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Peruvian literature has kept numerous quechua texts. From the Inca time, Ollantay, a drama at the Inca court, is perhaps the best-known work of Quechua literature. An unknown author composed it around 1470. Peruvian literature has its roots in the oral traditions of pre-Colombian Los Comentarios Reales de los Incas, published in 1609. After independence, Costumbrism and Romanticism became the most common literary genres, as exemplified in the works of Ricardo Palma. In the early 20th century, the Indigenismo movement produced such writers as Ciro Alegria, José Maria Arguedas, and César Vallejo. José Carlos Mariátegui’s essays in the 1920’s were a turning point in the political and economic analysis of Peruvian history. During the second half of the century, Peruvian literature became more widely known because of authors such as Mario Vargas Llosa, a leading member of the Latin American Boom.


Music and dance

Peruvian music is an amalgamation of sounds and styles drawing on the Peru’s Andean musical roots and Spanish musical influences. Native Peruvian music is dominated by the national instrument, the charango. The charango is a type of mandolin, and was invented in Bolivia by musicians imitating Spanish lutes and guitars. In the Canas and Titicaca regions, the charango is used in courtship rituals, symbolically invoking mermaids with the instrument to lure the woman to the male performers. Until the 1960s, the charango was denigrated as an instrument of the rural poor. After the revolution in 1959, which built upon the Indigenismo movement (1910–1940), the charango was popularized among other performers. The zampoña is a traditional Andean panpipe. It accompanies the folk music of the high Andes, where it is widely used. It is one of the main instruments in Andean Huyano. The harps are derived from the Baroque harps that were brought from Spain during the colonial period.

Few Peruvian artists have encountered international fame. One female singer has become very successful from the 50’s and is now a live legend. Yma Sumac is a noted soprano of Peruvian origin. During the 1950s, Yma Sumac produced a series of legendary lounge music recordings featuring Hollywood-style versions of Incan and South American folk songs, working with the likes of Les Baxter and Billy May. The combination of her extraordinary voice, exotic looks and stage personality made her a hit with American audiences.

Two of the most representative Andean dances are the Kashua and the Huayno. The Kashua has a communal character and it is usually danced in groups in the country or open spaces. The Huayno is a “salon ball”. It is danced in couples and in closed spaces. It is a combination of traditional music of the rural folk in the area with popular urban dance music. High-pitched vocals are accompanied by a variety of instruments, including flute, harp, panpipe, accordion, saxophone, charango, lute, violin, guitar, harmonica and mandolin. Marinera is a coastal dance of Peru, generally called the "National Dance of Peru." It is a graceful and romantic couple’s dance that uses handkerchiefs as props.


Theatre, cinema and photography

Peruvian theatre has been successful thanks to authors such as Felipe Pardo, Manuel Ascencio Segura during the 19th century, and more recently Percy Gibson Parra or Juan Rios. Theatrical activity is booming thanks to university theatres and is increasing its audience thanks to new kinds of performances, such as the rural theatre.
The first movie of Peruvian cinema, “Negocio al agua” was screened in 1913. In 1928, The Perichole, then considered as a big production, was presented to the Seville exposition and drew attention of cinema fans for the reconstruction work. The first movie filmed in the traditional language of Inca, "Kukuli" is considered a milestone in contributing to the authentic old cultures of South America and Peru’s cinematography. While the Peruvian film industry has not been nearly as prolific as that of some other Latin American countries, such as Mexico or Argentina, some Peruvian movies produced with the cooperation of Mexican talent in the 1960s and 1970s, such as “Bromas S.A”, enjoyed regional success. More recently some bestselling novels by Peruvian author and talk show host Jaime Bayly, including “No se lo Digas a Nadie” and “La Mujer de mi Hermano”, have been made into movies. In fact, Francisco Jose Lombardi, perhaps the most important Peruvian filmmaker of the recent years, has made most of his films from adaptations of important Peruvian novels. In February 2006, the film “Madeinusa”, produced as a joint venture between Peru and Spain and directed by Claudia Llosa, which was settled in an imaginary Andean village and took elements from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magic realism, won an award at the Rotterdam Film Festival.

