Inca: Civilization and Society

This overview of the Inca civilization is a lecture given by Albert Reville, D.D., part of the Hibbert Lectures delivered at Oxford and London. Albert Reville was a professor of the Science of Religion a the College de France.
— Orly

We pass to-day from North to South America; and as in the former we confined ourselves to the district which presented the Europeans of the sixteenth century with the unlooked-for spectacle of a native civilization and religion in an advanced stage of development, so in the latter we shall specially study that other indigenous civilization, likewise supported and patronized by a very curious and original religion, which established itself along the Cordilleras on the immensely long but comparatively narrow strip of land between those mountains and the ocean. Peru, like Mexico, was the country of an organized solar religion; but the former, even more than the latter, displays this religion worked into the very tissues of a most remarkable social structure, with which it is so completely identified as not to be so much as conceivable without it. The empire of the Incas is one of the most complete and absolute theocracies—perhaps the very most complete and absolute—that the world has seen. But in order to get a clear idea of what the Peruvian religion was, we must first say a word as to the country itself, its physical constitution and its history.

The Peru of the Incas, as discovered and conquered by the Spaniards, transcended the boundaries of the country now so called, inasmuch as it included the more ancient kingdom of Quito (corresponding pretty closely to the modern republic of Ecuador), and extended over parts of the present Chili and Bolivia. We learn from our ordinary maps that this whole territory was narrowly confined between the mountains and the sea. Observe, however, that it was nearly two thousand five hundred miles in length, four times as long as France, and that its breadth varied from about two hundred and fifty to about five hundred miles. From West to East it presents three very different regions. 1. A strip along the coast where rain hardly ever falls, but where the night dews are very heavy and the produce of the soil tropical. 2. The Sierra formed by the first spurs of the Cordilleras, and already high enough above the level of the sea to produce the vegetation of the temperate regions. Here maize was cultivated on a large scale, and great herds of vicunias, alpacas and llamas were pastured. And here we may note a great point of advantage enjoyed by Peru over Mexico; for the llama, though not very strong, serves as a beast of burden and traction, its flesh is well flavoured and its wool most useful. 3. The Montaña, consisting of a region even yet imperfectly known, over which extend unmeasured forests, the home of the jaguar and the chinchilla, of bright-plumed birds and of dreaded serpents. Above these forests stretch the dizzy peaks and the volcanos. The most remarkable natural phenomenon of the country is the lake Titicaca, about seven times as great as the lake of Geneva, not far distant from the ancient capital Cuzco, and serving, like Anahuac, the lake district of Mexico, as the chief focus of Peruvian civilization and religion. The mysterious disappearance beneath the ground of the river by which it empties itself, stimulated yet further the myth-forming imagination of the dwellers on its shores.

There is a remarkable difference between the ways in which the two civilizations of which we are speaking formed and consolidated themselves in Mexico and Peru respectively. We have seen that in Mexico the state of things to which the Spanish conquest put an end was the result of a long series of revolutions and wars, in which successive peoples had ruled and served in turn; and the Aztecs had finally seized the hegemony, while adopting a civilization the origins of which must be sought in Central America. In Peru things had followed a more regular and stable course. The dynasty of the Incas had maintained itself for about six centuries as the patron of social progress and of a remarkably advanced culture. Starting from its native soil on the shores of Lake Titicaca, and long confined in its authority to Cuzco and its immediate territory, this family had finally succeeded in indefinitely extendingits dominion between the mountains and the sea, sometimes by successful wars and sometimes by pacific means; for whole populations had more than once been moved to range themselves of their own free will under the sceptre of the Incas, so as to enjoy the advantages assured to their subjects by their equitable rule. When Pizarro and his companions disembarked in Peru, the great Inca, Huayna Capac, had but recently completed the empire by the conquest of the kingdom of Quito.

