Peru – The People And Their Increase

IN the times of the Incas the territory which is now Peru supported a dense population. The vestiges which remain of the intensive cultivation of the land show that it must have sustained a very large number of inhabitants. The population extended from the Sierra and its sides down to the coast, and took little account of the forest region stretching to the Amazon. The enumeration made by the Spanish officials in 1793 has little value as a basis of estimating the increase, because it was not limited to the present Peru. It is interesting only as showing that out of a total of 1,077,000 inhabitants there were 618,000 Indians, 241,000 mestizos, 136,000 Spaniards, and 82,000 negroes and mulattoes Another estimate made at that period was of 1,250,000 persons.

It is difficult to figure out that the population of Peru at the end of 1905 exceeded 3,000,000 to 3,250,000, though an estimate of 4,000,000 was attributed to the Geographical Society of Lima a few years ago. The last census was taken in 1876. It gave a total of 2,673,000 persons. The enumeration admittedly was deficient, and an open question was whether the semi-civilized tribes of the trans-Andine region had been underestimated or overestimated. In subsequent years the province of Tarapaca was ceded to Chile, and Peru suffered not only the losses caused by war with that country, but also from the complete industrial prostration which supervened and from the intestine struggles of the revolutionary factions.

Only within very recent years a basis of normal growth of population may be said to exist, and, with reference to the natural increase, the high rate of infant mortality, both in the cities and in the Sierra, has to be kept in mind. A long period of comfortable existence and of hygienic education must elapse before this mortality will be sensibly diminished. In many communities the birth rate and the death rate are evenly balanced, while there are districts in which the grave claims more than the rude cradle.

By the national census of 1876 Lima had 101,000 inhabitants. In November, 1903, a municipal count fixed the population at 131,000. Lima has received the cream of the immigration in recent years, and has drawn to itself all the floating elements. The smaller coast cities have shown no such growth, while in the interior the towns appear almost stationary as to their inhabitants. If the rate of increase were 30 per cent for the whole country, as with Lima, and if the census of 1876 could be accepted as a safe basis of calculation, the total population today would be approximately 3,5000,000. The notable increase of Peru’s foreign trade in recent years is evidence of improved consumptive capacity, due to industrial prosperity, rather than of an increased number of consumers. It came too swiftly to be accounted for by the growth in population, and therefore does not support the theory of upward of 3,500,000 inhabitants.

I have taken into account the statement of travelers in the interior, who have found the people more thickly distributed than they had thought. Two young Americans, Messrs. Whitehead and Peachy, who in 1902 traveled through northern Peru to the Amazon, encountered a relatively dense population. The engineers, who in 1895 made the Intercontinental Railway Survey from the border of Ecuador to Cuzco, calculated the number of inhabitants along the route to be 482,000, substantially in agreement with the national census and with no signs of a marked increase. The location was through the Sierra and directly on the line of the most populous Andine towns. Engineers for private companies who made a reconnaissance of a route along the left bank of the Maranon, were surprised to find every little stretch of plain or valley between the glaciers occupied and cultivated by an Indian family, yet when they came to estimate the aggregate of the inhabitants, the total was not a large one. This inter-Andine population may be numerous enough to justify the belief that the census of thirty years ago was not wide of the mark, but it is impossible to find grounds for the assumption of an increase of 30 per cent since then. The population of Peru at the beginning of the Panama Canal epoch reason-ably may be placed at 3,250,000.

In the enumeration of 1876 the estimate was, that of the inhabitants 57 per cent were pure Indian, 23 per cent mestizos, and, except for a fraction of negroes, the remaining 20 per cent was Caucasian, chiefly Spanish. The aboriginal proportion is now smaller than it was thirty years ago, since European immigration has added to the white population, and the mixed blood also has been augmented.

There is no more fascinating history than that of the Quichuas, the aboriginal population of Peru which still survives. The distinctions are yet marked between this basic race and the races which were subjected, such as the Yuncas, who dwelt in the northern part and along the coast and whose language is still spoken by their descendants. Some of the tribes along the shores of Lake Titicaca are not of pure Quichua descent, being sprung from the rival race of the Aymaras, while in the forest region the Chunchos and others of the uncivilized tribes have little of the Quichua traditions and customs and speak dialects of their own. But the great mass of the population of Peru today is Quichua. The Spanish and other intermixtures which have produced the cholos, or half-breeds, have had four centuries to work out the blood mingling, and the cholo in every community is easily distinguishable from the pure Quichua.

The Quichua is of the soil. Under the Incas the communal system of land cultivation prevailed, and the natives, even in the loftiest recesses of the mountains, were agriculturists. They found means to irrigate the most barren of spots. On the plains and in the valleys they cultivated the land. The fondness for the freedom of the country still survives, and many of them prefer this life to being grouped in villages.

