The Peruvian Andes
The Peruvian Andes
The Peruvian Andes make up the central region of the larger Andes mountain range, the longest north-south mountain range in the world. The land is characterized by deep, rolling hills and valleys nestled amongst breathtakingly high altitudes of the Andes Mountains. These high altitude plains, known as ‘puna’ or ‘altiplano’, provided the ideal geographical structure to become the political and economic centre of Incan Civilization. The remnants of this magnificent civilization can still be seen by visiting the ceremonial site of Machu Picchu. Nearby, one can see the Nazca Lines located in the region of Puno, whose origin remains a highly speculated, yet unsolved mystery. Although Indigenous communities span the entire Andean mountain range, the Central Andes remain the heartland of Andean Indigenous peoples. Subsequently, Peru boasts deep, rich cultural traditions that have lived on over thousands of years.
The Peruvian Andes are located in southeastern Peru, in the province of Cusco. One of the most striking aspects of the land is the immense altitudes, ranging from about 2,800 to 4,200 metres (9,186 to 13,780 feet). The climate is semi-arid, with two main seasons in a year: the dry season and the rainy season. Both seasons are characterized by chilly temperatures at night, yet there’s often ample sun during the day. The Andes are also home to humid, moisture-soaked cloud forests that sit high in the mountains, and are only found from about 2,000 to 3,500 metres (6,500 to 11,500 feet). The plants and animals that live in these areas are unique, yet also largely undocumented, making the cloud forest a sensitive ecosystem.
Quechua lifestyle and language
Rural communities in Peru often consist of a number of farming families maintaining their ‘chakras’ through subsistence agriculture and homesteading practices, and so the majority of their food and livelihood is produced through working on the land. Quechua, the indigenous language of the Incas, is the main language spoken in the rural Andes, with Spanish as a distant second. While this has helped Quechua communities maintain their cultural traditions and identity, it often hinders them from participating in Peru’s economy, and therefore families are often very poor. Quechua has no formal writing system, which makes its weaving iconography all the more important: symbols depicted in weavings convey knowledge of plants, animals, and the local environment, and spiritual beliefs.
Many aspects of work, marriage, and economic relationships are maintained through complex family organizations, called ‘ayllus’ in Quechua. Strong family ties and relationships are often maintained.
In the high altitudes of the Peruvian Andes, agriculture is limited to a select few staple crops that manage to grow in the dry, steep hills. The potato is the most notable staple food, and it makes up the majority of the communities’ diet. Fortunately, due to thousands of years of knowledge-transfer, heritage strains have been passed down through generations, and over 200 varieties of potatoes are still grown and enjoyed. Corn is another staple, bearing over 100 varieties of seeds. Other crops grown in smaller quantities include quinoa, kiwicha, wheat, and ‘avas’ (large, broad beans). Cows, pigs, chickens and ‘cuy’ (guinea pig) are often raised on Quecha homesteads, but eating meat remains a luxury rather than a daily staple.