Peru: Society and Nationhood in the Andes

Peru: Society and Nationhood in the Andes

Peru: Society and Nationhood in the Andes

Peru: Society and Nationhood in the Andes

Synopsis

Peru is a country with a remarkable history---in the earliest times, the Incas managed to found a major civilization here, despite the region's environment, which is one of the harshest in the world. The Spanish colonial rule which followed the conquest exploited basic mineral resources in the area without bringing either stability or wealth to the existing population, and unfortunately, economic depression and civil war have frequently left their pockmarks on Peruvian history ever since. In this book, Klaren explores the country's long history, with particular emphasis on social and economic issues, from pre-Incan times to 1995. Organized chronologically, the text also discusses the major themes of Peru's past, focusing not only on prominent figures, but on the daily lives of ordinary people as well.

Excerpt

Peru, a country of 25 million people (1997) occupying a half-million square miles of territory on the west coast of South America, is a country with a rich, if painful and torturous history. As the cradle of South America's most advanced native American civilizations, it has a unique heritage among the nations of the southern continent. Unlike the countries of the Southern Cone (Argentina or Chile) or, for that matter, North America (Canada and the United States), Peru encompasses a past that reaches back over 10,000 years in one of the most harsh and inhospitable, if spectacular, environments in the world—the high Andes of South America. A series of sophisticated preColumbian civilizations sprang up along the lush coastal river valleys and in the fertile, highland intermontane valleys and plateaus of the high Andes to the east. The culmination of Andean civilization was the construction by the Incas, in little more than a hundred years, of an empire that spanned a third of the South American continent and achieved a level of general material well-being and cultural sophistication that rivaled and, indeed, surpassed many of the great empires in world history.

Paradoxically, Peruvian history is also unique in other, less glorious ways. The Andean peoples engaged the invading Spaniards in 1532 in one of the first clashes between Western and non-Western civilizations in history. The ensuing Spanish conquest and colonization rent the rich fabric of Andean society and created the enormous gulf between the victors and vanquished that continued to reverberate through the centuries. The country, like its geography, became divided economically, socially, and politically between a “semifeudalized,” largely native American, highland and a more modernized, capitalistic, urbanized, and mestizo coast. At the apex of its social structure, a small, wealthy white elite came to dominate the vast majority of Andeans, whom they systematically excluded from their narrow, Europeanized conception of the nation. The upshot was a chronic inability of the modern state to overcome the legacies of colonialism and underdevelopment that has effectively inhibited the integration and consolidation of the Peruvian nation to this day.

Writing the history of Peru has posed numerous obstacles and problems. Westerners have typically viewed this former land of the Incas from the vantage point of distance and deep cultural differences that Edward Said called “orientalism.” That is, they have perceived Peru as a country not only shrouded in mystery and the exotic, a mirror of their own dreams and de-

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