Location/Culture Reports

Location Report – Peru

Paddington Bear and llamas: Okay, I admit it, if you ask me about Peru, the first thing that comes to mind is Paddington Bear’s Aunt Lucy, who lives in a home for retired bears in Lima, Peru. Paddington himself comes from Darkest Peru (the capital D is important here!), though apparently he was originally supposed to have been from Africa until author Michael Bonds was chastised by an editor who pointed out that there were no bears in Africa. (You can read the interview with Michael about his creation of Paddington at: harperchildrens.com .) If you’ve missed these charming books, you should start immediately with A Bear Called Paddington.
The story follows his quest to find his family and cultural identity, and the plot really highlights what happens to conquered native peoples when an outside culture is forced upon them.
The second thing that comes to mind is the book Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark. I admit to having read too many Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books as a child, and so I picked this one up in the library when I was in fourth grade thinking it would be another Secret of the Old Clock. It turned out to be a Newbery Award—winning book about Cusi, a native Incan boy who raises llamas with his grandfather in the Andes. The story follows his quest to find his family and cultural identity, and the plot really highlights what happens to conquered native peoples when an outside culture is forced upon them. Gorgeous book. Go check it out!

And now, to our regularly scheduled cultural report….

Setting: Peru is a relatively large country, only slightly smaller than the state of Alaska. It is the third-largest country in South America. It has richly variable topography, with desert along the western coastal region (where most cities and major highways are), the Andean Mountains in the central portion of the country, and tropical rainforest on the eastern interior in the Amazon Basin.

Lima, the capital, sits along the western coast and is renowned for its interesting architecture, open-air markets, museums, and marvelous zoo. Half the year the area is inundated with a dense fog, La Garuùa, a by-product of the collision of cold water that originates in the oceanic Humboldt Current with the warm, dry coastal region.
Things get really interesting around 300 B.C. with the arrival of the Nazca culture, which made enormous drawings in the soil (geoglyphs) that can still be seen today.
History: Archaeological evidence shows that prehistoric hunter-gatherers lived in this area from 12,000 B.C. Things get really interesting around 300 B.C. with the arrival of the Nazca culture, which made enormous drawings in the soil (geoglyphs) that can still be seen today. No one knows how or why the Nazca made them, but the geoglyphs have sparked a wide variety of theories, including divine intervention and use as ancient alien runways. (See below for links to photographs of these incredible examples of landscape art.) By A.D. 600, the Nazca had disappeared, and the civilizations that would give rise to the Incas were on the rise.

By the 1500s, the Incan Empire was quite expansive and rich in resources. The Spanish showed up in 1526, led by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro. Pizarro was so moved by the richness of the culture that he returned and conquered the region in 1533. The Spanish were not particularly tolerant of the native peoples, and a systematic cleansing of the Incan culture began at that point, including removal of native animals (see Climate & Nature, below). An uprising by native peoples in 1780 was quickly squashed by the Spanish, who executed all the insurgents. Peru was liberated from Spanish rule in 1824 by two men from outside Peru, the Venezuelan Simón Bolívar and the Argentinean José de San Martín.

Modern Peruvian history has been troubled, to say the least. In 1990, the election of president Alberto Fujimori ushered in an era that was marked with corruption and political unrest, with many clashes between rebel and government forces. Amidst charges of election fraud and human rights violations, Fujimori fled Peru for Japan in 2000. New elections brought the first indigenous president in Peru’s history, Alejandro Toledo, an Andean Indian. Despite a promising beginning, his presidency has been marked by worker strikes and scandals.

Climate & Nature: The climate varies from tropical in the east to arid in the west and temperate to frigid in the Andes. Peru has a fascinating variety of plants and animals due to this incredible variation in climate. Approximately 7% of the country is protected within its national park system.
There are four native camelids in the region: the llama, the alpaca, the guanaco, and the vicuna.
There are four native camelids in the region: the llama, the alpaca, the guanaco, and the vicuna. (Remarkably, modern DNA analysis has shown that the camel family actually originated in North America and then spread to Asia and South America. The original North American ancestor went extinct, however.) These animals were nearly wiped out during the Spanish conquest in the 1500s, because the Spanish preferred their own livestock and hunted anything that competed with it. Fortunately, the native animals survived in herds raised by native peoples in the Andean mountains, and the species were saved from extinction.

The People: Peru’s economy reflects its varied geography—an arid coastal region, the Andes further inland, and the tropical lands bordering Colombia and Brazil. Abundant mineral resources are found in the mountainous areas, and Peru’s coastal waters provide excellent fishing grounds. Common ways of life include mining of metals, petroleum refining, fishing, textiles and clothing manufacturing, food processing, cement production, auto assembly, steel production, and shipbuilding.

Culturally, the region blends the Spanish influence that dominated for hundreds of years and the emerging indigenous culture, which is beginning to be more prevalent. The Spanish introduced their version of urban planning, with cities laid out in grid-like patterns, and constructed mansions, churches, and monasteries which mimicked Spanish Renaissance structures. Increasingly architecture, painting, and music have shown signs of a native Indian influence. In architecture this has led to a style known as mestizo.

Peru has recently experienced a greater surge in their economy than other South American countries, but it still faces poverty and high unemployment rates. The literacy rate is variable between men (95%) and women (85%), with boys more likely to be educated than girls in rural regions.

Links:
Lonely planet
History of llamas
Lima
Nazca lines links: crystalinks.com and skepdic.com
Recent findings of Giant Drawings