A farmers' market in Northern Perú.

A farmers' market in Northern Perú.

This sequence of images is intended to convey something of the charm - "el encanto" - of the central Northern Andes. It documents a very commonplace farmers' market in a village about 40km South of Cajamarca, in a belt of relatively narrow land that is given over to dairy farming and sheep rearing, some cultivation and Eucalyptus plantations. The region is also studded with mines, chiefly seeking gold.

Cajamarca is surrounded by dairy land, northern Peru.

Cajamarca was the northern centre of power for the Inca. It was, of course, the city where the last "true" Inca, Atahualpa, had his fatal encounter with Pizarro in 1531. The province of Cajamarca lies between the equally venerable city of Trujillo, on the coast, and the jungle-coated Cordillera Azul, which dips down into the lower selva to the East. Cities and settled civilisation first took root in the Northern coast land of Peru, drawing on the rural hinterland, and a series of cultures - Chavin, Moche, Chachapoyas - have shaped the landscape and its peoples. Northern Peruvians look, sound and behave in ways which are quite distinct from their Southern compatriots.

Eucalyptos plantations and sheep in Cajamarca province, Peru

The Inca required the people of its four regions to wear distinctive dress and to style their hair in particular, uniform ways. Ethnic styles differentiated further during the centuries of cultural fragmentation under the Spanish. Today, the highland women of Peru - and hitherto, the men - follow dress styles which are merging together along the length of the Andes, but which nevertheless retain locally distinctive flourishes. One of these is the Cajamarca hat.

The enormous, wide-brimmed hat of the Cajamarca region is worn by both men and women. It is made from paja, which means 'reed' but which is in fact the mid-rib of the palm tree frond. The material is woven by hand, and the hat is shaped by the way in which this is done. The result is durable, light and crushable (one can screw one into a ball and have it spring back into shape with a flick of the wrist.)

Other regions adopt different hats, often adorned with complicated ribbons and ornaments to indicate marriageable status or marital status. Those from the midlands are often made of real reeds, woven and then impregnated with a hard whitening agent. These are generally worn with a black or brown ribbon. The South has a huge variety of hats, ranging from the simply bowler - supposedly imitated from railway engineers a century ago - to elaborate confections of cloth, tinsel and rush.

The village store in a northern Peruvian village

Here, then, is our quiet country village. A group of townspeople - not farmers, by their dress - loiter outside the village store. This advertises that it will charge batteries and that it buys taya. Taya or tara is the seed of Caesalpina spinosa, a native crop which grown for its bitter seed. Taya is extremely rich in tannin, and the extract is used in leather work and wine production. It was formerly used to make ink. Below, more rustic figures begin to make an appearance in the harsh morning sunlight.

Campesinos come to town in northern Peru

The cattle market begins to assemble itself on a much-used patch of open ground just beyond the single main street of the village. Placid-looking bulls mill around, some loose, some on leads held by tiny children. A number of the animals have been trucked in from the surrounding villages, whilst others have walked in during the cool of the dawn hours. The cattle are predominantly of beef breeds, despite the area being heavily reliant on milk. The chief reason for this has been the erratic nature of milk and cheese collection that was the case in the region until five to ten years ago. Few would invest in a dairy-dedicated herd when it might be necessary to sell the animals for meat if the milk collection system failed. Commercial and state-supported systems of regular milk collection - and better road transport - has revolutionised the economic prospects of the people who once struggled for a living.

Bulls wander around the trucks that brought them to market: Peru

The crowds gather in part to trade cattle (and pigs, and sheep) but chiefly for the spectacle. The patch of land is well-used to events of this sort. This area is also used for bull fights at the Patronal, the village Saint's day. Then, cattle trucks are drawn up in a rough circle, first covered with boards and then with a swaying crowd of eventually very drunk people. Rural Peruvian bull fights are seldom intended to harm the bull - which is often used to being handled, as the image above shows - but which allows young men to show off their animal management skills and their manliness. This is fortunate, as the toreadores are often falling-down drunk and probably easy prey, were the bull to be so minded.

