Census quantifies indigenous people; more than a quarter self-identify as such

20 October 2018

In previous newsletters we have reported on some of the most salient findings of the 2017 census with regard to population and housing. Here we resume some of the results as they relate to matters of ethnicity.

The census involved two main yardsticks with respect to ethnicity: maternal language (an indicator used in previous censuses) and self-identification (used for the first time in this census).

According to the census, 82.6% of the population over the age of 5 said that they had grown up learning Spanish as their first language (22.2 million people). This was followed by Quechua (13.9% with 3.7 million people), Aymara (1.7% with 444,000 people), and other ‘native’ languages (0.8% with 210,000 people). Other languages accounted for 84,000 respondents (0.3% of the total).

The proportion raised speaking Spanish increased when compared with the 1993 census, when the proportion was 80.3%. But it declined slightly when compared with 2007 (83.9%). Between 1993 and 2007, those brought up speaking Quechua diminished from 16.6% to 13.2% but increased slightly over the 2007-17 intercensal period to 13.9%. Similarly, those raised speaking Aymara have also diminished. They accounted for 2.3% in 1993, 1.8% in 2007 and 1.7% in 2017. Those speaking ‘native’ languages (mostly in the Amazon jungle) have remained roughly stable, accounting for 0.7% in 1993, 0.9% in 2007 and 0.8% in 2017.

Again, unsurprisingly, the numbers raised speaking non-Spanish languages were much higher in rural (37.4%) than in urban areas (11%), and somewhat higher among women than men. In terms of regions, 70% of those responding to the census replied that they had Quechua as their maternal language in Apurímac. Apurímac was followed by Huancavelica (65.2%) and Ayacucho (63.6%). Puno also had a high indigenous language rating (69.9%), divided between 42.9% (Quechua) and 27% (Aymara). Among ‘native’ languages, the largest groups were Ashaninka and Awajún (Aguaruna).

Only included in the census for the first time, questions about self-identification do not lend themselves for comparison across time. But arguably this is a more accurate measure of ethnicity than simply language. The results show that a higher percentage self-identify in this way than is revealed from the question about maternal language. Those answering, however, were only those over the age of 12, so numerically this is a somewhat smaller universe.

Of the 23.2 million people over the age of 12, 60.2% see themselves as mestizo, 22.3% as Quechua, 5.9% ‘white’, 3.6% as Afroperuvian and 2.4% as Aymara. Of the 79,266 who consider themselves ‘nativo’ from Amazonia, 55,489 self-identify as Ashaninka, 37,690 as Awajún, 25,222 as Shipibo Konibo, and a further 49,838 as ‘other’. Self-identifying highland indigenous people (Quechua and Aymara) make up 24.7% of the population and lowland ‘nativos’ 0.8%. All in all, therefore, just over a quarter of the population over the age of twelve identify as indigenous.

Again, as is to be expected, the proportion of people self-identifying as indigenous is much higher in rural than urban areas. The regions with the highest proportions of Quechua self-identification are Apurímac, Ayacucho and Huancavelica (all over 80%), followed by Cuzco (75%) and Puno (57%). In Puno, a further 33.7% self-identify as Aymara. Those who see themselves as Afroperuvian are concentrated mainly in the northern regions of Tumbes, Piura and Lambayeque.

The census cross references ethnicity by both measures with levels of education and health. It also contains data on religious affiliation. Those professing to be Catholics represent 76% of the population, down from 81.3% in 2007. Those professing to be evangelicals have increased from 12.5% to 14.1% over the same decade, while those of ‘other religions’ increased from 3.3% to 4.8% and those of no religion increased from 2.9% to 5.1%.

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