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Peruvian culture

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We Peruvians are increasingly proud of the historical and cultural richness of the past and present. After having lived for centuries by turning our backs on our Andean origins, today we recognize the value of the Andes and the Amazon for all that it represents in resources and millenary tradition.  

We are the oldest civilization in South America. Neighboring countries emerged from our territory and our empire. Peru was the political and productive center of the region, with a privileged geographic location.  

With more than 10,000 years of history, Peru has a great multicultural wealth and traditions; has a delicious and award-winning gastronomy; it has imposing archaeological complexes; 12 world heritage sites of Unesco and vast natural reserves. Without a doubt, it is one of the most varied countries in the world. 

Peruvian culture is formed by its people, festivals, music, architecture and gastronomy, literature in particular, the customs that Peruvian citizens have their codes, norms, lifestyles and traditions of society. Peruvian culture was formed by the kinship between Amerindian and Hispanic cultures. 

 

Music & Dance 

Music and dance are fundamental to the very fabric of Peru, a fact of Peru, a fact to which the country´s innumerable, colorful festivals will attest. Music and dance forms, like dress, vary greatly by region. Amerindian-altiplano and andina (highland)- music, played on wind instruments such as bamboo panpipes, quena flutes, bright-sounding and guitar-like charangos, and other instruments, is known the world over. It seems that wherever one goes, a Peruvian (or in some cases, Bolivian or Ecuadorian) band is playing panpipes in public places. I´ve stumbled upon Peruvian musicians from Krakow to Bali. The classic Andean highland tune, El Condor Pasa, adapted by Simon & Garfunkel in the 1970s, is world famous. For many visitors, altiplano and highland versions of música folclórica are the very rhythm of Peru, but the country also beats to the sounds of música criolla (creole music based on a mix of European and African forms), bouncysounding huayno rhythms played by orquestas típicas, and Afro-Peruvian music, adapted from music brought by African slaves.

There is evidence of music in Peru dating back 10,000 years, and each region has its own distinct sounds and dance. Musical historians have identified more than 1,000 genres of music in Peru. Traditional instruments include quenas, zampoñas, pututus (trumpets made from seashells), and many other wind instruments crafted from cane, bone, horns, and precious metals, as well as a wide range of percussion instruments. Exposure to Western cultures has introduced new instruments such as the harp, violin, and guitar. But Peruvian music can still be identified by its distinctive instruments, and there are many besides the basic of highland music. 

The cajón is a classic percussion instrument, typical in Música criolla and música negra, as well as marinera. A simple wooden box with a sound hole in the back, the cajón is played by a musician who sits on top and pounds the front like a bongo. Another classic Peruvian instrument is the quena, an Andean flute that dates to the pre-Columbian era. The best-known wind instrument in Peru, it´s usually made out of bamboo, and it usually has five or six holes. Lenghts vary to create different pitches. Another popular wind instrument is the zampoña, which belongs to the panpipe family and varies greatly in size. The zampoña is never absent at festivals in southern Peru, particularly Puno, String instruments are now fundamental in almost all música folclórica. The charango, very popular in the southern Andes, is like a small, high-pitched guitar with five or ten strings. Its resonance box is often crafted from an armadillo or kirkincho shell, though increasingly it´s made of wood. 

Music on the coast is very diffeerent from traditional Andean sounds. Chicha is a relatively new addition to the list of musical genres. A hybrid of sorts of the huayno and Colombian cumbia, chicha is an extremely popular urban dance, especially among the working class. It has spread rapidly across Peru and throughout Latin America. Música criolla mixes African and Spanish rhythms, with a taste of everything from the foxtrot to the tango, while Afro-Peruvian music, especially popular on the coast around Lima, is contemporary black popular music. 

Dances associated with Afro-Peruvian music include lively and sensual festejo dances, in which participants respond to striking of the cajón, one of the Afro-Peruvian music´s essential instruments. The alcatraz is an extremely erotic dance. Females enter the dance floor with tissue on their posterios. The men, meanwhile, dance with lit candles. The not-so-subtle goal on the dance floor is for the man to light the woman´s fire (and thus become her partner).  

Peru tourism authorities produce a guide to festivities, music, and folk art, and it features a diagram of native dances in Peru. Especially up and down the coast, and in the central corridor of the Andes, the map is a bewildering maze of numbers indicating the indigenous dances practiced in given regions. Two dances, though, have become synonymous with Peru, the huayno and marinera.  