It has been asked, which was the more marvellous feat, the conquest of Mexico by Fernando Cortes, or that of Peru by [Francisco] Pizarro. One consideration weighs heavily in favour of Cortes. It is that he was the first. When Francisco Pizarro threw himself with his handful of adventurers upon Peru in 1531, he had before him the example of his brilliant precursor, to teach him how a few Europeans might impose by sheer audacity on the amazed and superstitious peoples; and in many respects he simply copied his model. Like him, he took advantage of the divisions and rivalries of the natives; like him, he found means of securing the person of the sovereign, and was thereby enabled to quell the subjects. On the other hand, he had even fewer followers than Cortes. His company scarcely numbered over two hundred men at first, and the Peruvian empire was more compact and more wisely organized than that of Mexico. We shall presently see the principal cause to which his incredible success must be ascribed; but the net result seems to be, that one hesitates to pronounce the feats of either adventurer more astounding than those of the other, especially when we remember that Pizarro was without the political genius of Fernando Cortes, and was so profoundly ignorant that he could not so much as read!

The family of the Incas, whose scourge [Francisco] Pizarro proved to be, must have numbered many fine politicians in its ranks. Never has what is called a "dynastic policy" been pursued more methodically and ably. The proofs assail us at every moment. The Incas were a family of priest-kings, who reigned, as children of the Sun, over the Peruvian land, and the Sun himself was the great deity of the country. To obey the Incas was to obey the supreme god. Their person was the object of a veritable cultus, and they had succeeded so completely in identifying the interests of their own family with those of religion, of politics and of civilization, that it was no longer possible to distinguish them one from another. And yet it was this very method, so essentially theocratic, of insisting on the minute regulation of all the actions of human life in the name of religion, which finally ruined the Incas. Peru, in the sixteenth century, had become one enormous convent, in which everything was mechanically regulated, in which no one could take the smallest initiative, in which everything depended absolutely upon the will of the reigning Inca; so that the moment Pizarro succeeded in laying hold of this Inca, this "father Abbé," everything collapsed in a moment, and nothing was left of the edifice constructed with such sagacity but a heap of sand. And indeed this is the fatal result of every theocracy, for it can never really be anything but a hierocracy or rule of priests. On the one hand it must be absolute, for the sovereign priest rules in the name of God; and on the other hand it is fatally impelled to concern itself with every minutest affair, to interfere vexatiously in all private concerns (since they too affect religious ethics and discipline), and to multiply regulations against every possible breach of the ruling religion. It is a general lesson of religious history that is illustrated so forcibly by the fate of the Inca priest-kings.

Quipus, sometimes known as khipus or talking knots, were recording devices historically used in a number of cultures and particularly in the region of Andean South America. Knotted string records are often generically referred to in English as quipus after the Inca term. A quipu usually consisted of colored, spun, and plied thread or strings made from cotton or camelid fiber. For the Inca, the system aided in collecting data and keeping records, ranging from monitoring tax obligations, properly collecting census records, calendrical information, and military organization.
The cords contained numeric and other values encoded by knots in a base ten positional system. A quipu could have only a few or up to 2,000 cords.
— Orly

I will not weary you in this case, any more than in that of Mexico, with the enumeration of the authors to whom we must go for information on the political and religious history of the strange country with which we are dealing. I must, however, say a few words concerning a certain writer who long enjoyed the highest of reputations, and was regarded throughout the last century as the most trustworthy and complete authority in Peruvian matters. The Peruvians, far as their civilization had advanced in many respects, were behind even the Mexicans in the art of preserving the memory of the past; for they had not so much as the imperfect hieroglyphics known to the latter. They made use of Quipus or Quipos, indeed, which were fringes, the threads of which were variously knotted according to what they were intended to represent; but unfortunately the Peruvians anticipated on a large scale what so often happens on the small scale amongst ourselves to those persons of uncertain memory who tie knots on their handkerchiefs to remind them of something important. They find the knot, indeed, but have forgotten what it means! And so with the Peruvians. They were not always at one as to the meaning of their ancient Quipos, and there were several ways of interpreting them. Moreover, after the conquest, the few Peruvians who might still have made some pretension to a knowledge of them did not trouble themselves to initiate the Europeans into their filiform writing. All that is left of it is the practice of the Peruvian women who preserve this method of registering the sins they intend to record against themselves in the confessional.  Let us hope that they at least never experience any analogous infirmity to that which besets the knot-tiers amongst ourselves.

