Inca: Geography and Society

The overview of Inca society is presented in an introduction to an extraordinary journal, The travels of Pedro de Cieza de Léon, A.D. 1532-50, contained in the first part of his Chronicle of Peru
authored by Pedro de Cieza de Leon. The introduction itself is credited to Clements R. Markham, and represents the known world of the Inca as it has come down to us from the first contact chronicles, of which Pedro de Cieza de Leon is one example.
— Orly

There is scarcely any country in the world which presents so great a variety of aspects as that region, stretching from the Ancasmayu to the Maule, which once formed the empire of the Yncas. Within these wide limits there are snowy mountain peaks second only to the Himalayas in height; cold plains and bleak hills where a tough grass is the only vegetation; temperate valleys covered with corn fields and willow groves; others filled with richest sub-tropical vegetation; vast plains forming one interminable primeval forest traversed by navigable rivers; trackless sandy deserts; and fertile stretches of field and fruit garden on the Pacific coast. Cieza de Leon properly divides this region into four great divisions:—the uninhabitable frozen plains and mountain peaks, the temperate valleys and plains which intersect the Andes, the great primeval forests, and the deserts and valleys of the coast. It is a land of surpassing grandeur, and exceeding beauty. The snowy peaks of the Andes, upwards of twenty thousand feet above the sea, may be seen from the deserts of sand which fringe the coast, rising in their majesty from the plains, and towering up into a cloudless sky. In the northern and central part of this Peruvian cordillera, the mountain ranges are broken up into profound ravines and abysses, producing scenery of unequalled splendour. At one glance of the eye a series of landscapes may here be taken in, representing every climate on the globe. On the steep sides of one mountain are the snowy wilds and bleak ridges of the Arctic regions, the cold pastures of northern Scotland, the corn fields and groves of central Europe, the orange trees and vineyards of Italy, and the palms and sugar canes of the tropics. But it is in the lovely ravines which lead from the eastern slopes of the Andes to the virgin forests of the interior that nature has been most profusely decked with all the charms that can please the eye, and enriched with overflowing vegetable and mineral wealth. The forests here abound in those beautiful chinchona trees, the fragrance and beauty of whose flowers are almost forgotten because of the inestimable value of their bark. Slender and delicate palms and tree ferns of many kinds, matted creepers, and giant buttressed trees clothe the steep hill sides; and cascades and torrents unite to form rivers, whose sands sparkle with gold. Whether it be in these forest-covered valleys, in the stupendous ravines of the Cordillera, on the frozen heights, or amidst the sandy wildernesses of the coast, the scenery is ever on a scale either of sublime grandeur or of exquisite beauty. Rich, indeed, was the prize which the hardy comrades of Cieza de Leon won for the Castilian crown.

Potato has become a staple food in many parts of the world and an integral part of much of the world’s food supply. It is the world’s fourth-largest food crop. The potato is indigenous to the Andes, from whence the Spanish obtained their seed to introduce to Europe, in the second half of the 16th century.

Quinoa is another crop which has spread from the world of the Inca to the world.
— Orly

In contemplating this glorious region, one of the first thoughts that naturally suggests itself is that the early inhabitants must have been, to a great extent, isolated and shut out from all intercourse with their neighbours, by the almost insuperable obstacles which the nature of the country presents to locomotion; and this remark is equally applicable to every part of a country which is unequalled in the variety of its climates and of its general features. The spread of the empire of the Yncas is, considering all the circumstances, the most remarkable occurrence in the history of the American race; and one of its results was the destruction of all former land marks of tribe or creed, and the reduction of the numerous ancient nations of the Cordillera and the coast to one great family under one head, by a process not unlike that which takes place on the acquisition of every new province by modern France. Hence the great difficulty of obtaining any clear idea of the condition of the various tribes which inhabited Peru, at a date anterior to the Ynca conquests and annexations. A careful study of the subject, however, enables us at least to distinguish a few leading facts—namely that the region, which afterwards formed the empire of the Yncas, was originally peopled by a number of distinct nations, speaking different languages, and slowly advancing on independent paths of very gradual progress, though all bearing a strong family likeness to each other. I will briefly state what I have been able to gather respecting these aboriginal tribes, commencing with the Quichuas, that imperial race which eventually, under its renowned Yncas, swallowed up all the others.

In the central part of the Peruvian Cordillera, round the city of Cuzco, the country consists of cool but temperate plains and warm genial valleys. On the plains there were clumps of molle trees, and crops of quinoa, ocas, and potatoes, while large flocks of llamas browsed on the coarse tufts of ychu grass. In the valleys the rich and abundant fields of maize were fringed by rows of delicious fruit trees—the chirimoya, the paccay, the palta, the lucuma, and the granadilla. This region was called in the native language—Quichua, and the inhabitants were Quichuas.

