Folk Art in Peru
Peru boasts one of the largest varieties of arts and crafts on Earth, as can be seen from the growing network of exporters who each year exhibit the skill of Peruvian craftsmen in Europe, Asia and North America. The diversity, color, creativity and multiple functions of Peru's folk art has made it a fundamental activity not just for Peru's cultural identity, but also as a way of life for thousands of families and even entire communities, such as Sarhua and Quinua in Ayacucho.
Works of art, both big and small, spark admiration amongst Peruvians and foreigners alike, are steeped in centuries of history, imbued with pre-Hispanic shapes and symbols which have merged with others brought over by the Spaniards. Peru has forged a multiple and complex identity which is paradoxically one of the reasons why Peruvian arts and crafts are tending to shift towards naïf art, lending their works a touch of innocence.
The excellence of Peruvian artisans can be seen in the harmony of the geometric designs in weavings, the minute portraits of peasant farming life on the carved gourds called mates burilados, the cultural mestizaje or blend in the colorful retablo boxed scenes. There are also the finely carved Huamanga stone sculptures, the complex Baroque nature of the wooden carvings, the beauty of gold and silver relics and the many forms that pottery has shaped the clay into pottery.
These works are just some of the cultural manifestations of a people who communicate mainly through art, using a language whose fundamental aspects are abundance, fertility and confidence in the future.
Peru celebrates some 3,000 festivals a year. Most of them are held in homage to a patron saint and are part of the Christian calendar adopted in colonial times, although they have blended with the magical beliefs of ancient forms of worship. These religious festivals occur alongside pagan celebrations dating back to ancestral myths in native communities in the jungle, as well as dozens of festivals created over the following centuries. Peru's festivals form a radiant rainbow, whose colors blend with sounds, textures and a vigorous theatrical concept aimed at reinventing history and producing a celebratory synthesis of Man and the Earth goddess, the Pachamama.
Dress in Peru
In Peru's rural areas, the way people dress makes an important distinction, as a result of the blend of pre-Hispanic influences with the European clothing that the natives were forced to wear during the colonial era.
The traditional Inca anacu was transformed by the local women into the brightly-colored and multi-layered petticoats known as polleras. Depending on the region, a black skirt is decorated with a belt which can come in a variety of colors and is decorated with flowers in the northern Piura highlands or a brightly-hued woolen lliclla in Chiclayo, further south.
In the highlands above Lima, the skirt is decorated with red and black embroidered edging, while in Junín, as in Cajamarca and Cuzco, women no longer use black skirts. Underneath their skirts, the women use layers of petticoats made from cotton which can be embroidered with gold and silver threads, featuring superbly-crafted drawings along the edge.
The Peruvian poncho dates back to the seventeenth century and apparently is a variation on the unku used by men at the time. The heavy ponchos used in Cajamarca keep out the rain and are as long as those used in Puno, where they are died scarlet during festivals. In Cuzco, ponchos are short and feature elaborate geometric figures against a red background.
On the coast, ponchos were used by the plantation workers, and they were spun from cotton or vicuña fiber. In the jungle, both men and women from some tribes wear the cushma, a loose tunic stitched up on both sides and embellished with dyes and geometric figures typical of the region.
Traditional dress tends to be capped off by woolen or straw hats, sometimes in various colors. But in the coldest reaches of the Andes, the highlanders tend to wear the chullo, a woolen cap fitted with earflap decorated with geometric motifs.
Music and Dances
Thanks to the recent archaeological discoveries of musical instruments, experts now know that in Peru, music has been played at least as far back as 10,000 years ago.
This ancient tradition created quenas, zampoñas, pututos (trumpets made from sea conch) and a wide variety of other wind instruments crafted from a range of materials such as cane, mud, bone, horns and precious metals, as well as various percussion instruments.
Contact with the Occident has brought over a large number of instruments, which have been creatively adapted to the rhythmic and tonal needs of each region of the country. The clearest evidence is the many transformations that the harp, violin and guitar have undergone in the Peruvian highlands.
The encounter between the Andes and the Western World have given rise in Peru to 1,300 musical genres. But two of them have crossed the country's borders and have become symbols of Peru's identity: the huayno and marinera.
Today, Peru continues to assimilate new instruments such as synthesizers, electric guitars, drums and harmonicas. Local musicians are also creating new genres like chicha or Peruvian cumbia, which is enabling Peru's music to open up to new influences to expand both at home and abroad, beyond native folk music.
This capacity for musical fusion and innovation is a lively expression of the integrating force and dynamic character of Peru's culture.
Peru boasts one of the finest cuisines in Latin America. Recipes such as cebiche (raw fish marinated in lemon juice), pachamanca (meat and vegetables cooked underground), chupe de camarones (shrimp soup), ají de gallina (spicy chicken) and juane (cornmash pastries) are just a few of the mouth-watering dishes served up in Peru. The quality and variety of dishes in Peru are due to several reasons.
First, Peru's ecological and climactic diversity (Peru is home to 84 of the 104 eco-systems existing on Earth) has given rise to a major supply of fresh produce, which any chef would be ecstatic about. The rich Peruvian fishing grounds abound in fish and shellfish species, the heart of the succulent coastal gastronomy; rice, fowl and goat, meanwhile, are the key ingredients of Peru's north coastal cooking. In the Andes, meanwhile, delicious ingredients such as the potato and sweetcorn in all its varieties, plus cuy (guinea pig) and ají chili pepper are the basis of highland cooking and are to be found across the country. The jungle adds its own touch, wild game with a side serving of fried banana and manioc root. Local fruit varieties such as chirimoya (custard apple) and lucuma produce incomparable deserts.
The second reason is the rich mix of Western and Eastern cultural traditions. Over the course of centuries, Peru has felt the influence of Spain in stews and soups, Arab sweets and desserts, African contributions to Creole cooking, Italian pastas, Japanese preparations of fish and shellfish and Chinese culinary methods which have given birth to one of the most popular gastronomic traditions in Peru: chifa. But the originality of Peru's cuisine does not stem just from its traditional cooking -rather, it continues to incorporate new influences, preparing exquisite and impeccable dishes that have been dubbed the New Peruvian Cuisine. It is a veritable privilege to experience Peru's cooking. Bon appetit.