Garcilaso de la Vega (12 April 1539 – 23 April 1616), born Gómez Suárez de Figueroa and known as El Inca or Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, was a chronicler and writer born in the Spanish Empire’s Viceroyalty of Peru. Sailing to Spain at 21, he was educated informally there, where he lived and worked the rest of his life. The son of a Spanish conquistador and an Inca noblewoman born in the early years of the conquest, he is recognized primarily for his histories about Inca history, culture, and society. His work was influential and well-received. It was as the first literature by an author born in the Americas to enter the western canon.
— Orly

To return to the Peruvian author of whom I intended to speak. He is the celebrated Garcilasso de la Vega, who published his Commentarios reales in 1609 and 1617.  Garcilasso's father was a European, but his mother was a Peruvian, and, what is more, a Palla, that is to say, a princess of the family of the Incas. Born in 1540, this Garcilasso had received from his mother and a maternal uncle a great amount of information as to the family, the history and the persons of the ancient sovereigns. He was extremely proud of his origin; so much so, indeed, that he issued his works under the name of "Garcilasso el Incade laVega," though he had no real title to the name of Inca, which could not be transmitted by women. A genuine fervour breathes through his accounts of the history of his Peruvian country and his glorious ancestors, and it is to him that we owe the knowledge of many facts that would otherwise have been lost. The interest of his narrative explains the reputation so long enjoyed by his work, but the more critical spirit of recent times has discovered that his filial zeal has betrayed him into lavish embellishments of the situation created by the clever and cautious policy of his forebears, the Incas. He has passed in silence over many of their faults, and has attributed more than one merit to them to which they have no just claim. But in spite of all this, when we have made allowance for his family weakness, we may consult him with great advantage as to the institutions and sovereigns of ancient Peru.

The Inca, Garcilosa de la Vega

The Inca, Garcilosa de la Vega

We must allow, with Garcilasso, that from the year 1000 A.D. onwards (for he places the origin of their power at about this date) the Incas had accomplished a work that may well seem marvellous in many respects. Had there been any relations between Peru and Central America? Can we explain the Peruvian civilization as the result of an emigration from the isthmic region, or an imitation of what had already been realized there? There is not the smallest trace of any such thing. No doubt it would be difficult to justify a categorical assertion on a subject so obscure; but it is certain that when they were discovered, Peru and the kingdom of Quito were separated from North America by immense regions plunged in the deepest savagery. Beginning at the Isthmus of Panama, this savage district stretched over the whole northern portion of South America, broken only by the demi-civilization of the Muyscas or Chibchas (New Granada); and the Peruvians knew nothing of the Mexicans. Neither the one nor the other were navigators, and nothing in the Peruvian traditions betrays the least connection with Central America. The most probable supposition is, that an indigenous civilization was spontaneously developed in Peru by causes analogous to those which had produced a similar phenomenon in the Maya country. In Peru, as in Central America, the richness of the soil, the variety of its products, the abundance of vegetable food, especially maize, secured the first conditions of civilization. The Peruvian advance was further favoured by the fact that it was protected towards the East by almost impassable mountains, and towards the West by the sea, while to the North and South it might concentrate its defensive forces upon comparatively narrow spaces.

The whole territory of the empire was divided into three parts. The first was the property of the Sun, that is to say of the priests who officiated in his numerous temples; the second belonged to the reigning Inca; and the third to the people. The people's land was divided out every year in lots apportioned to the needs of each family, but the portions assigned to the Curacas, or nobles, were of a magnitude suited to their superior dignity. Taxes were paid in days of labour devoted to the lands of the Inca and those of the Sun, or in manufactured articles of various kinds, for the cities contained a number of artizans. Indeed, it was one of the maxims of the Incas that no part of the empire, however poor, should be exempt from paying tribute of one kind or another. To such a length was this carried, that so grave a historian as Herrera tells us how the Inca Huayna Capac, wishing to determine what kind of tribute the inhabitants of Pasto were to pay, and being assured that they were so entirely without resources or capacity of any kind that they could give him nothing at all, laid on them the annual tribute of a certain measure of vermine, preferring, as he said, that they should pay this singular tax rather than nothing. We cannot congratulate the officials commissioned to collect the tribute, but we cite this sample in proof of the rigour with which the Incas carried out the principles which they considered essential to the government of the country. The special principle we have just illustrated was founded on the idea that the Sun journeys and shines for every one, and that accordingly every one should contribute towards the payment of his services. For the rest, the great herds of llamas, which constituted a regular branch of the national wealth, could only be owned by the temples of the Sun and by the Inca. Every province, every town or village, had the exact nature and the exact quantity of the products it must furnish assigned, and the Incas possessed great depôts in which were stored provisions, arms and clothes for the army. All this was regulated, accounted for and checked by means of official Quipos.