The eventual predominance of these Quichuas may probably be accounted for by the superiority of the climate and natural conformation of their native country. While their neighbours, on the one hand, had to struggle painfully with the encroaching vigour of tropical forests, and, on the other, with the hardships of a sterile and half frozen alpine plateau, or with the isolation of small villages surrounded by trackless sandy deserts, the Quichuas were enjoying a warm though healthy climate, and reaping abundance from a fertile soil. They were placed in a position which was most advantageous for the complete development of all the civilisation of which that great family of mankind, to which they belong, are capable.

And they attained to that degree of civilisation by very slow and gradual advances. Many things, and especially the character of the people, lead to the belief that cycles of ages must have elapsed before these Quichuas were in a position to establish a superiority over their neighbours, and assume the position of an imperial people.

The Quichuas were a fine, well-developed race, of short stature. They were square shouldered, and broad chested, with small hands and feet, and a comparatively large head. The hair is black and long, and usually plaited into numerous minute plaits, and they have little or no beard. The eyes are horizontal with arched brows, the forehead high but somewhat receding, the nose aquiline and large, the lips thick, cheek bones rather high, and chin small. These people were gentle, hospitable, and obedient. They were good fathers and husbands, patient, industrious, intelligent, and sociable, and loved to live together in villages, rather than in scattered huts. The women, when young, were exceedingly pretty and well shaped, and they held an honourable and respected place in society. The mass of the people were either farmers or shepherds. Each family had a piece of land apportioned to it by the State, often in well-built terraces up the sides of the mountains, on which the members either hoed and ploughed the soil, and raised crops of gourds, maize, potatoes, ocas, or quinoa; or they cultivated fruit trees; or, again, they tended flocks of llamas on the pasture lands, according to the situation of their little patrimonies. Their habitations were of stone or mud, covered with admirable thatched roofs, they wove warm cloth from llama wool, made earthenware and stone vessels, manufactured tasteful ornaments of gold and silver, and used hoes, rakes, rude ploughs, and other simple agricultural implements.

One important test of the capacity of a people for civilisation is their ability to domesticate animals. The inferiority of the African, as compared with the Hindu, is demonstrated by the latter having domesticated the elephant and made it the useful and hard-working companion of man; while the former, during the thousands of years that he has inhabited the African continent, has never achieved any such result, and has merely destroyed the elephant for the sake of his ivory tusks. Now, in the case of the Quichuas, although their domesticated animals were few, they comprised all that were capable of domestication within the limits of their country. During the three centuries that Europeans have since been masters of Peru, not a single indigenous quadruped or bird has been added to the list. The domesticated animals of the Quichuas were the llama, the alpaca, a dog, the ccoy or guinea pig, and a duck. Besides these they tamed, as pets, the monkey, the parrot, the toucan, a kind of gull frequenting the lakes of the Andes, a hawk, and several finches. The llama and alpaca do not exist in a wild state at all, and the variety in the colours of their fleeces seems to be a sign of long domestication. The huanacu and vicuña, the wild species of their family, have fleeces of a uniform and unalterable colour, and it probably took an incalculable period to change the wild into the domesticated form. The llama served the Quichuas as a beast of burden, its flesh supplied them with food, its fleece with clothing, and its hide with thongs and sandals. The finer fleece of the alpaca was reserved for the use of the sovereign and his nobles. Guinea pigs ran in hundreds about the huts, they were used as food, and the variety of their colours points out the length of time during which they had been in a domesticated state. The alco or dog was the companion of the Quichua shepherds; and the duck was bred in their homesteads for food, and for the sake of the feathers, which often formed a fringe for the women’s llicllas or mantles.

These simple Quichua farmers and shepherds seem to have kept many festivals, and other observances handed down to them by their fathers. A half philosophic sun worship was enjoined by their superiors, but the people retained an ancient habit of deifying and making household gods of their llamas, their corn, and their fruit. Their seasons of sowing and of harvest were celebrated by dancing and singing, and their songs, some of which have been preserved, were lively and graceful: but the chicha bowl flowed far too freely. A barbarous rite of burial was practised by these people in common with nearly all South American tribes, and is described in many places by Cieza de Leon; and they held the malquis or mummies of their dead in superstitious veneration.

The productiveness of the soil and the increasing prosperity of the people had, in the course of time, given rise to a governing class of Curacas and nobles, to a caste of Umus and Huaca-camayocs, or priests and diviners, and eventually to a despotic sovereign or Ynca, with a privileged royal family. This upper class had leisure, was exempted from ordinary toil, acquired numerous artificial wants, and therefore gradually developed that higher civilisation in the Quichua nation which eventually enabled it to spread its conquests over an immense region, and to consolidate a great and well organised empire.

