Peru Table of Contents
The Andean peasantry, often maligned by those who discriminate against them as being lazy and poor workers, are the reverse of the stereotype. The peasant family begins its day at dawn with the chores of animal husbandry, cutting the eucalyptus firewood, fetching water, and a plethora of other domestic tasks. Field work begins with a trek to the often distant chacras, which may be located at a different altitude from the home and require several hours to reach. Where chacras are very distant from the home, farmers maintain rough huts in which to store tools or stay for several days. Andean peasants of all ages and both sexes lead rigorous lives, hustling about steep pathways carrying loads of firewood, produce, and tools on their backs.
Although horses and mules are of greater market value than burros, they are more expensive to maintain, and thus burros are the most common beasts of burden in most of the highlands. Native Andean llamas and alpacas are commonly found in the central and southern Andes, where they are still widely used for transport, wool, and meat. Peasant women and girls, although carrying a burden, perpetually keep their hands at work spinning wool to be hand woven by local artisans into clothing, blankets, and ponchos. Although there are few who approach full selfsufficiency in the Andes (and none on the coast), the Andean peasantry make, repair, invent, and adapt most of their tools; they also prepare food from grain they have harvested and animals they have raised and butchered.
Although modern amenities and appliances have found their way into most nonfarm households, the rural poor by necessity must conduct their affairs without these instruments of pleasure and work. Even though consumer items--such as electric irons, blenders (especially useful for making baby food), televisions, and radiocassette tape players--are keenly desired, surveys have shown that 25 percent of all Peruvian households possess none of these things. The great majority of households (more than 50 percent) lacking modern appliances were in the rural areas of the Andes. The contributions of many hands, therefore, are vital to the rural economy and household. The same survey by Carlos Aramburu and his associates also showed that the poorest and most rural areas were also the provinces that in demographic terms had the highest dependency ratios (the largest number of persons--the very young and the aged--who were only limited participants in the labor force). Consequently, the loss of youth to migration cuts deeply into the productive capacity of hundreds of families and their communities. In those districts in the central highlands especially, where the Shining Path has been active since the early 1980s, the absolute decline in work force numbers has left a third of the houses empty, fields in permanent fallow, and irrigation works in disrepair, losses which Peru could ill afford in view of its declining agricultural production and great dependency on imported foodstuffs, even in rural areas.
These demographic changes also threaten other community and family institutions like the use of festive and exchange-labor systems (minka and ayni, respectively) that have been such an integral part of the traditional peasant farm tradition. The minka involves a family working side by side with relatives and neighbors to plant or harvest, often with the accompaniment of musicians and always with ample basic food supplied by the hosts. On some occasions, invited workers may request token amounts of the harvest. Exchange labor, or ayni, is the fulfillment of an obligation to return the labor that someone else has produced. The communities of peasant farmers, whether native or cholo, utilize these mechanisms to augment family labor at critical times. Minka work crews, however, are often inefficient and overly festive, and their hosts are unable to keep activities task-oriented on a late afternoon. As a consequence, farmers who are mainly concerned with monetary profitability, tend to utilize paid temporary workers instead of the minka, whose ceremonial aspects are distracting. On the other hand, the purpose of the minka is obviously social and communal, as well as economic. Family economic activity in rural communities has invariably relied primarily on unpaid family labor, augmented by periodic cooperative assistance from relatives and neighbors to handle larger seasonal tasks.
Data as of September 1992
Peru Table of Contents