The numerous body of officials charged with the general superintendence and direction of affairs was organized in a very remarkable manner, well calculated to consolidate the Inca's power. All the officials held their authority from him, and represented him to the people, just as he himself represented the Sun-god. At the bottom of the scale was an official overseer for every ten families, next above an overseer of a hundred families, then another placed over a thousand, and another over ten thousand. Each province had a governor who generally belonged to the family of the Incas. All this constituted a marvellous system of surveillance and espionage, descending from the sovereign himself to the meanest of his subjects, and founded on the principle that the rays of the Sun pierce everywhere. The lowest members of this official hierarchy, the superintendents of ten families, were responsible to their immediate superiors for all that went on amongst those under their charge, and those superiors again were responsible to the next above them, and so on up to the Inca himself, who thus held the threads of the whole vast net-work in the depths of his palace. It was another maxim of the Peruvian state that every one must work, even old men and children. Infants under five alone were excepted. It was the duty of the superintendents of ten families to see that this was carried out everywhere, and they were armed with disciplinary powers to chastise severely any one who remained idle, or who ordered his house ill, or gave rise to any scandal. Individual liberty then was closely restrained. No one could leave his place of residence without leave. The time for marriage was fixed for both sexes—for women at eighteen to twenty, for men at twenty-four or upwards. The unions of the noble families were arranged by the Inca himself, and those of the inferior classes by his officers, who officially assigned the young people one to another. Each province had its own costume, which might not be changed for any other, and every one's birthplace was marked by a ribbon of a certain colour surrounding his head. In a word, the Jesuits appear to have copied the constitution of the Peruvian society when they organized their famous Paraguay missions, and perhaps this fact may help us to trace the profound motives which in either case suggested so minutely precise a system of inserting individuals into assigned places which left no room for self-direction. The Incas and the Jesuits alike had to contend against the disconnected, incoherent turbulence of savage life, and both alike were thereby thrown upon an exaggerated system of regulations, in which each individual was swaddled and meshed in supervisions and ordinances from which it was impossible to escape.

Having said so much, we must acknowledge that, generally speaking, the Incas made a very humane and paternal use of their absolute power. They strove to moderate the desolating effects of war, and generally treated the conquered peoples with kindness. But we note that in the century preceding that of the European conquest, they had devised a means of guarding against revolts exactly similar to the measures enforced against rebellious peoples by the despotic sovereigns of Nineveh and Babylon; that is to say, they transported a great part of the conquered populations into other parts of their empire, and it appears that Cuzco, like Babylon, presented an image in miniature of the whole empire. There, as at Babylon, a host of different languages might be heard, and it was amongst the children of the deported captives that Pizarro, like Cyrus at Babylon, found allies who rejoiced in the fall of the empire that had crushed their fathers. For the rest, the Incas endeavoured to spread the language of Cuzco, the Quechua, throughout their empire. Nothing need surprise us in the way of political sagacity and insight on the part of this priestly dynasty. Its monarchs seem to have hit upon every device which has been imagined elsewhere for attaching the conquered peoples to themselves or rendering their hostility harmless. Thus you will remember that at Mexico there was a chapel that served as a prison for the idols of the conquered. In the same way there stood in the neighbourhood of Cuzco a great temple with seventy-eight chapels in it, where the images of all the gods worshipped in Peru were assembled. Each country had its altar there, on which sacrifice was made according to the local customs.