The advances in civilisation of this upper class were by no means contemptible. The ruins at Cuzco, and in the neighbourhood, bear witness to their marvellous skill in masonry. Their buildings were massive, indeed Cyclopean, but the huge stones were cut and put in their places with extraordinary accuracy; and, although the general effect is plain and sombre, there was frequently some attempt at ornamentation. Such were the rows of recesses with sides sloping inwards, the cornices, and the occasional serpents and other figures carved in relief on the stones. The roofs, though merely of thatch, were thick and durable, and so artistically finished as to give a very pleasing effect to the buildings.

In the furniture of their dwellings and the clothing of their persons the Ynca nobles had reached a high degree of refinement. Their pottery is especially remarkable, and the Peruvian potter gratified the taste of his employers by moulding vessels into every form in nature, from which he could take a model. Professor Wilson, who has carefully examined several collections of ancient Peruvian pottery, says—“Some of the specimens are purposely grotesque, and by no means devoid of true comic fancy; while, in the greater number, the endless variety of combinations of animate and inanimate forms, ingeniously rendered subservient to the requirements of utility, exhibit fertility of thought in the designer, and a lively perceptive faculty in those for whom he wrought.” Many of these vessels, moulded into forms to represent animals and fruits, were used as conopasor household gods; others were for the service ofthe temple; others for interment with the malquis or mummies, and others for the use of the Yncas and their nobles. The common people used vessels of simple form. The Yncas also had drinking cups of gold and silver, beaten out very fine, and representing llamas, or human heads. Vessels of copper also, and plates and vases of stone with serpents carved round them in relief, are of frequent occurrence, as well as golden bracelets and breast-plates, and mirrors of silver or polished stone. Their knives and other cutting instruments were of copper, hardened with tin or silica. Their clothing consisted of cloth woven from the wool of the llama, alpaca, and vicuña; the latter as fine as silk and undyed, for its own rich chestnut colour was sufficiently becoming. They had attained to great proficiency in the art of weaving and dyeing. Tasteful designs were woven in the cloth, which was dyed flesh colour, yellow, gray, blue, green, and black; for they knew the art of fixing dyes extracted from vegetable substances, so that the cloth will never fade. They ornamented their robes, tunics, rugs, and blankets with fringes, borders of feathers, and also by sowing on them rows of thin gold and silver plates, sometimes square, at others cut into the shape of leaves and flowers. They also adorned wooden seats and couches, by covering them with these thin plates of gold and silver. The interior of a hall in the palace of an Ynca was thus filled with articles of luxury. The great doors, with the sides gradually approaching, were often ornamented with a cornice, and finished above with a huge stone lintel. The walls of solid masonry, beautifully cut and polished, had small square windows, and deep recesses of the same size, at intervals. The walls were hung with rich vicuña cloth fringed with bezants of gold and silver, or with llama cloth dyed with bright colours, and woven into tasteful patterns. The niches were filled with gold and silver statues, and with vases moulded into the shape of llamas, birds, and fruit. The floors were soft with rich carpets and rugs, and the seats and couches were plated with gold. Numerous small chambers opened on the great halls, and the baths were fitted up with metal spouts in the form of serpents, from which the water flowed into stone basins.

The intellectual advancement of the Quichua people had kept pace with the increase in their material comforts; and their religious belief, their literary culture, their discoveries in the sciences of astronomy and mechanics, and their administrative talent, if not of a very high order, at least prove very clearly that they were not incapable of attaining a respectable rank amongst civilised nations. During the last two centuries of their existence as an independent people, their progress was very rapid.

The religion of the Yncas and their nobles was, as is well known, a worship of the celestial bodies, and especially of the sun; that of the cultivators and shepherds a reverence for every object in nature—for their llamas, for their corn, for their fruits, for hills and streams, and above all for the malquis or mummies of their dead. To all these, sacrifices of the fruits of the earth were made. The more spiritual worship of the men of leisure was combined with complicated ceremonial observances, gorgeous temples, and an influential caste of priests, wise men, and virgins. The worship of the sun, and the great importance attached to its apparent course, as connected with the seasons of sowing and reaping, led to the acquirement of some astronomical knowledge, but there is no evidence that any great progress was made in this direction. The Chibchas of Bogota and the Aztecs of Mexico were in advance of the Quichuas in astronomical science. The Yncas knew the difference between the solar and lunar year, they had introduced intercalary days to reconcile that difference, and they observed the periods of the solstices and equinoxes. They also watched and recorded the courses of some of the stars, and of comets. They had a complete system of numerals, perfectly balanced pairs of scales have been found in Peruvian tombs, and their administrators must have been in the habit of making and recording very complicated revenue accounts. Their year was divided into twelve months, and great periodical festivals celebrated the periods of the solstices and equinoxes. The proficiency of the Quichuas in mechanical science was of a high order, as is attested by their magnificent roads and aqueducts, and by the conveyance of Cyclopean blocks of stone for their buildings.

