted the Quechua language as their primary one.

Today, the Quechua language is an official language of Peru. Where I visited, in Cusco, 64 per cent of the population speaks Quechua and over 80 per cent of those living in the rural areas still speak their Indigenous language. Spanish, the other official language introduced by the colonizers, is still the language of “power” in which most business is conducted. My hiking tour guides took pride in their Quechua language, and encouraged us in our fledgling attempts to speak a few words (or in my case they couldn’t resist the odd laugh).

Though the Spanish conquerors destroyed Inca religious temples and monuments (with a special interest in the gold and silver coverings), Quechua/Inca religious practices are still widely hounoured today in Peru. I observed a healthy integration of Catholic faith and traditional spiritual beliefs. Our guide Wilmer for instance, attends Mass every Sunday yet still makes a small offering to Mother Earth (Pachamama) at every meal.

Mountain Spirits
Mountain Spirits

After our hiking group made it safely over a mountain pass, Wilmer took three coca leaves and in blowing over them in different directions, offered thanks to the mountain spirits. He also had us place stones upon one another to create what looked like a mini inuksuk. He encouraged us to leave little gifts hidden in this tiny monument to help feed Pachamama.

I sensed a strong pride in Quechua culture among Peruvians and noticed tourists’ keen interest in traditional practices such as weaving. Though Peru is still a developing country, I left thinking they hold secrets to a happy and healthy life, in large part thanks to their retention of a vibrant Quechua culture.

Back in Canada, I am proud to be part of MFNERC, an organization that promotes First Nations cultures and helps share the riches of Indigenous life throughout Manitoba and beyond.

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