The Spaniards, amongst whom respect for the royal person was sufficiently profound, were amazed by the marks of extreme deference of which the Inca was the object. They could not understand at first that actual religious worship was paid to him. He alone had the inherent right to be carried on a litter, and he never went out in any other way, imitating the Sun, his ancestor, who traverses the world without ever putting his foot to the ground. Some few men and women of the highest rank might rejoice in the same distinction, but only if they had obtained the Inca's sanction. In the same way, it was only the members of the Inca family and the nobles of most exalted rank who were allowed to wear their hair long, for this was a distinctive sign of the favourites of the Sun. None could enter the presence of the reigning Inca save bare-footed, clad in the most simple garments and bearing a burden on his shoulders, all in token of humility; nor must he raise his eyes throughout the audience, for no man looks upon the face of the Sun. It seems that the Incas possessed "the art of royal majesty" in a high degree. They could retain the impassive air of indifference, whatever might be going on before their eyes, like the Sun, who passes without emotion over everything that takes place below. It was thus that Atahualpa appeared to the Spaniards, who remarked the all but stony fixity of the Peruvian monarch's features in the presence of all the new sights—horses, riding, fire-arms—which filled his subjects with surprise and terror. And such was the superhuman character of the Inca, that even the base office of a spittoon—excuse such a detail—was supplied by the hand of one of his ladies. The salute was given to the Inca by kissing one's hand and then raising it towards the Sun. At his death the whole country went into mourning for a year. The young Incas were educated together, under conditions of great austerity, and were never allowed to mingle with young people of the inferior classes.

The army of the Incas was the army of the Sun. The obligation to military service was universal, since the Sun shines for all men. Every sound man from twenty-five to fifty might be called on to serve in his company. Thus numerous and highly-disciplined armies were raised, for the spirit of obedience had penetrated all classes of the people. The Incas had abolished the use of poisoned arrows, which is so common amongst the natives of the New World.

Justice was organized after fixed laws, and, as is usually the case in theocracies, these laws were severe. For in theocracies, to the social evil of the offence is added the impiety committed against the Deity and his representative on earth. The culprit has been guilty not only of crime, but of sacrilege. The penalty of death was freely inflicted even in the case of offences that implied no evil disposition. The palanquin-bearer, for instance, who should stumble under his august burden when carrying the Inca, or any one who should speak with the smallest disrespect of him, must die. But we must also note certain principles of sound justice which the Incas had likewise succeeded in introducing. The judges were controlled, and, in case of unjust judgments, punished. The law was more lenient to a first offence than to a second, to crimes committed in the heat of the moment than to those of malice prepense; more lenient to children than to adults, and (mark this) more lenient to the common people than to the great. The members of the Inca family alone were exempted from the penalty of death, which in their case was replaced by imprisonment for life. They alone might, and indeed must, marry their sisters, for a reason that we shall see further on. Thus everything was calculated to set this divine family apart. Polygamy, too, was only allowed to the Incas and to the families of next highest rank after them, who, however, might not marry at all without the personal assent of the sovereign. But the Incas strove to make themselves loved. Herrera tells us of establishments in which orphans and foundlings were brought up at the Inca's charges, and of the alms he bestowed on widows who had no means of subsistence.

The same deliberate system shows itself in the attempts to spread education. The Incas founded schools, but they were opened only to the children of the Incas and of the nobility. This is a genuine theocratic trait. Garcilasso tells us naively that his ancestor the Inca Roca (1200—1249) in founding public schools had no idea of allowing the people "to get information, grow proud, and disturb the state." The instruction, which was given by the amautas(sages), turned on the history or traditions of the country, on the laws, and on religion. We have said that writing was unknown. There were only the mnemonic Quipos, pictures on linen representing great events, and some rudimentary attempts at hieroglyphics which the Incas do not seem to have encouraged. Indeed, there is reason to believe that the hieroglyphics found graven on the rocks of Yonan are anterior to the Inca supremacy; and it is said that a certain amauta who had attempted to introduce a hieroglyphic alphabet, was burned to death for impiety at the order of the Inca.