The language of the Quichuas was carefully cultivated during many centuries by the Haravecs or bards in their love ditties and songs of triumph, and by the Amautas or wise men, whose duty it was to preserve the traditions of the people, and to prepare the rituals for the worship of the Deity; and their literary productions in prose and verse were preserved by means of the quipus. The Quichua was a highly polished language, and the student who may turn his attention to the history of the South American races, will find in this rich and copious tongue many ancient fragments of prose and poetry which will convince him of the civilisation of the ancient Peruvians. It is true that they had not discovered the use of letters, but it must be remembered that they were completely isolated and precluded from exchanging ideas with the other races of mankind. If no communication, direct or indirect, had existed between Phœnicia and the other countries of the old world, how many of them would, by their own unassisted genius, have discovered the use of letters. Would the Tamils and Canarese of India? Would the Malays of the islands? It may well be doubted; and, after all, the quipus, though a clumsy, were not altogether an inefficient substitute.

But it is in their administrative arrangements that the intellectual progress of the Yncas is most strikingly displayed. Theirs was the most enlightened despotism that ever existed. The Ynca claimed to be Yntip-churi or “child of sun,” but his not less glorious title was Huaccha-cuyac or “friend of the poor.” His duty was to superintend the comfort and happiness of the people, and to take care that no family was without a topu or plot of ground sufficient for his maintenance. The net produce of the land was divided into three equal parts, one for the cultivators, the second for religious and charitable purposes, and the third for the Ynca and his government; including the clothing and maintenance of the nobles, and of soldiers, miners, potters, weavers, and other artizans. Curacas or chiefs were placed over the different districts, with subordinate officers under them, and a minute supervision was exercised over all matters connected with revenue and judicial administration. Crime was almost unknown.

Such were the Quichuas, the representative people of the Peruvian Andes. To the eastward of their original territory, in the virgin forests which are traversed by the tributaries of the Amazon, dwelt the Antis and Chunchos, who wandered about in search of food, through the interminable wilderness of matted vegetation. They never seem to have made any progress; what they are now, such they were centuries ago: the nature of the country renders advancement impossible. Moreover they probably belong to the great Tupi-Guarani race of Brazil, and are distinct from the Peruvian tribes. To the south of the Quichuas, on either side of the upper valley of the Vilcamayu, were the wild shepherd tribes called Asancatus, Asillus, Cavinas, Canas, and Canches. But still further south, beyond the Vilcañota range of mountains, there was a great people, almost rivalling the Quichuas, who seem to have made some progress in civilisation, in the face of formidable natural difficulties. These were the Collas or Aymaras.

In the southern part of Peru the Cordillera of the Andes is divided into two chains. That to the eastward, containing the peaks of Illimani and Yllampu, consists of rocks of Silurian formation mixed with granite, and the peaks themselves are said to be fossiliferous to their summits. The other range to the westward is chiefly volcanic, and contains the famous volcano of Misti, and the glorious peaks of Chuquibamba and Chacani. Between these two chains of mountains there are lofty plateaux, never less than twelve thousand feet above the sea, the drainage of which flows into the great lake of Titicaca. Here there are no deep temperate valleys and ravines, nothing but bleak plains covered with coarse tufts of grass, with occasional patches of potatoe, quinoa, and oca. The climate is very severe, and the only trees, which are few and far between, are the stunted crooked queñua (Polylepis villosa) and the dark leaved ccolli (Buddleia coriacea). In some places a low shrubby Baccharis is met with, which serves as fuel. This region, known as the Collao, was inhabited by the Aymara nation.

These Aymaras had to contend against a rigorous climate and an unproductive soil; they had none of the advantages enjoyed by their Quichua neighbours, and had consequently made slower advances in civilisation, but they were apparently an offshoot from the same common stock. The descendants of the Aymaras are shorter and more thick-set than those of the Quichuas, and their features are coarser and less regular. Cieza de Leon says that they flattened their skulls in infancy. They wore woollen cloths and square caps, and the women had hoods like those of a friar. The land was too cold for maize, and the people lived on potatoes and ocas, which they preserved by drying them in the sun and then freezing them, for winter use. In this state they were called chuñus. There were large flocks of llamas and alpacas, and wild vicuñas on the unfrequented heights. The Aymaras lived in stone huts roofed with straw, which were built close together in villages, with the potatoe, oca, and quinoa fields around them. Cieza de Leon states that the Collao was once very populous, and the numerous vestiges of former cultivation up the terraced sides of the mountains, bear witness to the truth of his assertion. The people were ruled by chiefs who were treated with great respect, and carried about in litters.

