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11 Indigenous Cultures of Peru You Should Know About

Peru is known for its indigenous culture and history. The Inca Empire was the largest and most developed in the Americas before Columbus arrived. But what about the other indigenous cultures, the ones that still exist to this day? Let’s take a look at 13 indigenous people of Peru who continue to be the face of the indigenous cultures of the South American nation.


The Achuar are an indigenous culture from the Amazon Basin in the area on the border between Peru and Ecuador. There are around 3,500 Achuar in Peru, 15,000 in Ecuador, and 1,500 in Spain (as of 2014). Their spirituality is centered around dreams and vision-dreams, which help to guide life.


There is believed to be 3.5 million Quechua in Peru alone (other countries include Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, and the U.S.) The Quechua language is the most spoken indigenous language in the country. The word papa comes from Quechua, and means “tuber,” which is fitting since Quechuas grow thousands of varieties of potato in Peru.


Aymara is another major indigenous language spoken in Peru, with about 220,000 Aymara people in the country. Since the 1920s, Aymara women of Peru and Bolivia have worn bowler hats (bombin in Spanish), introduced by British railroad workers, as part of their traditional dress.


The Shipibo people combined with the Conibo to become the Shipibo-Conibo, and number between 11,000 and 25,000 people. They are known for their pottery and the intricate geometric designs that they use to decorate.


The Aguaruna, also known as the Ahuajun or Awajun, are indigenous people from the Peruvian jungle, and live near the Marañón river and several of its tributaries. In the Aguaruna language (which is part of the Javaroan language), the word for woman is nuwa, and the number one is bakichik.


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Today on International Womens’ Day, and every day, we celebrate the voices of indigenous women who are on the front line defending their territories and communities. In this portrait series, we present four inspiring and courageous indigenous women speaking on the importance of protecting the water and river. Hailing from the Maranon river basin, these women come from communities affected by oil spills from Peru’s rusty and leaking 854 km North Peruvian Pipeline. Although women have always been present in the socio-environmental resistances against extractive projects in the Peruvian Amazon, their struggles have not always been made visible. Their voices are seldom heard in meetings with the state and women lack representation in the leadership of indigenous organizations. Women must be empowered and be provided the support and the space to take leading roles and to amplify their voices!

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Also known as the Cocoma and the Kukama, the Kokoma also live along the Maranon River, as well as the Ucayali River, and Huallaga River in Peru (in addition to parts of Brazil and Colombia). The Kukama people have recently been fighting oil companies, and the Peruvian government, regarding oil spills that have polluted their water.


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The Kaxinawá — also known as the Huni Kuin, Kashinawa, Cashinahua, etc.—are indigenous to both Peru and Brazil. Their population in Peru are said to be 2,419 (as of 2007), and their language is known as Hancha Kuin (“real words”).


The Amahuaca (also Amhuaca) is another indigenous group native to both Peru and Brazil. A once isolated people, there is said to be only 500 Amahuaca left. This is the result of illegal loggers and oil extractors, who brought disease, violence, and ecological problems to the region.



The Q’ero (written Q’iro in Quechua) are from the Cusco region of Peru, and are estimated to total about 600-2,000. They are believed by some to be direct descendants of the Inca.


The Harakmbut, who live in the Peruvian Amazon, are made up of two groups: the Huachipaeri and the Amarakaeri. Actress Q’orianka Kilcher, who is part of the cast of the upcoming Dora the Explorer film, is of Huachipaeri and Quechua descent.


Also known as the Amuesha Amage, Lorenzo, and more, the Yanesha are from the Peruvian Amazon. The community is said to be 10,000 (as of 2010), grow coffee, among other crops.