The most remarkable results of the rule of the Incas are seen in the material well-being which they secured to their people. All the historians speak of the really extraordinary perfection to which Peruvian agriculture had been carried, though the use of iron was quite unknown. The solar religion fits perfectly with the habits of an agricultural people, and the Incas thought it became them, as children of the Sun, to encourage the cultivation of the soil. They ordered the execution of great public works, such as supporting walls to prevent the sloping ground from being washed away; irrigation canals, some of which measured five hundred miles, and which were preserved with scrupulous care; magazines of guano, the fertilizing virtues of which were known in Peru long before they were learned in Europe. The Spaniards are far from having maintained Peruvian agriculture at the level it had reached under the Incas. Splendid roads stretched from Cuzco towards the four quarters of heaven; and Humboldt still traced some of them, paved with black porphyry, or in other cases cemented or rather macadamized, and often launched over ravines and pierced through hills with remarkable boldness. The Incas had established reservoirs of drinking water for the public use from place to place along these roads, and likewise pavilions for their own accommodation when they were traversing their realms, on which occasions they never travelled more than three or four leagues a day. Bridges were thrown across the rivers, sometimes built of stone, but more often constructed on the method, so frequently described, that consists in uniting the opposing banks by two parallel ropes, along which a great basket is slung. A system of royal courier posts measured the great roads as in Mexico. There were many important cities in Peru, and, according to a contemporary estimate cited by Prescott, the capital, Cuzco, even without including its suburbs, must have embraced at least two hundred thousand inhabitants. Architecture was in a developed stage. We shall have to speak of the temples presently. The Inca's palaces—and there was at least one in every city of any importance—were of imposing dimensions, and a high degree of comfort and luxury was displayed within them. Gold glittered on the walls and beneath the roofs which were generally thatched with straw. They were provided with inner courts, spacious halls, sculptures in abundance, but inferior, it would seem, to those of Central America, and baths in which hot or cold water could be turned on at will. In a word, when we remember from how many resources the Peruvians were still cut off by their ignorance and isolation, we cannot but admit that a genuine civilization is opening before our eyes, the defects of which must not blind us to its splendour. And since this civilization was in great part due (we shall see the force of the qualification presently) to the continuous efforts of the Incas, our next task must be to ascend to the mythic origin of that family, which we borrow from the narrative of their descendant, Garcilasso de la Vega.

Properly speaking, this narrative is the local myth of the Lake Titicaca and of Cuzco, transformed into an imperial myth.

Before the Incas, we are told, men lived in the most absolute savagery. They were addicted to cannibalism and offered human victims to gods who were gross like themselves. At last the Sun took pity on them, and sent them two of his children, Manco Capac and Mama Ogllo (or Oullo, Ocollo, Oolle, &c.), to establish the worship of the Sun and alleviate their lot. The two emissaries, son and daughter of the Sun and Moon, rose one day from the depths of the Lake Titicaca. They had been told that a golden splinter which they bore with them would pierce the earth at the spot in which they were to establish themselves, and the augury was fulfilled on the site of Cuzco, the name of which signifies navel. Observe that, in classical antiquity, Babylon, Athens, Delphi, Paphos, Jerusalem, and so forth, each passed for the navel of the earth. Manco Capac and Mama Ogllo, then, established the worship of the Sun. They taught the savage inhabitants of the place agriculture and the principal trades, the art of building cities, roads and aqueducts. Mama Ogllo taught the women to spin and weave. They appointed a number of overseers to take care that every one did his duty; and when they had thus regulated everything in Cuzco, they re-ascended to heaven. But they left a son and daughter to continue their work. Like their parents, the brother and sister became husband and wife, and from them descends the sovereign family of the Incas, that is to say, the Lord-rulers, or Master-rulers.

Such is the legend, from which the first deduction must be that the Inca family has nothing in common with the other denizens of earth. It is super-imposed, as it were, on humanity. It is because of this difference of origin that the laws which restrain the rest of mankind are not always applicable to the Incas. For example, they marry their sisters, as Manco Capac did, and as the Sun does, for the Moon is at once his wife and his sister. It is thus that they are enabled to preserve the divine character of their unique family.

