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Home - Peru People - Indigenous People of Peru

Indigenous People of Peru | Quechua Indians | Amazon River People

Who are the indigenous people of Peru?

Here you'll find out how many tribes or groups of native Peruvian Indians exist in Peru as information on the major indigenous groups.

Indigenous - Definition of Indigenous People

On this Page:

First, what is an indigenous people?

  • There is no one official definition of the term indigenous.

  • Wikipedia sums up their definition in an opening line as "people, communities, and nations who are native to a particular area."

  • In regards to Peru, we will narrow it down to those native groups of people still living in Peru who have their own distinct language.

The major example would be the Quechua Indians, the biggest group of Peruvian "Indians" or natives that exists in Peru today.

Indigenous People of Peru - Peru Language Groups

There are currently reported to be 92 separate and distinct languages spoken in Peru (Ethnologue: Languages of the World).

It's interesting to note that although the common language of Peru is Spanish, legally all indigenous languages are recognized as official languages now by the Peruvian government.

The sheer numbers, at first glance, may be surprising. However, compared to Mexico, for example (291 distinct languages), this is not an unusually large number of indigenous tribes, considering the remoteness of many of Peru's rain forest and cloud forest areas.

Indigenous People of Peru - Locations
Indigenous People of Peru - Amazon River People

Another factor is that, while there exist 92 individual groups of Peruvian Indians, most of these groups contain a very small comparative number of people. Some of the extremely-isolated indigenous tribes or groups may have become extinct since the last official count reported.

Indigenous People of Peru - Andes
Indigenous People of Peru - Amazon River People
Andean Man

Also, although noted as distinct indigenous groups, some are distantly related and are lumped together in some studies. This would include Quechua Indians of which there are 33 actual Quechua language groups in Peru.

Among the small groups of Upper Amazon River people of Peru, for instance, are the:
  • Cahuarano - 5 members of the language group reported in 1976 in Amazonas Department.
  • Culina - 500 members in southeastern jungles near Brazil border, nearly all of whom understand no Spanish.
These are just two groups randomly selected. Other Amazon River people as well as Andean tribes with their own languages in Peru number anywhere from below 100 natives up to hundreds of thousands or over a million speakers as in the Aymara and Quechua general indigenous populations (see note above map about groupings). 

Indigenous People of Peru - Quechua Indians

The Quechua language existed in various forms long before the Incas made that language the language of the Inca Empire and much of the Andes mountains.

However, this did not mean it was solely the language of the Incas. It was spoken in various forms by several indigenous groups, some of whom were mortal enemies of the Incas.

However, to facilitate a look at this general language group, we will briefly speak of the Quechua Indians as one indigenous group.

Indigenous People of Peru - Locations
Indigenous People of Peru - Amazon River People
Quechua Woman

Stretching from the border area of Colombia/Ecuador and south down the spine of the Andes Mountains through Peru and Bolivia and into the mountainous areas of Chile and Northern Argentina, the Inca Empire brought the language known as Quechua to areas populated by various indigenous groups, even the coastal areas of Peru.

Today, the natives known as Quechua Indians, although made of several distinct indigenous groups, constitute about 16 out of every 100 Peruvian residents; according to some sources, around 4 million people, making it, generally speaking, the largest indigenous people of Peru.

With urbanization booming in Lima and other cities in Peru, groups of Quechua-speaking people can be found just about everywhere in the country.

Indigenous People of Peru - The Aymara Indians and Aymara Language

Aymara is the language spoken by the second largest indigenous native people in Peru. Like Quechua, it predated the Inca Empire, existing as the main language of the pre-Inca empire of the Tianwanacu.

Aymara is spoken in several distinct language groups, like Quechua. Its extent, however, is not as large, reaching from Bolivia up into central Peru.

Indigenous People of Peru - Locations
Indigenous People of Peru - Amazon River People
Aymara Vendor

The Aymara language is spoken by about 2 million people, of whom over 440,000 live in Peru, mostly in the southern highland towns and communities.

As with the Quechua, but to a lesser extent, Aymara-speaking Indians can be found in cities in various parts of Peru where they have migrated looking for work.

Indigenous People of Peru - The Amazon River People - Peruvian Indians

In the news from time to time, one hears about "lost tribes," in the jungles of Peru. Of course, they aren't really "lost," they know where they are!

But these Peruvian Indian groups, especially upper Amazon River people, remain totally isolated due to lack of roads, difficult river travel, and practically-impenetrable jungle.

Indigenous People of Peru - Uncontacted Tribes
Indigenous People of Peru - Amazon River People

Of the many small Peruvian Indian tribes, the Amazon River people form the most different indigenous language groups; however, in terms of numbers, the natives of these lesser Peru language groups form a very small part of the general population.

Because of that, they have little or no representation before the government or legal rights and are much abused by the dominant cultures. There have been and continue to be severe problems for these groups due to petroleum exploration, lumber companies, and mining.

Reference Sources:
Ethnologue: Languages of the World- 16th edition

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By David Schneider, Copyright© 2010-2016