On some of the great haciendas the crops are apportioned on shares almost as in the times of the Incas. The natives are born shepherds, and the pastoral life suits them. In the Cordilleras, wherever there is a pass or a valley, the cabins of the Indians are scattered about as thickly as the producing qualities of the land will permit.

Much of the work in the mines is done by the cholos or mestizos. These also are the freighters who handle the droves of llamas, burros, and mules that bring the ore from the mines and take back the supplies. On the coast the population might be called chiefly cholo, for here the intercourse with other races has made the conditions different from those in the Sierra.

In the forest region the tribal customs are observed almost as before the Spaniards came. Many of the tribes are still restricted to bows and arrows, and as they are hostile to the government and accept its rule unwillingly, the authorities take pains to see that they are not encouraged in procuring fire-arms and learning the use of modern weapons. The marriage relation is primitive, but the traditions are rigidly maintained. An Englishman who had spent some years in the basin of the Ucayali told me that in one tribe polyandry was practiced. An epidemic of smallpox had left more men than women. The owner of an hacienda on the edge of the forest region gave me an account of the marriage customs which had prevailed immemorially. One instance which had come to his attention was of a girl of nine married to a boy of eleven. When the child-wife was eleven years old, she was a mother. The gentleman had verified this incident himself and had no question of the age of the husband and wife.

The native is deeply attached to his surroundings and does not take readily to labor elsewhere. The climate has something to do with this unwillingness to move. It has been found by experiment that the inhabitants on the pupas, or tablelands 5,000 feet above the sea-level, do not work well when taken up another 5,000 feet. They are not only homesick; they suffer real physical illness. It is the same with those brought down from the lower plains. Alcohol is the worst drawback to their physical well-being and moral advancement. The coca leaf, the essential principle of cocaine, which they use as a food, is far less responsible for their lack of physical stamina than cane rum.

In many of the villages of Peru which I visited I formed an impression that the natives were further advanced than in similar villages in Bolivia and Chile. There was more cleanliness, more evidence of good order and of wise local administration. They are a brooding, solitude-loving race, though not altogether spiritless. How far they still preserve the traditions and sorrow over the Incas I do not know, but their gentle resistance makes it more difficult to impose civilization on them than would be sullen opposition.

While the army is distasteful to the Indian population, and while they evade the conscription wherever possible, it is one of the strongest civilizing forces. The discipline is good, and the change of environment also is advantageous. Obedience has been so fixed a habit of the natives since the Spanish conquest that they never think of questioning authority. As to the degree of superstition which is mingled with the nominal adhesion given by the Indian population to the church, I do not profess to judge.

The Peruvian government seeks to enforce a good school system, and in the large towns and villages with. some success. But on the part of the mass of the Quichuas there is still inextinguishable hostility to learning Spanish, not less effective because it is passive. The suggestion has been made that the authorities provide a system of primary schools where Quichua shall be the language and shall be taught systematically. It is the lingua general, or common speech, of a large majority of the inhabitants.

At Huanuco, where a German agricultural colony was established forty or fifty years ago, the sons of the early colonists still speak German, and many of the Quichuas in the neighborhood have acquired a smattering of that language. Apparently they distinguished between the tongue of the conqueror and another strange tongue.

The negro element in the population in Peru is sometimes remarked by strangers. They are told that it has become thoroughly intermixed with the native race. In the early days of the viceroys, when African slavery was exploited by the two great Christian powers, England and Spain, many Africans were brought to Peru. It is thence that the name Zambo, or Sambo, came. They are yet called Sambos. Though the Spanish and Indian mixture is said to be thorough, there seems to be much of the African racial identity still preserved.

The Chinese coolies were brought to Peru in the fifties. They still work in the sugar plantations and the rice fields and a few of them also in the cotton fields. The coolie in the second generation, however, becomes a store-keeper or a property owner. On some of the sugar estates the Chinese steward in the course of a few years leases the plantation and later becomes the owner. There are many wealthy China-men in Peru, and not all of them made their money as merchants at Lima. The policy of the government is not to encourage coolie immigration.

For the industrial and political future of which Peru dreams there must be immigration as well as natural increase of the present native population The potter’s clay is not all at hand. Some of it must be brought in. This immigration will be along three lines, which may be called topographical or geographical,—first, on the coast; second, in the Sierra; third, in the trans-Andine country and the vast basin of the rivers that feed the Amazon. A phenomenal growth in the latter region during the present generation is not probable, though it has enormous colonization possibilities which gradually will be utilized, especially with the opening up of the means of communication. Some of them, too, are European or Caucasian possibilities, for the exploration of numerous scientists and their studies have shown that the European can live and thrive in these regions. These climatic and similar observations may be had from a score of books giving experiences of individuals.