For ourselves, we can entertain no doubt that this is a cosmic myth. Mama Ogllo, or "the mother egg," and Manco Capac, or "the mighty man," are two creators. The myth indicates that there existed an ancient solar priesthood on one of the islands or on the shores of the Lake of Titicaca (at an early date the focus of a certain civilization), and that this priestly family became at a given period the ruling power at Cuzco. It was thence that it radiated over the small states which surrounded Cuzco, embracing them one after another under its prestige and its power, until it had become the redoubtable dynasty that we know it. Manco Capac and Mama Ogllo, the creator and the cosmic egg, have become the Sun and Moon, represented by their Inca high-priest and his wife. There is no practice towards which a more wide-spread tendency exists in America than that of conferring the name of a deity on his chief priest. And if Garcilasso fixes the appearance of Manco Capac at about 1000 A.D., it is simply because the historical recollections of his family mounted no higher, and that about that time it began to rise out of its obscurity. It had the advantage of numbering in its royal line both[159] successful warriors and, what is more, consummate politicians, instances of whose ability we have already seen and shall see again.

The point at which the legend preserved by Garcilasso is clearly at fault, is in its claim for the Incas as the first and only civilizers of Peru. We shall presently meet with other Peruvian myths of civilization which do not stand in the least connection with Manco Capac and the Incas. The kingdom of Quito, which the Inca Huayna Capac had recently conquered when the Spaniards arrived, though not on the same level as Peru proper, was far removed from the savage state, while as yet a stranger to the influence of the Incas. The country of the Muyscas, the present New Granada or land of Bogota, though standing in no connection with Peru, was the theatre of another sacerdotal and solar religion sui generis, which, though very little known, is highly interesting. The valley of the Rimac, or Lima, and the coast lands in general, were likewise centres of a pre-Inca civilization. The Chimus especially, themselves dwellers on the coast, were possessed of an original civilization differing from that of the Incas. They were the last to be conquered. To sum up, everything leads us to suppose that various centres of social development had long existed, up and down the whole region, but that, under the presiding genius of the priesthood of Manco Capac, the civilization of Cuzco had gradually acquired the preponderance, till it consecutively eclipsed and absorbed all the others.

Garcilasso labours hard to impress us with the belief that the sovereigns of his family maintained an unbroken age of gold, by dint of their wisdom and virtues. But we know, both from himself and from other sources, that as a matter of fact the Incas' sky was not always cloudless. They had numbered both bad and incapable rulers in their line. More than once they had had to suppress terrible insurrections, and their palaces had witnessed more than one tragedy." But after making all allowances, we must admit that they succeeded in governing well, and more especially in maintaining intact their own religious and political prestige.

Now this very cleverness, this conscious and often extremely deliberate and astutely calculated policy, compels us to ask how far the Incas themselves were sincere in their pretension to be descended from the Sun, and their faith in the very special favour in which the great luminary held them. There is so much rationalism in their habitual tactics, that one cannot help suspecting a touch of it in their beliefs. And the truth is that their descendant, Garcilasso, has recorded certain traditions to that effect, which he has perhaps dressed up a little too much in European style, with a view to convincing us that his ancestors were monotheistic philosophers, but which nevertheless bear the marks of a certain authenticity. For the reasoning which Garcilasso puts into the mouth of the Incas closely resembles what would naturally commend itself to the mind of a pagan who should once ask himself whether the visible phenomenon, the Sun, which he adored, was really as living, as conscious, as personal, as they said. Thus the Inca Tupac Yupanqui (fifteenth century) is said to have reasoned thus:

"They say that the Sun lives, and that he does everything. But when one does anything, he is near to the thing he does; whereas many things take place while the Sun is absent. It therefore cannot be he who does everything. And again, if he were a living being, would he not be wearied by his perpetual journeyings? If he were alive, he would experience fatigue, as we do; and if he were free, he would visit other parts of the heavens which he never traverses. In truth, he seems like a thing held to its task that always measures the same course, or like an arrow that flies where it is shot and not where it wills itself."

