George Stimpson

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How did Peru get its name?

Peru (pronounced PAY-roo by Peruvians) is of uncertain origin. It is generally believed to be derived from biru, a native word meaning "river." According to the generally accepted story, when Francisco Pizarro and his gold-hungry followers arrived in what is now Colombia they asked the Indians where their gold ornaments came from. The natives said Biru and pointed southward toward the Iscuander River. The Spaniards mistook Biru for the native name of the territory and the term, corrupted into Peru, became the Spanish name [page 39] of the region. Another story is that Biru was the name of a warlike cacique who ruled a small territory near the Isthmus of Darien and with whose warriors the Spaniards fought a fierce battle. Peru is bounded by more countries than any other South American country except Brazil. It touches Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, Brazil and Bolivia. Much of its territory lies in the high Andes and it contains seven peaks more than 19,000 feet in altitude. A strip along the coast, 1,400 miles long and about 30 miles wide, is almost a desert and receives little water except from mountain streams. Lima (pronounced LEE-mah by Peruvians) was called the City of Kings when it was founded in 1535 by Pizarro. The word is a modified form of Rimac, the name of the river on which the city is situated. The Lima cathedral was also founded by Pizarro. Landlocked Bolivia (Republica Boliviana), the only South American country without access to the sea directly from its own ports, was at one time known as Upper Peru. It received its modern name from Simon Bolivar, who is known as the Liberator and the George Washington of South America because he led a series of revolutions and military campaigns that resulted in liberating six countries from Spanish rule—Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru and Bolivia. In fact the liberation of all South and Central America resulted largely from the activities in which he played a major part. Because of its magnificent mountain scenery Bolivia is known as "the Switzerland of South America." In the time of Prime Minister William K. Gladstone Great Britain refused to recognize Bolivia as a separate nation because the Bolivian minister had made a comment reflecting on the honor of Queen Victoria. Some official British maps of the time showed Bolivia as part of Paraguay. The Bolivian monetary unit is called boliviano. Bolivia and Peru together have an area of more than a million square miles, the former being somewhat the larger.