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Peru People and Preserved Culture.

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.

On the other side, rural communities now also aspire to ownership of televisions and blue jeans but this comes into conflict with their traditional cultural values. The people of the Andes are maintaining the traditional practices of their ancestors in a rapidly changing world. Their livelihood continues to be based on family-owned fields or charkas which are farmed by hand or with the assistance of draft animals.

The social organization of communities in the Andes differs greatly from that of Europeanized creole culture. Work, marriage and land-ownership are centered 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 neighboring Bolivia. Beyond these global distinctions, other complexities arise. There are "white" ethnic groups called the Morochucos of Pampa Cangallo who have light-colored 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).

Due to its New World history, Peru also enjoys a rich cultural diversity. Up to the 19th Century, landowners brought in African blacks to serve as slaves on their haciendas and frequently used them to repress the local Indians. Between 1850 and 1920, Chinese and Japanese laborers provided the hands and backs to build railways over the Andes and farm the land where there was a scarcity of labor.

A large majority of highland people live a marginal and impoverished existence and are removed from the modern benefits of the national economy. While retaining an unchanged loyalty to their ancestral heritage, so well identified to the outside world through their bright homemade costumes, the poor of the Andes are nevertheless equally eager to share in the luxuries of a "modern" lifestyle which includes education, electricity, sewage and running potable water. But rather than improving, the economic conditions of these communities is deteriorating, leading to massive urban migration.

Peru's middle class is the most difficult to define. In the 1970's, with the integration of modernization, the middle class grew into its own, both in Lima and in provincial cities. This growth was due to the diversification of the economy and to the expansion of the Peruvian state, both as a purveyor of public services and as an entrepreneur. During this period, roads penetrating into the Sierra and the Amazon Basin started to link the hinterland with Lima and important coastal markets. Mass communication began to reach out to new audiences.

Today, Lima, the capital has come to represent all that went wrong with Peruvian development. One city now concentrates most of country's services and other resources, but they are grossly inadequate to sustain its 8 million inhabitants.

A striking feature of contemporary Peruvian society is the massive scale of the informal economy. The decay of the national economy has led to an abundance of traditional market street trade and bartering at market stalls as an integral part of daily life. Ambulantes (street vendors) can be found on every corner selling a huge variety of goods.

Despite decades of political upheaval and social unrest, Peru can now be seen to be entering a more stable phase in its history. An increasing level of governmental consistency and growing economic strength has led to growing confidence from within.

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