There is a mystery about the civilisation of the ancient Aymaras, which cannot now be solved. The origin and history of the extensive unfinished ruins at Tiahuanaco, near the southern shore of lake Titicaca, will for ever remain a secret; but there can be no doubt that a people who could form so magnificent a design, convey such huge blocks of stone from great distances, hew out the enormous monolithic doorways, and carve them with such minuteness of ornamental detail, must have been numerous, and civilised. There are also remains of Aymara burial places in various parts of the Collao, especially on the peninsula of Sillustani, which consist of towers of hewn masonry. We learn from Cieza de Leon that the Aymaras observed the movements of the sun and moon, and divided their year into ten months. He considered them to be a very intelligent people. He gives an account of their funeral ceremonies, and a very interesting description of a harvest home among the Aymaras, and states that they were often engaged in civil wars. The Aymara language, which is still in common use on the banks of lake Titicaca, though identical with Quichua in grammatical construction, has a distinct vocabulary. It is worthy of remark, however, that though the first few numerals in Aymara are indigenous, all the higher numbers are borrowed from the Quichua. Next to the Quichuas, the Aymaras were by far the most important and civilised people in the Peruvian Andes; and though their climate and soil was against them, there is some ground for the opinion that their civilisation, such as it was, boasts of an origin more ancient than that of the Quichuas. But all such speculations are mere conjecture.

In the rich valleys and on the grassy mountain sides of the Central Peruvian Andes, to the westward of the Quichuas, dwelt three nations which were called by their future conquerors—the Chancas, Pocras, and Huancas.They inhabited the districts now known as Abancay, Andahuaylas, Guamanga, and Xauxa. Little or nothing is known of their history anterior to their absorption into the empire of the Yncas, and if they had a distinct language, it must have been either very barbarous or very closely allied to Quichua, for no vestige of it has survived. All the ruins which might have enabled us to form an idea of their skill in building, such as the temple of Huarivilca in the valley of Xauxa, have entirely disappeared. It appears, however, that they were very fierce and warlike, that each village had a fortress, and that they made a desperate struggle for independence before they were finally subjugated by the Quichuas.

North of Xauxa, the valleys and plateaux of the Cordillera were inhabited by the Conchucos, and by the Indians of Huamachuco, Caxamarca, Chachapoyas, and Bracamoras. This brings us to the frontier of Quito. The tribes of northern Peru are also said to have been warlike, and to have been incessantly engaged in feuds with each other. They are described as intelligent industrious agriculturists, with some knowledge of the courses of the heavenly bodies, and the same customs of burying their dead and worshipping huacas in the form of stones or other natural objects, as prevailed among the masses of the Quichua people.

We now come to the inhabitants of the numerous isolated fertile tracts on the Pacific coast, who were all known by the Yncas, as Yuncas or “dwellers in the warm valleys.”

The Peruvian coast has been, geologically speaking, recently upheaved from the sea. It is a narrow strip of land, averaging a breadth of from ten to forty miles, confined on one side by the ocean, on the other by the magnificent Andes, which rise abruptly from the plains. The whole of this region consists of sandy desert, intersected by ranges of rocky hills, except where a stream flows down from the mountains to the sea, and forms an oasis of verdure and fertility. These pleasant valleys are in some parts of the coast of frequent occurrence, and are only separated by narrow strips of sand; while in others the trackless deserts extend for nearly a hundred miles without a break. It scarcely ever rains on the Peruvian coast, but a heavy dew, during part of the year, falls on the valleys.

The most ancient traces of the American race have been found on the Pacific coast, in the shape of middings or refuse heaps, similar to those in Denmark. These middings, which have been examined by Mr. Spruce at Chanduy and Amotape, consist of fragments of pottery, sea shells, and crystal quartz cutting instruments. They are the remains of a very ancient people of what is called, in European archæology, the stone age; and they suggest the possible existence of man in South America, contemporaneously with the post-pleistocene fossil vicuña of Corocoro. Be this how it may, there can be no doubt that the coast valleys of Peru had been inhabited for many centuries by Indian communities, which had made gradual progress in the improvement of their condition. Every part of these valleys, which could be reached by irrigation, was very fertile. Where irrigation ceased the desert commenced. The irrigated parts contained fields of cotton, of yucas, of maize, of aji pepper, of sweet potatoes, and of gourds; which were shaded by fruit trees festooned with passion flowers, and by groves of algoroba (Prosopis horrida), of a sort of willow, and of the beautiful suchi (Plumieria). The most important traces of ancient civilisation are met with in the most extensive valleys, where the population was denser than in the smaller and more isolated oases.