Martín Chambi Jiménez, born on November 5, 1891 in Cuzco, was a photographer, originally from southern Peru, and has become the only major indigenous Latin American photographer of his time. Recognized for the profound historic and ethnic documentary value of his photographs, he was a prolific portrait photographer in the towns and countryside of the Peruvian Andes. As well as being the leading portrait photographer in Cuzco, Chambi made many landscape photographs, which he sold mainly in the form of postcards, a format he was a pioneer of in Peru. In 1979, New York’s Museum of Modern Art held a Chambi retrospective, which later traveled to various locations and inspired other international expositions of his work.


Painting, sculpture and architecture

The history of the Peruvian painting has its origins at the colonial era. The Spanish painters who arrived at the Viceroyalty of Peru taught their techniques to the local artists, and they began to shape in its linen cloths its own representations, proposing a new iconographic interpretation of the Peruvian reality. The catholic divinities were adapted to indigenous sensitivity and gave like result an own and singular way that had its maxim expression in the "School of Cuzco", during centuries XVII and XVIII. Cuzco, the ancient capital of the Tahuantinsuyo Inca Empire, was meant to execute during the Viceroyalty, a role of first order in the universe of art. Heart and motor of the cultural, social, ecclesiastic and political life of southern Peru, during those three hundred years of Iberian influence gave shape in the architecture, altar-piece making, sculpture, gold and silversmith and especially painting a profile that defined the mixed character of a tense and dramatic Hispanic-indigenous symbiosis which major expression was manifested in the great plastic current of the second half of the XVII century as well as the XVIII century that traditionally was called "School of Cuzco Painting".

Peruvian architecture is the architecture carried out during any time in what is now modern-day Peru, and by Peruvian architects worldwide. Its diversity and long history spans from ancient Peru, the Inca Empire, and Colonial Peru to the present day. Peruvian colonial architecture is the conjunction of European styles exposed to the influence of indigenous imagery. Two of the most well-known examples of the Renaissance Period are Cathedral and the Santa Clara Church in Cuzco. After this period, cultural mixture reached richer expression in the Baroque. Some examples of this Baroque period are the Convent of San Francisco de Lima, the Church of the Compania and the facade of the University of Cuzco and, overall, the churches of San Augustin and Santa Rosa of Arequipa, its more beautiful exponents. The wars of Independence left a creative emptiness that Neoclassicism of French inspiration could just fill. The 20th century is characterized by the eclecticism, to which the constructive functionalism has been against. The most considerable example is San Martin Plaza in Lima.


Textile handcraft

Modern Peruvian weavers are heirs to a long-running pre-Hispanic tradition that was developed across the length and breadth of Peru. Outstanding work includes the Paracas funeral shrouds and Inca and Ayacucho Wari weavings. The oldest textiles ever found were uncovered at the pre-Colombian temple of Huaca Prieta in the Chicama Valley and are believed to date back 4000 years. Preferred materials-which are still used today-include brown and white cotton, vicuna, alpaca and llama wool. Other materials occasionally include human hair and bat fibers and more commonly, gold and silver thread. In addition, natural dyes are still used today, combined with aniline and other industrial dyes, while the vertical loom and pedal loom are still the most commonly used tool for weaving blankets and yards of cloth Key weavings regions include Ayacucho, Puno, Cuzco, Junin, Apurimac and Lima. Cuzco decorative work often features the tika, representing the potato flower and the sojta, a geometric design symbolizing the sowing season. Cuzco weavers produce a wide variety of chullos (woolen caps with earflaps), woolen coca leaf pouches, blankets featuring geometric patterns, cummerbunds and chumpis weaved by the meter, like the ones sold at the Sicuani market or in the Sunday market at Pisac. Ayacucho is another major textile center, as it is a region where over the past few decades artisans have gained a following for their tapestries of weft and warp with abstract motifs.

