Misuse of the adjective “indians” for natives in Peru

shadows biding their time to cross-to our world

shadows bidding their time to cross to our world

Regularly I visit posts tagged with the word Peru. Curiously I see a trend to call us to the people in the highlands or anybody poor as “Indians”. I think that’s an unfortunate word. I consider myself Aymara because my cultural and racial group but my nationality is Peruvian, but I’d never call me an “Indian Aymara”. Certainly I don’t use to any foreigner the word “gringo” that is pejorative and show ignorance. I call people by their names and I don’t tag them by profession, religion or nationality.

The problem is this, Indian is somebody who born in the country of the  India, and when somebody use it to refers to ourselves is quite weird because usually are people from European background that call themselves as Americans (and I see myself as American, although I know US citizens see themselves as the only Americans and that’s right because everybody has their traditions) but we are Indians and that presupposes some bias:

We must to be a primitive society

And that’s a very wrong assumption, we developed our mathematics and civilization without contact with other civilizations thousands of years before Europe, our oldest known city (quite different to the even older villages) was created five thousand years ago. Today there are a lot of amateur artisans that strengthen the idea of the “good savage” but before the European invasion actually we had designers and thinkers whose products in the economy were developed in specialized workshops. The empire was planned at continental scale because we knew about topography and advanced systems in relation to the special environment. A particular obsession was the genetic manipulation in places similar to laboratories. Metallurgy, architecture, environmental management and urbanism were also careful done. Sadly the most of that ended when the fanatic, poor and destructive Spaniard invaded the empire. Spain had a genius in Cervantes, we get instead an illiterate guy as Pizarro. The End of the World already came to us with them.

In my profession I’m always innovating, I don’t consider myself a westerner so I’m not waiting what are doing in Europe or US, I also produce knowledge and rediscover the old knowledge. For example I don’t use Spaniard traditions because I don’t understand them, Spanish is just a language to trade or business, I like to read a lot about sciences, especially science in the frontiers, in high school I deduced by myself a mathematical formula trying to solve the Fermat theorem (very badly I admit) I learn about the world with my point of view.

Sometimes I think foreigners or westerners from the coast wants that we just dance like monkeys for them. Fortunately there are dances but they aren’t for tourists, they are because traditions.

here we come

here we come!

We have to be poor living in the countryside

Haha, ok, I’m poor. But I don’t want to be rich and before the invasion the highlands had very rich people, in some museums there are still the armors of gold of the leaders and in legal documents the rich persons with tens of thousands of cattle of traders at the beginning of the invasion (I don’t call it conquest because that would sound as if I was of European origin)

When people call us Indians they think we have to live in this kind of home (by the way the house in the picture is in an amazing place in my city, Juliaca):

peaceful home

peaceful home

I’d love to live there, but my profession make me go to the crowded cities. Usually when we build buildings of six or seven floors people in the coast feels anger, we should stay a primitive society or transform into westerners. And when you call us Indians you extend that harmful stereotype.

We are cholos

Spaniards called us “cholos” (or “cholas” to women) from a nahuatl word from Aztecs that means “dog”, the descendants of Spaniards use it for themselves with pride, but they use (and we among ourselves to be honest) it against us as an insult, the other insult they say us is, have a seat, Indians…

In my photographs I never use those words, I’m very respectful, for example you for me would be sir or lady, never “gringo” that in Peru usually is used in a condescending way, also thieves use it too.

to the secret place for ladies

to the secret place for ladies!

My great Grandmother dressed like the ladies in the photography above, but she was from the high society so she used gold with her traditional shawl of vicuña, and silver with her black shawl of silk.

So please, don’t call us Indians, call us Bolivians or Peruvians and if you want to highlight our cultural groups call us, the same way you would do with jews: Quechuas, Aymaras, Shipibos, etcetera.

I use traditional textiles, hats, as you can see, like anybody in the world. But people try to tag me as a westerner as if they would be doing me a favor. If I were westerner I would be proud of being one of course, but I am not.


Signed: an Indian. XD, just kidding. My name is Francis.

8 thoughts on “Misuse of the adjective “indians” for natives in Peru

  1. I did not know that people from Peru were thought of as Indians by some, how strange when India is a long way from South America, maybe it’s a knock on effect of having ‘Red Indians’ (another stupid tag) in North America. The world is full of people who find it easier to pander to misconceptions (we call them bigots!) instead of finding out what is really going on.
    I think Peru looks magical and interesting from your photo’s I would love to visit the country with my camera. Your selfie is fab!

    1. Oh, in great part, or at least that says our books of History, it was because Columbus never thought that he had found a new continent, but the extreme of the India, so he called West Indias to the continent that years later was called America after the map of Amerigo Vespucci.
      You could came in summer so you could have a full year without winter ;-) And thanks for the compliment kind lady, I tried to look like a sorcerer :-D

  2. For the name “Indian”, is to blame one man: Columbus, which confused the continent! In Eastern Europe, natives of South America and Central America, not are called “Indians”, in popular language or in educational language. This name is used only for natives from the USA and was introduced in the languages of Eastern Europe through western movies, made in Hollywood. In our schools for general education, can learn quite detailed history of the Incas, Aztecs, Mayas and Olmecs. Unfortunately, about history of Aymaras not learn anything in general education system (just in specialized education system). In Romania there are just few people who know what means the word “Aymara”. Most of Romanians will say “Peruvians” and know that you are descendants of the Incas. About European (westerners) presence in Peru is known very little. Countries that are perceived to be “Europeanized”, is just Argentina, Uruguay and partially Chile.

    1. Thanks Dan for the information! it’s a common mistake even here in Peru, although used more with a derogatory tone.
      The Inca Empire was conformed by several civilizations and the fact that the documents and history was lost makes it hard to consider it as a matter for school. Instead Aztecs and Mayas left written history, which is an amazing one as well.
      Peruvian is a correct word I think. Peru received mostly people from Spain, Italy and Germany, also there is a few Polish descendants. In Peru there is no much that meaning of “community” except perhaps the groups of German descendants in the jungle, but in general everybody here adopts a Peruvian identity so the European (and Asian) component is reduced just to a question of genealogy more than something stronger as Argentina, Uruguay and Chile. Certainly Europe is far away of us, even for European descendants, what remains is I think some places with Spaniard traditions but from the Spain of centuries ago…

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