Note this line of reasoning, Gentlemen, which must have repeated itself in many minds when once they had acquired enough independence and power of thought calmly to examine those natural phenomena which primitive naïveté had animated, personified and adored as the lords of destiny. Their fixity and their mechanical and unvarying movements, when once observed, could not fail to strike a mortal blow at the faith of which they were the object. That faith was transformed without being radically changed when it was no longer the phenomenon itself, but the personal and directing spirit, the genius, the deity that was behind the phenomenon, but distinct from it and capable of detaching itself from it, which drew to itself the worship of the faithful. But in his turn this god, shaped in the image of man, must either be refined into pure spirit, or must fall below the rational and moral ideal ultimately conceived by man himself. When all is said and done, Gentlemen, Buddhism is still a religion of Nature. It is the last word of that order of religions, and exists to show us that, at any rate in its authentic and primitive form, that last word is nothingness. And that is why Buddhism has never existed in its pure form as a popular religion. For in religion, and at every stage of religion, mind seeks mind. Without that, religion is nothing. Note, too, the observant Inca's remark, that if the Sun were alive he must be dreadfully tired. You may find the same idea in more than one European mythology, in which the Sun appears as an unhappy culprit condemned to a toilsome service for some previous fault; or, again, an iron constitution is given him, to explain why he is not worn out by his ceaseless journeying.

Now Tupac Yupanqui would not be the only Inca who cherished a certain scepticism concerning his ancestor the Sun. Herrera tells us that the Inca Viracocha denied that the Sun was God; and according to a story preserved by Garcilasso, the Inca Huayna Capac, the conqueror of Quito, who died shortly after Pizarro's first disembarkment, must have been quite as much of a rationalist. One day, during the celebration of a festival in honour of the Sun, he is said to have gazed at the great luminary so long and fixedly that the chief priest ventured on some respectful remarks to the effect that so irreverent a proceeding must surprise the people. "I will ask you two questions," replied the monarch. "I am your king and universal lord. Would any one of you have the hardihood to order me to rise from my seat and take a long journey for his pleasure?... And would the richest and most powerful of my vassals dare to disobey if I should command him on the spot to set out in all speed for Chili?" And when the priest answered in the negative, the Inca continued: "Then I tell you there must be a greater and a more mighty lord above our father the Sun, who orders him to take the course he follows day by day. For if he were himself the sovereign lord, he would now and again omit his journey and rest, for his pleasure, even if he experienced no necessity for doing so."

Once more: I will not vouch for the exact form of these audacious speculations of the free-thinking Inca. But such reminiscences, collected independently by various authors, correspond to the conjectures forced upon us by the extreme political sagacity of the Incas. None but theocrats, in whose own hearts faith in their central principle was waning, could develop such astuteness and diplomacy. A sincere and untried faith has not recourse to so many expedients dictated by policy and the fear lest the joint in the armour should be found. It is to be presumed, however, that these heterodox speculations of the Incas themselves never passed beyond the narrow circle of the family and its immediate surroundings. Nothing of the kind would ever be caught by the ear of the people. But the evidence as to Huayna Capac's scepticism derives a certain confirmation from the fact that he was the first Inca who departed (to the woe of his empire, as it turned out) from some of the hereditary maxims that had always been scrupulously observed by his ancestors.

Huayna Capac had considerably extended the Peruvian empire by the conquest of the kingdom of Quito. In the hope, presumably, of consolidating his conquest, he resided for a long time in the newly-acquired territory, and married the conquered king's daughter, to whom he became passionately attached. This was absolutely contrary to one of the statutes of the Inca family, no member of which was allowed to marry a stranger. By his foreign wife he had a son called Atahualpa, and whether it was that he thought it good policy to allow a certain autonomy to the kingdom of Quito, or whether it was due to his tenderness towards Atahualpa's mother and the son she had borne him, certain it is that when he died at Quito in 1525, he decided that Atahualpa should reign over this newly-acquired kingdom, whilst his other son Huascar, the unimpeachably legitimate Inca, was to succeed him as sovereign of Peru proper. This, again, was a violation of the maxim that the kingdom of the Incas, which was the kingdom of the Sun, was never to be parted. It was in the midst of the struggles provoked by the hostility of the two brothers that [Francisco] Pizarro fell like a meteor amongst the Peruvians, who did not so much as know of the existence of any other land than the one they inhabited.

 

FINIS

 

Source:  The Hibbert Lectures, 1884.  Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Native Religions of Mexico and Peru.

Columbus: Conquest of Hispaniola

Mythology: Prometheus, the Rebel