The ancient works of irrigation in these valleys, now in ruins, excite the admiration of civil engineers who come to Peru to draw up schemes for imitating them. Every square foot of land was under cultivation, none was wasted even for the sites of villages and temples, which were always built on the verge of the desert, or on the rocky spurs of the maritime cordillera, overlooking the algoroba woods, the groves of fruit trees, and the rising crops. The fields were carefully manured, as well as watered by means of irrigating channels. In the valley of the Chilca they raised crops of Indian corn by putting two sardine heads into each hole with the grain, and thus the fish served for manuring the crops as well as for food. The guano on the islands off the coast was also utilised as manure. The houses were built of huge adobes, or bricks baked in the sun, with flat roofs of reed, plastered with mud; and the people were clothed in cotton dresses, which were very skilfully woven. Their pottery was quite equal to that of the Quichuas, but at the same time clearly original in design; the vessels being made to imitate shells, fruit, fish, and other objects, which were familiar to the natives of the coast.

The great ruins at Caxamarquilla, at Pachacamac, and of the Gran Chimu near Truxillo, still afford evidence of the civilisation of the Yunca Indians, and of the wealth and power of their chiefs. The people were warlike, and the tribe inhabiting the Chincha valley is even said to have made incursions far into the heart of the Andes. In the valley of the Rimac there are mounds or artificial hills of immense size, which appear to have been intended to afford protection against their enemies to the feudal lords; and to serve as a place of retreat for their retainers. A collection of ruins is almost always found at their feet, which formed the village of the tribe. Cieza de Leon gives a detailed account of the manners and customs of these Yunca chiefs, and of their subjects. Nearly every valley had its independent chief and separate tribe; although some of the more powerful chiefs, such as the Grand Chimu, the Chuqui-mancu of the Rimac, and the Lord of Chincha, had extended their dominion over several valleys. The language of the coast was quite distinct from Quichua.

In many parts of the coast the aboriginal Indians have been exterminated by Spanish cruelty, in others they have disappeared through frequent crosses with negroes, in others they have entirely lost, with their native language, all traces of the distinctive character which once marked their ancestors. It is exceedingly important, therefore, to obtain authentic information concerning any of the coast tribes which have retained their language and national characteristics; and the memoranda collected by Mr. Spruce at Piura, on this subject, which will be found in the accompanying note, contain some particulars of great interest.

It will be natural to inquire whether a race, which had for centuries inhabited the valleys on the Pacific coast, had habitually navigated the ocean which was always in sight; and we find that they occasionally did venture to sea for fish, and that they undertook coasting voyages. The crooked algorobas, the willows, and fruit trees, afforded no suitable timber for boat-building; but the Yuncas supplied the place of timber by going afloat on inflated sealskins. In this way they passed to and fro from the shore to the Guano islands, and, according to Acosta, they even went on long voyages to the westward.

Inca Ruins near Royal Road.

Inca Ruins near Royal Road.

The kingdom of Quito, which eventually formed the most northern province of the empire of the Yncas, consists of a series of lofty plateaux from which rise the towering peaks of Chimborazo, Cotopaxi, and Chanduy; while both to the east and west a rich tropical vegetation fills the ravines which gradually subside on one side into the valley of the Amazon, and on the other into the Pacific coast. This region was inhabited by several aboriginal tribes, the most important of which were the Cañaris, the Puruaes, and the Caras. Velasco relates that the Caras, after having been settled for about two hundred years on the coast of Esmeraldas, marched up the Andes and established themselves at Quito, where they were ruled by a succession of sovereigns called Scyris, until the country was conquered by the Yncas. These Caras are said to have been little advanced in architecture, but to have been dexterous in weaving fabrics of cotton and llama wool, and to have excelled as lapidaries. A great emerald in the head-dress was the distinguishing mark of the reigning Scyri.

But all this information respecting the early inhabitants of Quito, and more of the same sort, is derived from Velasco, who wrote only in the end of the last century. In truth, there are scarcely any reliable facts in the history of the people of Quito, previous to their subjugation by the Yncas, and all the remains of roads and buildings confessedly date from the times of Ynca domination.  Cieza de Leon gives some account of the inhabitants of the Quitenian Andes.

