Peru is definitely a multicultural society. Europeans, indigenous people, and African slaves were thrown together in Peru, and each group played an important role in the formation of the national culture and identity. The story of the Afro-Peruvians is often forgotten, but considering that they make up 10-15 percent of the total population, it deserves more attention. If you go to study Spanish in Peru, you will see the Afro-Peruvian influence often.
Africans first came to Peru with the conquistadors. Initially, there were two categories of blacks. One group was called bozales, and these people were largely untrained in traditional labor. The second group of Africans actually had previous exposure to Spanish culture and spoke the language. They were referred to as Ladinos.
Slaves were brought to Peru during the years of African slave trade. Slaves worked mostly on sugar and cotton plantations, but some also in shipyards. Some artisans worked as carpenters and tailors. Blacksmiths were given more freedom. Sometimes they were even paid, as their skills were valued so highly. Afro-Peruvians fought alongside other Peruvians in the War of Independence. Slavery was abolished by law in 1856. At that time, all Afro-Peruvian slaves were freed.
At first, Afro-Peruvians played an intermediary role between the Spanish colonists and native Peruvians. But as the Spanish and indigenous people continually syncretized their cultures, the Afro-Peruvians were pushed to a lower social strata as they were no longer considered to be as vital in intercultural relations.
Afro-Peruvians contributed much to music and dance. They developed the cajon, a wooden box that is one of the country's national instruments. It developed due to the fact that traditional African instruments like marimbas and drums were once banned. Africans started to use everything they could get their hands on as substitutions, and so tables, chairs and wooden boxes all became makeshift instruments.
Today, you can find people of African descent in many areas of Peru, though the densest populations are in Lima, Callao, Ica, and Nazca. Some also live in the Amazon region.
Every year in Chincha and El Carmen, The Verano Negro festival is held to celebrate the food, music, dance and poetry of Afro-Peruvians. It takes place at the end of February for 10 days. Among the activities are parades, dance contests, beauty pageants and Afro-Peruvian/Creole food fairs. If you learn Spanish in Peru during the summer, you can also attend the festivities for Afro-Peruvian Culture day, which is June 4th.
Afro-Peruvians have contributed tremendously to Peru's culture, but unfortunately, there is still some inequality within Peruvian society. They tend to be among the poorest and largely undereducated sectors of the population. Hopefully, as Afro-Peruvians continue to impact society and culture, some positive changes will be made towards equality and acceptance.