The cattle market in full swing: Peru

The Cajamarca hats, mentioned above, are very much in evidence. Their practicality - as sunshades, as umbrellas in the rain, as carrying baskets for seed, fruit and the like - makes them universal amongst the country people.

Cajamarca hats, detail: Peru

Business done, people now stroll about, meeting and exchanging gossip. Meanwhile, in the central street, the market is beginning its activity. Such markets occur daily, as fresh vegetables, fruit, bread and the like have to be traded swiftly. Formal shops tend to sell hardware or services - such as battery charging, as mentioned above - whilst ephemeral stands handle fresh produce.

The cattle market winds down, Cajamarca Peru

The street is, therefore, decked out with plastic awnings to cover perishable goods. This is, however, a special market by virtue or the earlier event involving livestock, and traders from out of town have come in to sell patent medicines and toys, clothing and household equipment. The smoke on the right of the image comes from a stall which is selling roasted guinea pig, or cuy.

A rustic market in northern Peru

Each stall consists of an awning and a sheet of plastic on the ground. Goods (and children) are piled up behind the sellers, and samples are places out in front of them. Ambling customers bargain for a price with the seated vendors.

Cajamarca hats ward of the hard Peruvian sun

Wandering vendors develop a circuit which touches as many as possible of these markets. Many make the products that they sell - we gave a lift to Omar, who made shoes for several months of the year and then took to the road, selling them at street markets such as this. Here, a seller has built an impromptu rack from odd bits of wood, and hung his wares - belts, scissors, toys, tools, a foot ball - from it. On the left, traders are selling rice and coarse sugar, trucked up from the coast to this small market. The blue sack advertises itself as being "Mothers' secret for conquering the family."

Buying rice and sugar in a Peruvian rural market

The dairy industry, so important locally, sells chiefly to regional processing centres, and relatively little is traded locally. However, specialty cheeses are an exception. Soft cheeses, which normally look like round white balls, have here been gathered into fours and sealed within these ingenious containers, made from rush stems. The two saleswomen are negotiating hard with a pair of campesinas, who appear settled in for a long bargaining session.

Bargaining for cheeses in northern Peru

The heat of the nearly-equatorial sun makes shade essential, and the plastic awnings cast brightly coloured shadows on the passers by. These fruit will have been imported into the region - the pineapples and oranges may have come from several hundred miles away, in the humid lowlands, whilst the apples are probably local to the Cajamarca region and may even be local. This is an extraordinary contrast to what used to be the case, and must have changed lives immeasurably. Villages of this sort would have been almost completely isolated from outside goods, ideas and information when the woman in the foreground was born, and would have been a two day journey from any source of manufactured goods when the gray-haired man in the background was a child. The development has penetrated the highlands only relatively recently, but its pace has been extremely fast once it started.

A mid morning market scene in Peru

A lone fruit seller offers a bewildering mixture of products. The Solanaceae - plants such as capsicums, potatoes and tomatoes - have their centre of origin in the North of Peru. Any one market will have tens to hundreds of varieties of these on offer.

Peru offers a vast range of native vegetable varieties

The market drifts to a close around 10.30, and the women and children begin to return to their villages before the heat of the day develops. The men tend to remain until the late evening, often drinking the proceeds of a day's trading. Merry - or broke and so apprehensive - men who are weaving their way home make it advisable to be particularly careful when driving in the late afternoon of any weekend.

Heading for home after a tiring day at the market near Cajamarca, Peru

The women are, however, viewed by the community as being responsible for money management and for household activities "downstream" of the house. That is, the men are supposed to handle the land and the livestock, whilst the women deal with children, the domestic economy, trading and household upkeep. Consequently - and with considerable community pressure behind them - the more experienced amongst them get hold of and retain the financial proceeds from the day, and give their men folk an allowance for the afternoon. Men are, for the most part, seen as somewhat childlike and feckless by the Andean women of the Cajamarca region, and in need of management.

Satisfied-looking north Peruvian campesinas head for home