In the development of the mines Peru necessarily must add to the population of the Sierra. Mining labor now is hardly sufficient, and the preference of the natives for agriculture and for service as freighters makes the problem one of increasing difficulty. The wages in the mines are good, varying according to locality. In the Sierra day labor can be had for about half a sol, which is equivalent to twenty-five cents gold. The American syndicate, in building the Cerro de Pasco Railway, paid the natives a sol, or fifty cents, and got satisfactory returns. But for the mining development of the future, miners from Spain and Italy should supply the deficiency that will exist so long as sole reliance is placed on the natives. They may come in considerable numbers.

Irrigation of the region between the Sierra and the coast is assured, and this is going to furnish the basis for the largest and earliest increase in population. A portion of this increase should also come from Italy and Spain and perhaps also from Germany, for the Germans are highly successful in semi-tropical agriculture. The Italians have been very successful in Peru in retail trade and in some of the mechanical employments, but the conditions also are favorable for them in agricultural pursuits. The vineyards in the region around Pisco and Ica seem to afford an especially inviting field for them. By the time the Panama Canal is open the big trans-Atlantic liners from Genoa and Naples which now come to Colon should be bringing a full quota of Italian immigrants through the waterway to the Peruvian ports.

The government has enacted liberal legislation providing for immigration and colonization, but it does not follow the theory of government-aided colonies. Its course is sound. It grants land to private enter-prises for colonization, and in the industrial plans which are now a part of its political policy there is a certainty of an increased population to be drawn from abroad. An old law authorizes an annual appropriation of 50,000 for encouraging immigration, and the passage of immigrants may be paid, but this is the limit of state aid.

Colonization plans by private enterprises received a check a few years ago, when the Peruvian Corporation abandoned its efforts. Of the total grant of 2,750,000 acres in the region of the rivers Perene and Ene and the Chanchamayo valley, more than a million acres were set aside for immediate peopling. The corporation began to attract settlers to the lands, but the movement was feeble and was not sustained. The complaint made was that instead of inviting fresh and virile European immigration it drew the dregs from neighboring countries, taking colonists who had proved their own worthlessness in the places where they first settled. The experiment was still another instance of ignorant London directors and incompetent management.

Many of the earlier colonists in this district went into coffee-growing with fair success. The climate, the soil, the slopes of the Cordilleras, all were favor-able. Good crops were raised and found a profitable market. But this market was obtained at the period when Brazil was changing from the empire to the republic, and when through that and subsequent disturbances the supply to meet the world’s demand was interrupted. When the Brazilian crop became abnormal in its productiveness, weighting the price down below the level of profitable production, coffee-raising no longer was business for the colonists of Peru. They themselves did not clearly perceive the cause of their distress. Many of them, instead of turning to other products, got discouraged and went away. But merely because of this failure there is no ground to believe that in the future colonizing movements in this region, intelligently directed by the Peruvian Corporation or by any private company, will not succeed. The climatic and soil conditions are inviting, and the only question is the means of utilizing these gifts of nature. The entire Pichis zone is favorable to European colonization. When it is connected with the Pacific by the extension of the present railroad to Port Bermudez or some other river point, its colonization capabilities will be appreciated; for the lack of access has been the drawback. This rich region lies within three hundred miles of the coast.

A similar observation may be made concerning the northern districts. From any one of half a dozen little seaports the valleys of the Maranon and its tributaries are less than two hundred miles distant. But the Continental Divide lies between, and this mass of mountain wall must be pierced by the railroad. Once this is done, the immigration possibilities of northern Peru will develop rapidly.

For all this there must be faith, and resolution, and definite measures. It is not a question of settling a new land, for Peru is an old, old country. Nor is it the problem of reconstructing the ancient civilization of the Incas, or the civilization which twentieth-century iconoclastic antiquarians charge the Incas with stealing from other races. In its economic aspect the matter is simply one of getting more people into a country which has plenty of room for them.

During a stay in Lima, I spent an afternoon with Rev. Dr. Wood, a Methodist Episcopal missionary, who had been in South America for thirty years, and who had made the most discriminating study of social conditions of any Yankee living in the Andes. I came away permeated with some of Dr. Wood’s enthusiasm and, I hope, with some of his devout faith. The South American continent, he declared, has been held in reserve by Providence for a time when the population of other countries would press for room and for means of subsistence. The present Peru, he thinks, is easily capable of supporting 20,000,000 inhabitants in conditions of life and comfort similar to those enjoyed by dwellers in the Alps and the Appenines.

But if in the years pending the completion of the Panama Canal, Peru by natural increase and by immigration can add 1,000,000 to her population, that modest addition will determine her industrial future. A million more people during the next ten years will mean an extra 2,000,000 in the decade that follows. The horizon does not need to be extended farther.