(MAYA, AZTEC, INCA and INUIT before COLUMBUS – continued)

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MAYA, AZTEC, INCA and INUIT before COLUMBUS (5 of 7)

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The Inca

In the early 1400s an empire was in the making in the highlands of what is now Peru. From the town of Cuzco the Inca had been raiding and plundering their ethnically different neighbors. In 1438 a federation of tribes called the Chanca attacked the Inca. The Inca drove the Chanca back out of Cuzco. Then – not unlike the Egyptians after they drove out the Hyksos – the Inca launched an expansion of their own. The Inca king, Yupanqui (Yupánqui), acquired the name The Destroyer. He conquered, and he strengthened his army by taking into its ranks conquered men to be officered only by the Inca.

Yupanqui began rebuilding Cuzco, and around 1463, while remaining in power, he turned leadership of his army over to his son, Tópac. In Cuzco, Yupanqui oversaw the building of stone structures, walls and walkways. Nearby rivers were channeled. Grounds were leveled for agriculture, and agricultural terraces were built on hillsides.

Between 1463 and 1471, the son, Tópac, extended the Inca Empire northward, and he began a policy of scattering uncooperative peoples and began filling the vacated areas with docile people already under Inca rule.

In 1471 Yupanqui died. Tópac succeeded him. A rumor spread among conquered people near Lake Titicaca that Tópac had died while having led troops on one of his excursions into the tropical rain forest. Independence was attempted, but Tópac came and defeated the rebellions. Following this success, Tópac led his army farther south. He conquered parts of what today are Bolivia, Argentina and Chile, and by 1476 he established the empire's southernmost border, at the Maule River. Then Tópac expanded from his highland region around Cuzco westward to the Pacific Coast, finding only minimal resistance along the way except for people in the Cañete Valley. They were able to resist the Inca for three years before they too were overrun.

After his successful expansion to the Pacific, Tópac concerned himself with administering his empire. He traveled through his territories on a network of roads that the Inca had built. He counted and classified his subjects, a census for the sake of labor assignments and military conscription. He also chose young women to serve as temple maidens for state shrines or as brides for soldiers who had distinguished themselves in battle.

The Inca at Worship

Like most everybody else, the Inca saw themselves as favored by their gods. They saw themselves as less lustful and less foolish than other peoples. They had a myth that preceding them had been a people who had grown progressively soft and had turned to sodomy and away from the hard work of growing food and away from warfare – sort of like some people see the 1960s generation. The Inca believed that the gods had put them into the world in place of these morally weak people to teach humanity how to do right – a myth that suited their imperialism.

The Inca as yet had no writing. With no book to quote from, their myths were oral. It included their chief god, the master creator Viracocha, creator of the earth, creator of humans and of all the animals that roamed the surface of the earth. The Inca saw Viracocha as lord instructor who taught people their skills. They saw Viracocha as an old man of the sky who not only created people and sent humanity to the four directions but also destroyed people.

To please their gods, the Inca preceded all of their important events with an act of divination – an attempt to read the mind of the gods. To predict the future, the meandering of a spider was observed, or the arrangement taken by cocoa leaves in a shallow dish of water, or the intestines of a llama were examined. If something went wrong, such as the rain not falling, it was seen as someone's misdeed rather than the fault of the gods. It was believed that if something went wrong someone must have failed to observe the proper religious ceremony. To placate the gods, confessions had to be made and penitence accomplished.

The Lord God of the Inca was frequently offered food, such as priests throwing corn onto the hot coals of a fire and saying, "Eat this Lord Sun so that you will know that we are your children." In Cuzco on the first day of every lunar month a flock of pure white llamas were driven into the town square. The llamas stood before the images of various gods, the llamas divided among thirty priests (one priest for every day of the month and about three llamas to each priest) and then the llamas were slaughtered, chunks of their flesh thrown into a fire and their bones powdered for later rituals.

Humans were also sacrificed – everyday at sunrise and on other important occasions – the Inca taking advantage of the surplus of people made possible by agricultural successes. Any military defeat or other misfortune was reason to placate the gods with a human sacrifice. So was a special occasion for the king. People without physical blemishes were preferred to better please the gods. Many of the sacrificed were children, occasionally two hundred at a time. Before being sacrificed, the children were lavished with attention and food so as not to enter the presence of the gods hungry and crying.

When an Inca man died his favorite wives and servants were given drink until intoxicated. Then they were executed in order to accompany the dead man into the other world. Bodies of the dead were mummified, and on occasion the mummies were brought into Cuzco's town square to face the idols there. Beer was put next to the mummies, and attempts were made to keep flies from annoying them. Like some people in modern times, the Inca saw the dead as still having senses and feelings.

To fulfill their duty to their gods, the Inca took their religion and its idols to the territories they had conquered. Being polytheistic they did not deny the existence of the gods of those they had conquered. They merely thought their gods superior. The Inca brought the gods of the conquered back to Cuzco in the form of idols. And they held these idols hostage alongside living conquered nobility, to insure the good behavior of the conquered.

The final decades

King Tópac died in 1493, the year after Columbus had journeyed to the Caribbean. Topac's death was followed by a civil war, and emerging as successor was Topac's son, Huayna Cápac. Huayna Cápac's empire stretched across more than a thousand miles, north and south. South of Cuzco, forest people were making raids into his empire to acquire bronze tools and metal for body ornaments, and in the far north of his empire were rebellions. Huayna Capac went north on an expedition. There he made minor gains in territory, including an area called Quito. He chose to stay in Quito, leaving Cuzco to be run by others. And, similar to emperors of Rome during its decline, he surrounded himself with bodyguards who were foreigners.

The Inca Empire was at its zenith. Cuzco was a city of between 100,000 and 300,000 inhabitants. It was a city of bureaucrats, guards, servant-slaves (yanaconas) and tribute laborers from the conquered territories, working for the Inca nobility. The nobility was seeking new ways of expanding their wealth – land, goods and laborers under their command.

Meanwhile, rivalry between the nobles was rising, and Spaniards were expanding into the Caribbean.


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