Indigenous peoples in Peru, or Native Peruvians, comprise a large number of distinct ethnic groups who have inhabited the country of Peru's territory since before the arrival of Europeans around 1500. Indigenous cultures developed here for thousands of years.
At the time of the Spanish invasion, the indigenous peoples of the rain forest of the Amazon basin to the east of the Andes were mostly semi-nomadic tribes; they subsisted on hunting, fishing, gathering, and migrant agriculture. Those peoples living in the Andes and to the west were dominated by the Inca Empire, who had a complex, hierarchical civilization. It developed many cities, building major temples and monuments with techniques of highly skilled stonemasonry.
Many of the estimated 2000 nations and tribes present in 1500 died out as a consequence of the Spanish colonization of the Americas, largely because of exposure to new Eurasian infectious diseases endemic among the colonists, to which they had no acquired immunity.
Many survivors had unions with Spanish and their descendants were gradually assimilated into the general mestizo ("mixed race") Peruvian population. All of the Peruvian indigenous groups, such as the Urarina, and even those who live isolated in the most remote areas of the Amazon rainforest, such as the Matsés, Matis, and Korubo, have changed their ways of life to some extent under the influence of European-Peruvian culture. They have adopted the use of firearms and other manufactured items, and trade goods at a remove from mainstream Peruvian society. These indigenous groups maintain cultural identities and practices that keep them distinct from majority Hispano-Peruvian society.
The Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest (AIDESEP) is the primary indigenous rights organization in Peru defending the interests of indigenous people in Peru. Its current president is Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.
Anthropological and genetic evidence indicates that most of the original population of the Americas descended from migrants from North Asia (Siberia) who entered North America across the Bering Strait in at least three separate waves. DNA analysis has shown that most of those resident in Peru in 1500 were descended from the first wave of Asian migrants, who are theorized, but not proven conclusively, to have crossed Beringia at the end of the last glacial period during the Upper Paleolithic, around 12,000 BCE. Migrants from that first wave are thought to have reached Peru in the 6th millennium BCE, probably entering the Amazon basin from the northwest.
The Norte Chico civilization of Peru is the oldest known civilization in the Americas and one of the six sites where civilization, including the development of agriculture and government, separately originated in the ancient world. The sites, located 100 miles (160 km) north of Lima, developed a trade between coastal fisherman and cotton growers and built monumental pyramids around the 30th century BCE.
During the pre-Columbian era, the peoples who dominated the territory now known as Peru spoke languages, such as: Quechua, Jivaroan, Tsimané, Culli, Quingnam, Muchik, Tallán, Aimara, Puquina. The peoples had different social and organizational structures, and distinct languages and cultures.
Of the 29,248,943 estimated total population of Peru, the indigenous people represent about 45%. 97.8% are Andean and 2.1%, Amazonian. Other sources indicate that the indigenous people comprise 31% of the total population.
In the Amazonian region, there more than 65 ethnic groups classified into 16 language families. After Brazil in South America and New Guinea in the Pacific Ocean, Peru is believed to have the highest number of uncontacted tribes in the world.
After the arrival of Spanish soldiers in Peru, local people began dying in great number from Eurasian infectious diseases that were chronic among the invaders. These spread by contact across the New World by indigenous peoples along trading routes, often years ahead of direct contact with the invaders. As the natives have no natural immunity, they suffered high fatalities in epidemics of the new diseases. Later more people died because of the harsh treatment of the conquerors: they were killed in battle, forced from their lands, or died from the ill-treatment of forced labor. Many indigenous people refused to be enslaved, retreating into the backlands, or if captured, committing suicide.
From the earliest years, Spanish soldiers and colonists intermarried with the indigenous women. The Spanish officers and elite married into the Inca elite, and other matches were made among other classes. A sizeable portion of the Peruvian population is mestizo, of indigenous and European ancestry, speaking Spanish, generally Roman Catholic, and assimilated as the majority culture.
In the late 19th century, major planters in Peru, particularly in the northern plantations, and in Cuba, recruited thousands of mostly male Chinese immigrants as laborers, referred to as "coolies." Because of the demographics, in Peru these men married mostly non-Chinese women, many of them indigenous Peruvians, during that period of a Chinese migration to Peru. In the late 20th and 21st centuries, many scholars have studied these unions and the cultures their descendants created.
The Chinese also had contact with Peruvian women in cities, where they formed relationships and sired mixed-race children. Typically the indigenous women had come from Andean and coastal areas to work in the cities. Chinese men favored marriage with them over unions with African Peruvian women. Matchmakers sometimes arranged for mass communal marriages among a group of young Peruvian women and a new group of Chinese coolies. They were paid a deposit to recruit women from the Andean villages for such marriages.
In 1873 the New York Times reported on the Chinese coolies in Peru, describing their indentured labor as akin to slavery. It also reported that Peruvian women sought Chinese men as husbands, considering them to be a "catch" and a "model husband, hard-working, affectionate, faithful and obedient" and "handy to have in the house".
As is typical in times of demographic change, some Peruvians objected to such marriages on racial grounds. When native Peruvian women (cholas et natives, Indias, indígenas) and Chinese men had mixed children, the children were called injerto. As adults, injerto women were preferred by Chinese men as spouses, as they had shared ancestry.
According to Alfredo Sachettí, low-class Peruvians, including some black and Indian women, were the ones who established sexual unions or marriages with the Chinese men, . He claimed this mixing was causing the Chinese to suffer from "progressive degeneration." In Casa Grande highland Indian women and Chinese men participated in communal "mass marriages," arranged when highland women were brought by a Chinese matchmaker after receiving a down payment for the marriage.
In the 21st century, individual indigenous groups have a variety of governance structures. MATSES, the Movement in the Amazon for Tribal Subsistence and Economic Sustainability, is an indigenous peoples rights organization that is working for the cultural survival of indigenous people in Peru. AIDESEP, the Asociacion Inter-etnica para el Desarollo de la Selva Peruana, is another effort on the part of Aguaruna communities to reclaim land used for coffee and cocoa by settlers.
Indigenous people hold title to substantial portions of Peru, primarily in the form of communal reserves (Spanish: reservas comunales). The largest indigenous communal reserve in Peru belongs to the Matsés people and is located on the Peruvian border with Brazil on the Javary River.
Peru is a signatory of the ILO Convention 169. In 1994, Peru signed and ratified the current international law concerning indigenous people, the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, 1989. The laws made to protect the indigenous people are not always respected by the Peruvian government or the companies, such as Perenco, Repsol YPF, and Petrobras, who seek to explore the natural resources of their land.
There is an institution for Andean, Amazonian and Afro-Peruvian People called the INDEPA. It is an autonomous ministerial-level decentralized public body that reported directly to the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, and was created by a law issued to the Congress of the Republic. On 23 February 2007, the government decided to abolish the authority and make it a Native People' Department within the MIMDES, without consulting the indigenous people. But, on 6 December, Congress passed a law cancelling the executive decree.
The draft law 1770, presented by the government, wanted to formalise and title rural plots, peasant and native communities that may suspend the regulations protecting communal such as Law 22175 on native communities and Law 24657 on the Demarcation and Titling of Peasant Community Lands. It would supersede the property titles of communities registered in the Community Lands Register and revise the community property titles according to the new law. The draft law 1900, of the Peruvian Aprista Party, proposes to authorise the COFOPRI to return lands not cultivated by the communities to the state, so they may be sold in a public auction.