- Published: October 30, 2021
- Updated: October 30, 2021
- University / College: Dalhousie University
- Language: English
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The Incas left no written evidence of their presence. Most of what is known about them comes from the stories that the Spanish used to tell and eventually were written and from what archeologist have found throughout the years. The Inca Empire was the largest empire in pre-Columbian America. The Inca civilization was initiated back in the early 12th century per archeological artifacts. The Incas referred to their empire as Tawantinsuyu, which is in Quechua, the main language spoken. Tawantinsuyu means a group of four regions. In Quechua Tawa means four, the suffix -ntin means group and suyu means region. The empire was divided in regions in which all of them meet at the capital, Cusco. The term Inca means emperor or lord in Quechua, and it was used towards the privileged family, Viracochas’ children. The spectacular site of the former Inca Empire is in the mountains in Cusco, at altitudes between 7,000 and 10,000 feet (2,150-3, 000 meters), are temperate zones capable of sustaining an intensive agriculture. (Von Hagen, 1996) It stretched north to south some 2,500 miles along the high mountainous Andean range from Colombia to Chile and reached west to east from the dry coastal desert called Atacama to the steamy Amazonian rain forest. At the height of its existence the Inca Empire was the largest nation on Earth and remains the largest native state to have existed in the western hemisphere. (Clark, 2000)
There are many myths as how the Inca Empire began. However, all of the myths have something in common, Manco Capac, son of Viracocha, the creator. The myth that is more commonly repeated is about the pair of four brothers and sisters, Ayar Manco (Manco Capac)-Mama Ocllo, Ayar Auca, Mama Huaco, Ayar Cache, Mama Ipacura, Ayar Uchu, Mama Raua, who come out of a cave from Pacaritambo ready to begin their journey to the creator’s promise land. While in their journey, they faced many challenges. They visited a number of locations on their way north looking for the best agricultural land. During their journey all the brothers, except Manco Capac, met ill fates. Ayar Cache was sealed into a cave and both Ayar Auca and Ayar Ucho were turned into stone. It was only Manco Capac and his four sisters who arrived at the Cusco Valley. (Bauer, 1991) Once they arrived, Manco Capac put his golden staff on the ground to announce that it was that spot where they were going to stay. As soon as it hit the ground the golden staff sunk into it, meaning his father, Viracocha, blessed the soil making it fertile. However, before the staff sank on the ground, Mama Ocllo had already giving Manco Capac a son, Sinchi Roca. It is said that the Incas practiced polygamy. They had many wives, but their first wife was always one of his sisters. Only the children that he would have with his sister were the ones eligible to become Incas once he would pass away. The Indians that were in the area were mad that they arrived and tried to defend their territory. It’s said that Mama Huaco was a good fighter, so good that she attempted to kill all the members of this indigenous group, even to the extent that she took infants from their pregnant mother’s wombs. (Wiley-Blackwell, 1996) This made the other Indians afraid of them, leaving their land to the Incas.
Language and Communication
The Inca Empire didn’t have a written mode of communication. They rely on the quipus, which are ropes with knots on them. They kept count of the animals, seeds, population, etc. that they had through the quipus. (Mann, 2005) They also sent messages through them; however, until now archeologist still try to figure out how that worked. These messages were sent with the chasquis, or mailman. They would travel all along the Inca roads and bridges by feet. They also used art as a mode of communication and expression. . While Quechua had been spoken in the Empire for many years, the type of Quechua the Incas spoke was a newer version of the old Quechua, known as the great language of the people. In the Empire there were many regions that spoke Quechua with their own “twist” into it, like slang Quechua. Although most of the people spoke the main language, the Incas let the population keep their old languages like Aymara. Until this day there is a percentage of the Peruvian population that still speaks Quechua and even in some schools is being taught as a second language. Kids are being taught some words or songs in Quechua along with their class of Peruvian history.
Incas believed in different gods and goddesses. The two major gods were Inti (the sun) and Viracocha (the creator). These two were mainly adored by the Incas and upper class families. However, the lower class or ‘worthless people’ (yanca ayllu) focused their religious devotion on a plethora of local deities and above all on various earth goddesses or Pachamama, the great earth mother venerated by Peruvians at the base of society. (Pike, 1978) The Inca people believed that each different crop had a special sprit or conopas protecting them. They did ceremonies and offered their future crops to the conopas, so these will give them productive crops at the end of the season. Domestic animals also had a special spirit that will protect them, called illas. These were small replicas of the animals made from stones. Inca people would bury these replicas under the land where they kept the animals, believing it will keep the animals healthy and that they’ll reproduce. Incas often practice rituals, sacrifices and offerings for their gods. However, the one that has been recently discovered is the Capacocha sacrifices of children. It has been said that these kids were sacrificed in times of need, usually a chief’s daughter or son. They were particularly picked by their beauty and perfection. The Inca would choose them in advanced and enhance their diet months before the actual sacrifice. The children’s age ranged from 3 to 12 years of age. (Bower, 2010) These children were put in a tomb alive wearing the finest clothes and surrounded with other artifacts made of gold or silver. The child being sacrificed was given chicha, an alcoholic beverage, before and after the ritual. Also there has been finding were they have found the skulls of these children fractured, meaning probably they were hit on the head upon entrance into the tomb to prevent any suffering. Many archeologists have found mummies of these children in the coldest part of the Andes, meaning the mountain tops. Incas also believed that natural disasters occurred when their gods were mad at them. With that said, they built Huacas or temples where they would bring their offerings for them. Also, the Incas had moral codes: ama suwa, ama llulla, ama quella (do not steal, do not lie, and do not be lazy), and those who obey them it was said that they will live eternally under Inti’s warmth.
Agriculture and Food
The empires’ population main occupation was farming. Agriculture was the main source of economy for the Inca Empire. In Inca times all the people had that same knowledge about farming, and the tool that they consider most important was the taclla, which was a tool that helped them dig with a hard metal point. Water had to be brought to the lands by canals that the Incas made. (Williams, 2006) Landscaping the land in different levels or platforms helped to prevent erosion. Andean farmers used taqui which is the inedible organs of the llamas as fertilizer. A lot of the vegetables and fruit that we eat today were planted in the Andean area. They planted more than 20 types of corn and more than 240 types of potatoes among other vegetables like squash, peppers, and quinoa. Maize, fruits, peppers, legumes, cucurbits, and coca only grow at lower altitudes in the zones restricted to irrigated agriculture in this arid climate. (Williams, 2006) Root vegetables were the most abundant and important during the Inca Empire. However, the most important crop was the potato. Potatoes could resist frosts when they were planted in the highest part of the Andes Mountains. They also were able to grow in poor soil and could be stored for later. These roots were rich in carbohydrates but very poor in protein leading to malnutrition. The food that the population ate depended upon the area where they lived. People living on the coast ate a lot of seafood and fruits. In the other hand, in the Andes people ate lots of potatoes and corn. Incas planted more vegetables and fruits that they needed, so they could use them in case they go through a bad season. Since their daily intake of potato-like food was high, they also needed protein. Grains in this case brought to them the protein they needed on a daily basis. Some of the grains cultivated in the Inca Empire were: maize, kiwicha, and quinoa. They had different ways in cooking their grains. Some of them would boiled them and drink them hot, especially quinoa. It is said that quinoa is not just a great source of protein, but it also helped the Inca army to survive great altitudes and gave them strength. Meats were not eaten as much. It was consider as meals only for the Inca and his family. Some of the meats they ate were guinea pigs and llamas.
