The Western World became aware of Peru when the Conquistador Francisco Pizarro confronted the Inca Atahualpa in the mountain town of Cajamarca in 1532. Since that encounter, the challenge has been to figure out what the mixture of cultures has produced.
History seems to reside just under the Peruvian top soil. A good strong breeze can wipe away the sand and leave the burial sites and buried treasures exposed. A incident, like the Conquest, can be portrayed in popular consciousness as if it had just happened a few years ago. There are scores of reenactments of this encounter between Atahualpa and Pizarro all across Peru each year.
But outsiders should avoid jumping to the conclusion that the Inca or other pre-Colombian cultures are somehow manifest in today's native Peruvians. The Indian woman selling trinkets in the market and her peers are survivors. They are the synthesis of multiple, conflicting cultural and ethnic currents. The vast majority want to join the modern world, not return to an idealized past glory.
What is most challenging about understanding Peru's past is that we are continually learning more about what really happened and its meaning. Archaeology is turning up new finds. The Spanish archives in Seville are a treaure trove of information that is still being sifted through. Research in provincial archives and private papers are turning up new perspectives and raw accounts of daily life and major events. A greater comprehension of the unique natural environment allows investigators to see the interplay between man and nature in the Andes. It is a stimulating, creative and rewarding process.
After the Conquest, Peru and the Andes has extended periods of stability, broken by violent ruptures. What follows is a ideosyncratic listing of events and trends that stretch over 400 years. Hopefully, I will be able to flesh out some of these ideas.
Some interesting online resources that I have run across are: