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Incas

Category: Indigenous people

The Inca Empire was the largest empire in pre-Columbian America.  The Inca civilization arose from the highlands of Peru sometime in the early 13th century, and the last Inca stronghold was conquered by the Spanish in 1572.  The official language of the empire was Quechua, although hundreds of local languages and dialects of Quechua were spoken.

From 1438 to 1533, the Incas used a variety of methods, principally peaceful assimilation, to incorporate a large portion of western South America, [see map] including the Andean mountain ranges, Peru, large parts of modern Ecuador, western and south central Bolivia, northwest Argentina, north and central Chile, and a small part of southern Colombia.  The resulting empire was of a size comparable to the historical empires of Eurasia.  All of this was achieved without the use of wheeled transport, although an extensive road network was built. 

The Inca Empire grew through an economy based on exchange and taxation of luxury goods and labour. The following quote reflects a method of taxation:

"For as is well known to all, not a single village of the highlands or the plains failed to pay the tribute levied on it by those who were in charge of these matters. There were even provinces where, when the natives alleged that they were unable to pay their tribute, the Inca ordered that each inhabitant should be obliged to turn in every four months a large quill full of live lice, which was the Inca's way of teaching and accustoming them to pay tribute".

The Incas, in exchange, used the taxes to provide security, food in times of hardship through the supply of emergency resources, agricultural projects (e.g. aqueducts and terraces) and ‘occasional feasts’.  We see here a great similarity between them and the Aztecs.  One such feast was the Inti Raymi, or “hero’s feast,” attended by soldiers, nobles, priests, and the general population of Cusco.  It began on the June solstice and culminated nine days later with the ritual breaking of the earth using a foot plough by the Inca king himself.  Inca calendrics were strongly tied to astronomy. Inca astronomers understood equinoxes, solstices, and zenith passages, not to mention the Venus cycle – like the Maya and the Aztec.  They used lunar months and the twelve lunar months were also marked with specific festivals and rituals.

The growth of the Empire was also fuelled by trade.  Inca Lords like Pachacuti would send messages to the leaders of other kingdoms extolling the benefits of joining his empire, offering them presents of luxury goods, and promising that they would be materially richer as subject rulers of the Inca.  Most accepted the rule of the Inca as a consequence, and the ruler's children would then be brought to Cusco to be initiated into the Mysteries.  After initiation – when if all went well the child would become a ‘god’, - there would then be marriages that cemented the integration.

The Inca Empire lacked any written language, the empire's main form of communication and recording came from quipus and spoken Quechua, as such there is no reliable written source of Inca religion.  Other sources of information about the Inca beliefs were precious metal work, textiles and ceramics.  The Incas were extremely skilled metal workers, but almost all of the gold and silver work of the empire was melted down by the Spanish, so we have entirely lost this record.  Textiles and ceramics have been preserved and remain a vital record, much like the Mayan glyphs – although the textile patterns have yet to be deciphered.

But it is clear, despite the lack of a written history, that the Inca Empire was an Empire based on mystic beliefs, which is why peaceful assimilation was possible.  The Empire spread through the initiation of people into the Mysteries, which was itself based on spiritual experience.  The Inca referred to their empire as Tawantinsuyu which can be translated as "The Four Quarters".  The name is important, because it reflects their belief in the Egg and the cardinal directions.  The Empire was the Egg with its administrative, political and military centre located in Cusco and its religious centre at Macchu Picchu Macchu Pichu represented the site of the Unmoving mover [see Map of the Egg].  It was probably in its day one of the most important sites for the Mysteries we have ever known, only surpassed in importance by the site at Giza in Egypt.

Intelligences

The Inca Mystical system was based on the symbolism of the Sun and the Moon.  They believed like all Mystical systems that what we can physically see is ‘animated’ by Spirit.  As such there was an extensive Intelligence hierarchy, only a small proportion of which we now know.

The Ultimate Intelligence is both male and female – thus we have the concept of Mother and Father.  The Creator and male ‘role is taken by Viracocha.  The Created and female role is taken by Pachamama, personified as the ‘wife’ of Viracocha in legends and the goddess of earth.  Other example Intelligences include:

  • Apu IllapuRain god
  • Ayar Cachi –god that represents the functions of earthquakes
  • Illapa –  goddess of lightning and thunder (also Yakumama water goddess)
  • Inti and Kilya – these are the symbolic Sun and Moon, the Sun god is called Inti, the Moon Mother is called Kilya
  • Occlo – the goddess of wisdom; in legends she taught women to weave cloth, and build houses
  • Cápac – the god of wisdom; similar to Mars in some respects as he is the personification of courage.  In myths and legends he became human in order to teach the people how to grow plants, make weapons, work together, and share resources
  • Qochamama – goddess of the sea, like Neptune
  • Sachamama – Means Mother Tree, goddess in the shape of a snake with two heads.  It can be equivalent to the caduceus or  The Tree of Life
  • Yakumama – Means mother Water, represented as a snake, when she came to earth she transformed into a great river (also Illapa)

The system of priests, lords etc was a sort of feudal hierarchy based on the idea that a king or lord was, through initiation, a lower level god and part of the Intelligence hierarchy.  The Incas considered their King, the Sapa Inca, for example,  to be the "child of the Sun."  The term Inka means ruler, or "lord," in Quechua, and was used to refer to the ruling class or the ruling family in the empire. It was the Spanish who adopted the term (transliterated as Inca in Spanish) as an ethnic term, referring to all subjects of the empire rather than simply the ruling class.

Sacred geography

The entire Empire was also based on Sacred geography, in other words the buildings, roads, gardens and citadels, cities, mark stones and monuments were laid out in an attempt to map the spiritual onto the physical.  The Incas thus lived a spiritual life through their architecture.  Huge numbers of sacred sites existed, some were sacred because they involved symbolic objects – mountains, hills, springs, rivers etc.  Some were sacred because they were telluric hot spots.  Cusco, for example, before it was decimated by the Spanish and earthquakes was stunningly beautiful:
"We can assure your majesty that it is so beautiful and has such fine buildings that it would even be remarkable in Spain."  Francisco Pizarro

Cusco was full of huacas [sacred sites] and radiated ceque lines, the equivalent of ley lines, or the Mayan White roads.

There are symbolic caves and  ‘hollow mountains’, as well as actual physical caves.  Inca oral history, for example, describes three caves from which the people who were the ancestors of the people emerged -  Tambo Tocco, Maras Tocco and Sutic Tocco. 

Architecture was by far the most important of the Inca arts, with textiles reflecting motifs that were at their height in architecture.  It is worth mentioning that the stones of which the buildings were made are often massive, but all of them were constructed by the Inca used a mortarless construction that fitted together so well that a knife could not be fitted through the stonework.  This form of construction has withstood numerous earthquakes, whereas many colonial buildings have been completely destroyed.

Physical measures employed by the Inca were based upon human body parts. Fingers [inch], the distance between thumb to forefinger [six inches], palms, cubits, and wingspans [yard] were among those units used, which is somewhat fascinating given that these were once used by  the English.

Other beliefs and practises

The Inca believed in reincarnation.   Most Incas believed the after world to be very similar to the Euro-American notion of heaven, with flower covered fields and snow capped mountains.

The Inca moral code was based on the principle of DON’T HURT –for example, —ama suwa, ama llulla, ama quella (do not steal, do not lie, do not be lazy).

The Inca also practiced cranial deformation, in other words they wrapped tight cloth straps around the heads of newborns in order to alter the shape of their soft skulls into a more conical form; “this cranial deformation was made to distinguish social classes of the communities, with only the nobility having cranial deformation”.  Except that this is only partially true, because it was recognised that brain damage led to people who could have permanent spiritual experiences, as such they were making ‘gods’ from birth.

The Inca also used trepanning.  Scientists have called this ‘skull surgery’ and because they are scientists have said [without evidence] that it was to ‘alleviate fluid build-up and inflammation caused by head wounds’. Except that traditionally trepanning was a mechanism of theoretically helping the opening of the crown chakra and was a worldwide practise in regions where the crown chakra was recognised.  Whatever is believed, the Inca were successful with ‘survival rates of 80–90% during the Inca era

The Spanish conquest

Spanish conquistadors led by Francisco Pizarro and his brothers explored south from what is today Panama, reaching Inca territory by 1526. It was clear that they had reached a wealthy land with prospects of great treasure, and after one more expedition in 1529, Pizarro travelled to Spain and received royal approval to conquer the region and be its viceroy. This approval was given in 1529.

When they returned to Peru in 1532, smallpox, which the Spanish had brought with them, had ‘considerably weakened the empire’. The effects of smallpox on the Inca empire were devastating. Beginning in Colombia, smallpox spread rapidly before the Spanish invaders first arrived in the empire. Within a few years smallpox claimed between 60% and 94% of the Inca population, with other waves of European disease weakening them further. Smallpox was only the first epidemic. Typhus (probably) in 1546, influenza and smallpox together in 1558, smallpox again in 1589, diphtheria in 1614, measles in 1618 – all ravaged the remains of Inca culture and its people.

Pizarro did not have a formidable force; with just 168 men, 1 cannon and 27 horses, but they were combating a population ravaged by the diseases they had brought.

The Spanish did not win by military might, they won via the diseases and epidemics they caused; and they finally won by taking Atahualpa the leader of all the Incas, as hostage.  Atahualpa invited the Spanish to meet him and was met with a demand, which he did not understand because of the language barrier, to surrender his faith and his empire to King Charles I of Spain and convert to Christianity.

The act was somewhat equivalent to going up to the Pope and asking him to give up the entire Catholic Empire and convert to Voodou.

Atahualpa was imprisoned for his lack of comprehension, but he offered the Spaniards enough gold to fill the room he was imprisoned in, and twice that amount of silver. The Inca fulfilled this ransom, but Pizarro deceived them, refusing to release the Inca afterwards. During Atahualpa's imprisonment, Atahualpa’s brother Huáscar was murdered by the Spanish.  The Spaniards then put Atuahalpa on trial for his brother’s death and after finding him 'guilty' put him to death, in August 1533.  We now need to imagine what the murder of the Pope might have done to the Catholic religion back in the 1600s and we can see that it had much the same effect on the Inca empire.  It collapsed.  Cut off the head and the body dies.

The Spanish installed another of Atahualpa's brothers, Manco Inca Yupanqui in power; for some time Manco cooperated with the Spanish, while the Spanish fought to put down resistance in the north. Meanwhile an associate of Pizarro's, Diego de Almagro, attempted to claim Cusco for himself. Manco tried to use this intra-Spanish feud to his advantage, recapturing Cusco in 1536, but the Spanish retook the city. Manco Inca then retreated to the mountains of Vilcabamba, Peru, where he and his successors ruled for another 36 years, sometimes raiding the Spanish or inciting revolts against them. In 1572 the last Inca stronghold was conquered, and the last ruler, Túpac Amaru, Manco's son, was captured and executed. “This ended resistance to the Spanish conquest under the political authority of the Inca state.”

After the fall of the Inca Empire many aspects of Inca culture were systematically destroyed, including their sophisticated farming system. Spanish colonial officials used the mita corvée labor system for colonial aims, sometimes brutally. One member of each family was forced to work in the gold and silver mines, the foremost of which was the massive silver mine at Potosí. When a family member died, which would usually happen within a year or two, the family would be required to send a replacement.

References

Inca religion and Customs - Father Bernabe Cobo [translated by Roland Hamilton.  There are no accurate written records of the beliefs of the Incas and it may be that their buildings [those that have survived] are a better record than the current books, but at least one of them, the one by Cobo, has some indications in it of what was believed.

Father Bernabe Cobo was born in Spain and moved to Peru in 1599, well after the 'subjugation' of the Incas by the Spanish.  He based his chronicles in matters of beliefs, on other chronicles also written by the Spanish, for example that of Pedro Pizarro, Juan Polo de Ondegardo,  [from the charmingly entitled 'Errors of superstition of the Incas'], Christobal de Molina [Relation of the fabulous rites of the Incas], and the Jesuit scholar Jose de Acosta [The moral history of the Incas].

We can this be sure that given the ignorance, prejudices and lack of sympathy of the conquerors, very little of what has been recorded is actually correct. 

Roland Hamilton - Introduction to Inca religion and Customs
Although Father Cobo did careful historical research, he still retained the mentality of a seventeenth-century priest. He accepted the authority of the Bible on all matters, historical or otherwise.
For example, on hearing a fable which included destruction by water, he connects it with the Biblical Flood, thinking that the Indians had some knowledge of the Flood. He identifies the Inca gods with the devil. Cobo .....truly believed they were manifestations of the devil with certain supernatural powers. Hence he felt compelled to condemn native beliefs.
Cobo believed the book of Genesis explained the creation of the world and the beginnings of civilization. This influenced his interpretation of the native myths. He considers most native myths nonsense because they differ from the stories in Genesis.

All of which is very disheartening.  He clearly did not even understand the Bible, as Genesis is symbolic, not literal as is most of the rest of the Bible.   So we have ignorance piling upon ignorance.  But there are nuggets which come through and I have tried to extract the nuggets.

There is one key aspect that has been revealed.  The only mestizo source that Cobo used was one Garcilaso de la Vega Inca.

Roland Hamilton - Introduction to Inca religion and Customs
Although he used Garcilaso Inca's versions of some legends and myths, Cobo, nevertheless, implicitly rejects the Garcilasan interpretation of Inca religion as a kind of primitive Christianity.
For example, Garcilaso states that the Incas had no human sacrifice. Despite this [and despite the fact he will have never have seen a sacrifice] Cobo explains in detail how Inca human sacrifices were performed.

I believe Garcilaso.  I think the Incas were verging on a mystical movement and their easy subjugation and annihilation by the Spanish shows them to be non violent 'yogis' who understood the nature of rebirth just like the Aztecs. 

Observations

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