Hessian weave: this form of craft industry is of contemporary origin, brought over from Chile in the 1970s. Known locally as arpilleras, this cloth often features previously elaborated figures representing themes such as testimonies and local traditions. The portrayal of characters, animals and plants sewn into the main fabric lend the material a three-dimensional effect. Women quickly incorporated Hessian weave into craft industry, especially the highland migrants in the outskirts of Lima in districts such as Pamplona Alta, where in this technique they found a way to express themselves artistically. This craft industry, now common in Peru, has produced sterling work in areas such as Cuzco, where weavers have added traditional decorative elements such as dolls and Inca textiles.

Embroidery: the embroidery work of Chiqnaya, Puno, is famous for its lamb’s wool or cotton blankets, large and small, which represent scenes linked to the sowing and harvesting seasons and fiestas. Other well-known embroidery is produced in the town of Chivay, in the Colca Valley near Arequipa. Their work is decorated with ribbons and backstitches. The arts and crafts fair in Huancayo, Junin sells petticoats called "centro" which are entirely embroidered and used underneath a monochrome skirt.

Cotton thread inlays: the art of hilado, cotton threading, takes advantage of the natural color of brown cotton and the suggestive, sober tones of natural dyes, although now the native cotton variety is facing major competition from industrial cotton, especially in artisan areas of Monsefú (Lambayeque) and Cajamarca. The tradition dates back to pre-Hispanic Andean civilizations and artisan production mainly lives in some communities along the coast and the upper highland reaches. In the Amazon, craftsmen produce elaborated dresses and fabrics of fine and flat threading, on which the shipibo natives make drawings of geometric lines inspired by hallucinogenic visions brought on by the use of medicinal plants.

Tapestries: tapestries crafted in the Ayacucho quarter of Santa Ana continue to use pre-Hispanic geometric designs, which have incorporated modern effects from an optical perspective. Another area that produces superb tapestries is San Pedro de Cajas in Junin Region, where townspeople continue to use natural dyes from cochineal and plants.

Decorative utensils: the artisan market produces a wide variety of decorative pieces and utensils made from painted glass, wood or clay that have drawn from the style and techniques found in the decoration of Cajamarca mirrors. Utensils include trays, boxes, jewelry cases, desktop articles, decorations in the shape of animals, pens, table centerpieces and other articles. Decoration is largely centered on tiny flowers and leaves in a variety of colors. Many of them have been artificially aged with special dyes and then given a layer of varnish. Cajamarca and Apurimac are the main areas that produce these objects.


Traditional and popular celebrations

Peru celebrates some 3,000 festivals a year.

These are some of the most vibrant in the Americas and a highlight of virtually any visit. The festivals in Peru have different motives. Some are religious celebrations honoring Christ, the Virgin Mary and the patron saints. In these are solemn processions like the Holy Week in Ayacucho or the Procession of the Lord of the Miracles in Lima. Other motives are celebrations for the harvests, the spring season and the carnivals. A unique festival in the world is the competition of Caballo de Paso a fine breed of horses with a tipping gait that has made them known worldwide. In rural areas of the country, where life can be extremely difficult and poverty is widespread, these festivals are appropriate escapes for many Peruvians to enjoy. The food is abundant as well as the alcoholic drinks, usually chicha, a drink made from fermented maize. It is amazing the variety of handmade costumes as well as the impressive masks exhibiting in some festivals.

National Day: July 28-29. Each year commemorates the day that Peru gained its independence. General José de San Martin, known as Peru’s liberator, proclaimed Peru’s independence on this date. At dawn on the 28th a 21 cannon salute begins flag-raising ceremonies as Peru remembers the anniversary of its birth.

Andean Christmas: 24-25 December – Cuzco. Early Peruvians immediately identified with the festival of Christmas due to the rural nature of the nativity story, where the baby Jesus was born in a barn. Andean Christmases began taking on original characteristics, and it is probably the most important celebration of the year. Well off families eat turkey, while for many others chicken suffices. Paneton (a cake/bread filled with fruits) is very popular as are hot drinks of chocolate. In the week preceding Christmas, it is also popular for communities, churches or organizations to organize "chocolatadas" where people who are better off make a Christmas gesture to poor children by offering them a cup of hot chocolate and perhaps a small gift. The lines for chocolatadas are a distinct feature of Christmas in Cuzco.


Lord of the Earthquakes: March-April – Cuzco.