The most awe-inspiring of Inca contributions to material culture was in architecture. (Von Hagen, 1996) Inca architecture was mostly recognized because of its enormous cities and their usage of gigantic rocks to build them. Their buildings have been standing for centuries, counting on the fact that they were built on an earthquake prone area. The foundation was just based on rocks without using mortar to keep them together; however, they did because they were carved in detailed to fit. Only the strongest males were chosen to build this gigantic cities and buildings, considering it an honor since most of the buildings were temples for their gods. Machu Picchu is one of the most famous buildings from the Inca Empire. Another one is the Temple of the Sun which is guessed that it was used to observe the sun, their greatest deity. This temple is the only one in Machu Picchu that has a semicircular wall; the rest of the temples were rectangular. (Von Hagen, 1996) The Temple of the Sun is the best example of the Incas construction skills. It has many windows, but two of them are align with the altar that is in the middle. When the sun aligns with the windows it showed them if it was the right time to harvest the crops or not. The Incas used the Intihuatana stone or “Hitching Post of the Sun” to predict when the summer and winter solstice were to occur as the same as the spring and fall equinoxes. They did this by measuring the angles of the sun on the Intihuatana. They also use precious stones to enhance a few buildings, especially if the Inca was involved with the building. The Incas were marvelous engineers. They built a very complex series of roads and bridges to help them travel to the different villages, which gave the Inca the power to control the whole Empire from one corner to another. They transported goods by foot only with the use of the llamas that helped them carried stuff with them from one part of the Empire to the other. Many roads were so high up in the mountains that they built stones stairs to go up and down on them. Suspension bridges were built all across the Empire to connect mountains to mountains as well.
The Incas are well known for their trepanation (perforation of the skull) and their cranial deformation. Trepanations were done usually to males, so is thought they did it due to war injuries. They have excavated craniums with many trepanations done ranging from 3 to 7 trepanations on the same skull. (Salpietra, 2010) The Incas’ ancestors began trepanning around AD 900, but the operation became almost an art form under the Incas themselves, around AD 1350 to 1400. (Pain, 2000) Archeologist believed they were done to decrease intracranial pressure and decrease incidence of seizures. The Incas also did cranial deformation. They did this by wrapping the heads of newborns with a tight cloth or piece of clothing. After the tight compression of their flexible skulls, their heads were cone shaped. It’s believed this was done to differentiate social classes in the community. Only the nobles had cranial deformation done.
Metal and Ceramic Work
Pottery in the Andes was already an art since years past. One of the main characteristics of Inca pottery was that it wasn’t based on human forms; instead they used geometric forms and head of animals. Pottery during the Inca Empire had two uses: utilitarian and ceremonial. The Ceremonial kind was made just for ceremonies or rituals only, such as burials. The utilitarian kind was used for the everyday life and it was made thicker and less detailed.
Most of the Inca gold was melted by the Spanish when they conquered Cuzco. The few artifacts left were excavated from burial sites. Gold was plentiful during the Inca Empire. Gold was used to make jewelry which indicated a high social status. The Inca family wore jewelry every day; and also decorated their clothing and shoes with precious stones and gold. The one thing that stood out the most was the heavy gold earrings they used to make their earlobes bigger, signifying high status in society.
Inca weaving is considered one of the best textiles in the world. The Incas used cotton, the wool of alpacas, llamas and the rare wool of vicuñas and guanacos. Clothing made of the wool of vicuñas and guanacos were made only for the Inca; they were often dyed with vibrant colors. (Discover Peru,2005) This type of textile was called Cumbi. Clothes and textiles used by the rest of the population were called Abasca. They were made of coarser wool like the one from the llama. When the Inca conquered new villages, he would give the leader the finest textile as a present. If the leader accepted the gift, it meant that he accepted the Inca as the new leader.
Music and Dance
The Incas music was played during religious rituals and it was usually accompanied by singing. There were many songs and dances which were related to the everyday lives of the people from the Empire. Most dances were related to rituals and agriculture. There were dances that it was thought to affect the weather like to make it rain or stop the hail. Dances and songs were also used to describe myths of the Inca Empire origin. There were two types of musical instruments: the wind and percussion. An example of a wind instrument is the zampoña which has two separate rows of pipes, open at one end and closed at the other end. The rows of pipes are put together from small to big, until a triangle is formed. They are usually made of clay and are kept together with a piece of cotton threat or wool. There are many types of percussion instrument used in Andean music; among them are the bombos. Bombo is a large wooden drum made from a hollow trunk tree and covered in animal skin usually that of llama or sheep on the top and cow at the bottom. (Discover Peru,2005)
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