The huayno is the essential dance in the Andes, with pre-Columbian origins fused with Western influences. Couples dancing the huayno perform sharp turns, hops, and tap-like zapateos to keep time. Huayno music is played on quena, charango, harp, and violin. The marinera, a sleek, sexy, and complex dance of highly coordinated choreography, is derivate of other folkloric dances in Peru, dating back on the 19th century. There are regional variations of the dance, which differs most from the south coast to the northern highlands. Dancers keep time with a handkerchief in one hand, Marinera music in Lima is performed by guitar and cajón, while a marching band is de rigeou in the north. Marinera festivals are held across Peru, but the most celebrated one is in Trujillo in Jnauary. 

One of the most attention-getting dances in Peru, though, is that performed by scissors dancers. Their danza de las tijeras is an exercise in athleticism and balance. Dancers perform gymnastic leaps and daring stunts to the sounds of harp and violin. The main instrument played to accompany the dance is the pair of scissors, made up of two independent sheets of metal around 25 centimeters long. the best places to see scissors dancers are Ayacucho, Arequipa, and Lima capital.  

 

Festivals 

Peruvian festivals are some of the most vibrant in the Americas and a highlight of virtually any visit. Though holidays in Peru have serious foundations-the honoring of patron saints, fertility rituals, prayer, and celebration for harvests- festivals in Peru are colorful escapes for many Peruvians, especially in rural areas where life can be extremely difficult and poverty is widespread. 

Any of the major festivals would be well worth planning your Peru trip around, but perhaos none so much as Inti Raymi. The sun god festival, the single most important feast of the Incas, is still celebrated on the winter solstice (the solar new year, June 24). The festival, once celebrated across the entire Inca Empire, was suppressed by the Catholic Church after the Spanish conquest. Inti Raymi was revived in the mid-20th century as an expression and valuation of native Indian culture in Peru by a group of intellectuals and artist in Cusco Peru. Today the religious ceremony has taken on colorful, theatrical proportions at the site of the Inca ruins of Sacsayhuamán. At the end of the ceremony two llamas are sacrificed to predict the coming year. 

Thousands flock to the Ausangate Glacier for Qoyllur Rití (June 9), a religious festival that mixes Incan and Christian rites in Sinakara, Cusco department. 

Firecrackers may rouse you out of bed during Peru´s two-day Fiestas Patrias (July 28-29), which celebrate the country´s independence from Spain in 1821. 

Lima and the Central Highlands revere the Señor de los Milagros (October 18-28), a colonial-era, dark-skinned Christ statue that survived a 1655 earthquake that destroyed much of the capital.  

Fireworks and colorful processions honor the Virgen de la Candelaria during the first half of February in Puno, on Lake Titicaca. The faithful follow images of the Virgin Mary through the streets as colorful dancers depict the struggle between good and evil. 

Carnaval is celebrated with parades and folk dancing in most highland towns, though especially in Cajamarca, Ayacucho, and Huaras.  

Semana Santa (March or April) is marked by Holy Week processions countrywide, though Ayacucho´s celebrations are the most elaborate. 

 

Peruvian Textiles

Woven textiles have to be considered among the great traditional arts of Peruvian culture. Peru has one of the most ancient and richest weaving traditions on the world, for more than 5,000 years. Peruvian artisans have used fine natural fibers for hand weaving, and the woll produced by alpacas, llamas, and vicuñas is some of the finest in the world, rarer even than cashmere. The most ancient textiles that have been found in Peru come from the Huaca Prieta temple in Chicama and are more than 4,000 years old. Contemporary Peruvian artisans continue the traditions, sophisticated designs, and techniques of intricate weaving inherited from pre-Columbian civilizations-often employing the very same instruments used hundreds of years ago and still favoring matural dyes. The drop spindle (weaving done with a stick and spinning wooden wheel), for example, is still used in many regions, and it´s not uncommon to see women and young girs spinning the wheel as they tend to animals in the fields. Excellent-quality woven items, the best of which are much more than mere souvenirs, include Peru traditional clothing, such as chullo wool or alpaca hats with earflaps, ponchos, scarves, sweaters, and blankets.

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