The principal aboriginal nations which inhabited the great empire of the Yncas have now been passed in review. In the temperate valleys of central Peru were the Quichuas, the most powerful and civilised of all. To the eastward of them were the savage Antis and Chunchos in the great tropical forests. To the south were the wild shepherd tribes of Canas, Canches, and others; and still further south were the more civilised Aymaras, struggling against the difficulties of a rigorous climate. To the westward of Cuzco were the warlike Chancas, Pocras, Huancas, and other tribes; and on the coast were numerous tribes known to the Yncas by the collective name of Yuncas. Finally, in the kingdom of Quito, among others of less note, were the nations of Caras, Puruaes, and Cañaris.

About three centuries before the arrival of Pizarro in Peru, the civilised and populous nation of Quichuas, feeling their superiority, began to make permanent and rapid conquests over the surrounding tribes in every direction. The date of the first commencement of these conquests cannot now be ascertained. Many centuries must have elapsed, and a long succession of Yncas must have reigned at Cuzco before an aggressive policy became the leading feature of their government; and there can be little doubt that their civilisation was indigenous, and not derived from any foreign source. The traditional Manco Ccapac may or may not have been the first Ynca, but there is no good reason for supposing that he was a foreigner; and I am decidedly of opinion that the Quichua civilisation is more likely to have required a period represented by the hundred Yncas of Montesinos, than by the dozen of Garcilasso de la Vega, for its full development. But all the early traditions are probably fictitious, and the first really historical personage we meet with is the great conqueror Huiraccocha Ynca. This prince is frequently mentioned by Cieza de Leon, and from his time the narrative of Ynca rule is clear and I think trustworthy. It was gathered, by our author and others, from the mouths of the old Ynca statesmen and generals, who told what they had themselves seen, and what they had heard from their sires and grandsires. It would appear, however, that, even before the time of Huiraccocha, the Quichuas had already extended their sway into some of the tropical valleys inhabited by the Antis and Chunchos, had subjugated the Canas and Canches, and, taking advantage of the civil wars of the Aymaras, had annexed the wide plains of the Collao and of Charcas, and the campiña of Arequipa.

The reigns of the last five Yncas were very long, and when the mummy of Huira-ccocha was discovered by the Corregidor Ondegardo, it was found to be that of a very old man. We are justified, therefore, in placing his reign in the end of the thirteenth and beginning of the fourteenth century, contemporary with Edward I. of England.

Huira-ccocha organised an army, and, after having defeated the united forces of the Chancas, Pocras and Huancas, in the great battle of Yahuar-pampa, annexed the whole of the central part of the Peruvian Andes to his dominions. The generals of his son and successor Pachacutec conquered the rich valleys of Xauxa and Caxamarca, and the coast districts inhabited by the Yuncas. Pachacutec’s son, the Ynca Yupanqui, made extensive conquests in the rich forest-covered tropical plains to the eastward of Cuzco, which were completed by his son Tupac Ynca Yupanqui. The latter monarch extended his dominions as far as Tucuman and Chile on the south, and to the extreme limit of the kingdom of Quito on the north. Lastly, the famous Huayna Ccapac, during a long reign, consolidated and brought into subjection this vast empire.

These conquests, extending over a period of about two centuries and a half or more, were not achieved without much hard fighting and stubborn resistance on the part of the invaded nations. This was especially the case with the Yuncas of the Pacific coast. The Yncas, however, succeeded in permanently establishing their power more by conciliation than by force of arms; and though their disciplined troops, wielding battle-axes, clubs and spears, did good execution on the day of battle; yet the liberal treatment of the vanquished, and their experience of the benefits of Ynca rule, were far more efficacious agents in giving security to the new government. At the same time, in cases of treachery or revolt, the Yncas were capable of terrible severity, as in the case of the slaughter at Yahuar-ccocha, described by Cieza de Leon, which was perpetrated under orders from Huayna Ccapac.

During this period of conquest the Quichuas probably made more rapid progress in civilisation than they had done during many previous centuries. By becoming the dominant race over a vast region, their views became enlarged, their wants increased, and they learnt many things from communication with their conquered neighbours. Instead of being confined to the products of their native valleys, the Quichuas now obtained gold and their beloved coca leaf from the eastern forests; increased supplies of silver and copper from the country of the Aymaras; emeralds from Quito; fish from the Pacific Ocean; aji pepper, cotton fabrics, and an improved system of irrigation from the coast valleys. They also learnt from the vanquished the use of many medicinal herbs and vegetable dyes.

