Peru / Piruw (in the Quechua langauge)
Many Peruvians are well connected to their Inca roots
14.4 million people in Peru, 45% of the population, identify as Amerindian (native American). In fact, Peru has the second highest number of Amerindian people in the Americas (after Mexico), and this shows in their incredibly diverse culture. The food, clothing and languages of the native peoples have been retained all over the country, often mixing with the Spanish culture in interesting ways.
One wonderful example of living Inca culture is the “Inti Raymi”, or “Sun Festival”. Inri Raymi is an Inca festival held on the 24th of June to celebrate the winter solstice, which is the Inca New Year’s Day. It was first celebrated in the Inca Empire in 1412, but it was banned by Catholic priests in 1535, as part of a campaign to destroy Inca culture and replace it with Catholicism. In 1944 however, it was revived and has been celebrated ever since.
Music, colourful hand-woven costumes, and amazing food are all on display as a celebration of Inca culture.
The Ancient Incas read with their hands
Throughout history, written language has only been invented from scratch a handful of times, including only twice in the Americas. One of these times was a hieroglyphic script invented in Mexico 3000 years ago, which evolved into the script used by the Aztec and Mayan Empires. The other invention was much more unusual, and took place in Peru around 5000 years ago.
Quipus, or “talking knots”, were the way the Inca Empire and other ancient Peruvian cultures recorded information. Instead of writing, a system of knotted strings was used to keep track of important figures and, maybe, stories.
One horizontal string would hold up to 1500 vertical strings. Information could be stored on the vertical strings in many ways: the colour, length, and the way the string was woven could all be important. Upon each of these strings, many knots were tied. The position and type of knot all contributing to the meaning. All this created a 3D script that was read not with the eyes, but the hands. Even the blind could read them without trouble!
Sadly, the Spanish destroyed almost all the Quipus of the Incan Empire. Spanish conquistadors believed that the best way to turn the “uncivilized natives” into “civilised Christians” was to destroy as much of their culture as possible. Consequently, many priceless historical and anthropological artefacts were lost shortly after the Spanish conquests of South and Central America.
Today, the art of making and reading the Quipus is almost lost, and many older Quipus remain untranslated. We aren’t even sure if they recorded complex stories, or just taxes and book-keeping. But, amazingly, some indigenous Peruvian shepherds do still record the number of livestock they have using Quipu!
There is a river in Peru that kills anything that falls into it
There is a legend among some native Peruvians of a boiling river, lying deep in the jungle. Like many Peruvians with native ancestry, Andrés Ruzo was told this legend as a child, and it captured his imagination. Twelve years later, having finished a degree in geology, he decided he would find the truth in the legend.
But when he tried to get funding to explore the jungle where the river was supposed to be, he was told he was being foolish. He was told that this area of the jungle is 700 miles from the nearest volcanic zone, a boiling river in the Amazon is impossible!
So he told his family that he was going to give up. But they insisted that the river was real; his Aunt even claimed to have visited it, many years ago. So, he asked her to guide him there.
After many hours trekking they reached an area of the jungle where steam obscured the trees. There, they met a shaman, the guardian of the sacred river-spirit. He led them to one of the most unexpected spectacles in the Amazon: a large river, alive with bubbles and steam, as it boils up out of the ground.
To his surprise, this impossible river (called “Shaney-timpishka”) is well known by the natives of the area, who consider it a deeply spiritual place. Andrés became the first scientist ever to document the river, and in 2016 shared his discoveries with the world. The river bubbles out from very deep within the Earth. It is the only non-volcanic hot river on Earth. Whole waterfalls and pools so hot they can cook anything that falls into it. Frogs can be pulled out of the river, naturally cooked and ready to eat. Tea is made and drunk without the need of a fire or kettle. So if you’re ever in the rainforests of Peru, be careful where you swim!
Listen to Andés’ story in his Ted Talk here
The Incas had the largest Pre-Columbian Empire in the Americas.
The Inca Empire was formed in 1438. By the early 1500s it had gone from a single river valley to an area of 2,000,000 km2, four times the size of France. It ruled areas of what is now Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, and Colombia, as well as most of Peru.
Like the Romans, the Incas realised that roads were very important for holding an empire together. They built around 40,000km of roads, and hundreds of rope bridges. However, because there were no horses in the Americas, all long-distance communications were carried by runners called “Chasquis”. Chasquis could run as much as 240km a day to deliver messages and gifts between different parts of the empire. Often, they carried their message in the form of a Quipu (see above).
The first emperor, Pachacuti, was an incredible leader. He claimed he was the son of the sun-god Inti, and inspired the people of the tiny Kingdom of Cusco to group together and reorganise. He sent spies to the neighbouring kingdoms, to learn their strengths and weaknesses. He then sent them many gifts and messages, telling them how much better their lives would be in his empire. Amazingly, this worked, and several other kingdoms joined the Inca Empire. Those who didn’t join were then conquered and became part of the Empire by force. Emperor Pachacuti had the citadel of Machu Picchu built as a palace, fortress, and temple.
They Lead the world in…
Types of potato
Despite its inclusion in cuisines all over the planet, the potato only left south America in the 1500s, when the Spanish and British explorers first brought them home. But the first ever potatoes were cultivated in Peru around 5-10,000 years ago. They were the staple food of the Incas, and potato farming was an important foundation of their civilisation.
There are more than 4000 varieties of potato in Peru today, of many sizes, shapes, colours, and textures, all with a place in Peruvian cuisine.