Pre-Inca traditions and beliefs mingle with Catholic worship in this popular celebration based on a miracle. In 1650, an oil painting of Christ on the cross is believed to have overcome the terrible destructive power of an earthquake. Since that date, the indigenous local people have paid homage to the image of ’Taitacha Temblores’, a mixed Quechua and Spanish title meaning Lord of the Earthquakes. Coming at the end of Semana Santa on Easter Monday, this is a colorful event, which takes place partly in Cuzco Cathedral, built on the site of the Inca creator-god, Viracocha. Here, the smoke-blackened image is paraded through the streets wearing a crimson crown of flowers.

The Lord of Miracles: October 18-28 - Lima.

The largest procession in South America. This procession, which gathers together the largest number of believers in South America, dates back to colonial times, when a slave, brought over from Angola, drew the image of a black Christ on the walls of a wretched hut in the plantation of Pachacamilla, near Lima. The image stayed on the wall despite several attempts to erase it. This was to spark widespread devotion for the image, which survived intact on the wall despite an earthquake in 1746, which leveled all surrounding buildings. As a result of this event, worship of the image rose to new heights, until it became what is today the most widely venerated image in the city of Lima.


Q’oyllur Riti: May or June.

The greatest indigenous pilgrimage in the Americas. Each year the people of the district of Ocongate (Quispicanchis) perform a ritual whose real objective is to bring Man closer to Nature. The main ceremony is held at the foot of Mount Ausangate where temperatures often plunge below freezing. The festival starts off with the day of the Holy Trinity, when more than 10,000 pilgrims climb to the snowline. The ukukus are the guardians of the Lord the Apu mountain spirits, and apachetas, stone cairns built along the way by pilgrims to atone for their sins. The ukukus maintain order during religious ceremonies. On their way back down to their communities, they haul massive blocks of ice on their backs for the symbolic irrigation of their lands with holy water from the Ausangate.

Virgen de la Candelaria: February 1-14 –Puno.

For 18 days, the highland town of Puno becomes the Folk Capital of the Americas. The festival gathers more than 200 groups of musicians and dancers to celebrate the Mamacha Candelaria. For the first nine days, the mayordomos (those in charge of organizing the festivities) decorate the church and pay for Mass, banquets and fireworks displays. On the main day, February 2, the virgin is led through the city in a colorful procession comprising priests, altar boys and the faithful, Christians and pagans carefully maintaining the hierarchy.


Peruvian Paso Horse Competition: April 15 - 20 - Pachacámac (Lima).

The Spanish horse bred with the Arab stallion and reared in a desert environment, which formed its gait, gave rise to the Peruvian Paso horse. For 300 years, the blood of this new breed was improved upon until the Paso horse developed the characteristics that have made it one of the world’s most beautiful and elegant breeds. Breeders, riders, chalán and artisans, over the years, have worked on the art of amble - the synchronized gait of the fore and hind legs- which in turn gave rise to the elegant steps and dress of the marinera. This tradition, which has been exported all over the world, has been spurred on by a number of competitions both along the Peruvian coast as well as in the highlands. The most important competition however, is the National El Paso Horse Competition held every year at Mamacona stables near Pachacámac located 30 km (19 miles) south of Lima.


If your travel coincides with one of those festivities and you would like to participate to it, please let us know so that we could arrange the best program for you.


Offerings to Mother Earth

Particularly in the Andean world, pre-Colombian religious fervor has survived until today in age-old rites that link Man to Nature, where the earth enjoys huge symbolic importance. The Pachamama or Earth goddess dwells in the Urkhupacha, the Underworld, and provides her fruits to feed Man. Thus, within the reciprocal nature of the Andes, in August villagers make offerings called pagapus. These offerings can include coca leaves, unwrought silver, chicha, wine and jungle seeds called huayruro believed to have magical powers. These offerings are made to the Apus, the spirits of their ancestors who dwell within the mountains. The coca leaf, a sacred plant which serves to mediate between the inner world (the Apus and the Pachamama) and the outer world (that of Man) is found in countless religious celebrations in communities in the country’s interior and even urban centers. Spread over a blanket on the ground, coca leaves are then "read" to predict the future.

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