They had become an imperial race, and Cuzco was henceforward an imperial city,  to which the chiefs and retainers of a hundred tribes, all distinguished by peculiar head-dresses, flocked to do homage to their common sovereign. Then it was that great palaces were erected. Then the famous fortress, with its Cyclopean stones, rose on the Sacsahuaman hill. Then the Ccuri-cancha blazed forth in its almost fabulous splendour.  In short, all the works of the Yncas of imperial magnificence or importance date from this period of busy conquest, and some of them, such as the fortress of Ollantay-tambo, were in course of construction when the Spaniards arrived, and they remain unfinished. At this time, too, those wonderful lines of road were constructed, running from Cuzco east, west, north, and south, overcoming every natural obstacle, and affording the means of rapid communication from the capital to the extreme frontiers of the empire. There were tampus or lodgings at short intervals, and public buildings for officials, for storing tribute, and for collecting necessaries for an army, were erected in almost every valley along the line of the roads.

The organisation of every branch of the government of this great empire displays extraordinary administrative ability on the part of the Yncas. Perhaps their most remarkable institution was the system of mitimaes or colonists, which is fully explained by Cieza de Leon. Combined with their policy of superseding all local idioms by the rich and cultivated Quichua, this system of mitimaes would soon have cemented the numerous conquered nations and tribes into one people, speaking one language.

If good government consists in promoting the happiness and comfort of a people, and in securing them from oppression; if a civilising government is one which brings the means of communication and of irrigating land to the highest possible state of efficiency, and makes steady advances in all the arts,—then the government of the Yncas may fairly lay claim to those titles. The roads, irrigating channels, and other public works of the Yncas were superior to anything of the kind that then existed in Europe. Their architecture is grand and imposing. Their pottery and ornamental work is little inferior to that of Greeks and Etruscans. They were skilled workers in gold, silver, copper, bronze, and stone. Their language was rich, polished, and elegant. Their laws showed an earnest solicitude for the welfare of those who were to live under them. Above all, their enlightened toleration, for the existence of which there are the clearest proofs, is a feature in their rule which, in one point of view at least, and that a most important one, raises them above their contemporaries in every part of the world.

Cieza de Leon bears testimony to the excellence of the government of the Yncas. The intelligent young soldier seems to have been astonished at the order and regularity, the beneficence and forethought which prevailed in the government of that empire which had just been shattered by his cruel countrymen. He says that the Yncas ruled with such wisdom that few in the world ever excelled them; and, in another place, he comes to the conclusion that “if the ancient polity had been preserved, it would not have failed to bring the Indians nearer to the way of good living and conversation; for few nations in the world have had a better government than the Yncas."

But our author came to Peru fifteen years after the seizure of Atahualpa by Pizarro, and, short as the interval was, a terrible devastation had spread over the length and breadth of the land. Over and over again Cieza de Leon mentions the destruction of the people. In every valley he entered, they had been killed by the Spaniards by thousands, and their buildings reduced to ruins. In many districts the whole population had been exterminated. In one place he says—“Nearly all these valleys are now almost deserted, having once been so densely peopled, as is well known to many persons.” He heard of misery and cruelty in every part of the land. He saw the palaces and store houses of the Yncas in ruins, the flocks slaughtered, the grand roads destroyed, and the posts for pointing the way in the deserts used for fire wood.  His barbarian countrymen pulled down the great works of irrigation, and turned thousands of acres of fertile land into desert.

These sights excited the indignation of the humane and observant man at arms, who in this, as in many other respects, proved his superiority of head and heart over his brutal companions. Cieza de Leon felt warmly for the wrongs of the Indians, and devotes a chapter to show how God chastises those who are cruel to them. But he was so steeped in the superstition of his age and country that all the simple rites of the Indians appeared to him to be the work of the devil, and in every harmless ceremony he saw the cloven feet. He tells us that the old men of every tribe in the Indies conversed with the enemy of mankind, and he mocks at their burying food with their dead for the journey to the other world, “as if hell was so very far off.” The whole population of America was destined, according to our author, to eternal torments in the next world; yet it is unjust to blame him for asserting a belief which is held at the present day, and by the most tolerant church in Christendom.

When uninfluenced by religious prejudices, he writes with an impartiality which does him the highest credit. He laments over the condition of the Indians, deplores the wanton destruction of their public works, and condemns the barbarity of the Spaniards. His superstitious folly is the result of his education, his merits are all his own. In arrangement, in trustworthiness, in accuracy, and in the value of his observations, the work of Cieza de Leon stands higher than that of any contemporary chronicler: and these qualities in his book are enhanced by the romantic life and noble disposition of its author. Cieza de Leon will, I think, be found an agreeable companion over a country of no common interest, at a most important period of its history.



Mythology:  Mysticism and Logic

Mythology: Mysticism and Logic

E. Pauline Johnson: The White Wampum