Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Inca Empire

Fig.1: The poor treatment of 
the Inca civilization gives me 
an ugly, stinky llama face!
In terms of powerful empires in history, many get the short end of the stick just because they're not European or Mongol or Galactic. The Inca Empire can certainly be considered one of them. They possessed the largest state in Pre-Columbian America, and implemented a successful political and social system that governed and educated millions of people. And yet what are they known for? Getting their butts kicked by the Spanish, and being the focus of a cartoon with a talking llama (fig.1). The Inca even get shortchanged with their name: the word Inca really only denoted the rulers of the state, while the empire itself was called Tawantinsuyu. On second thought, maybe I'm better off using "Inca" just so I don't get carpal tunnel typing that monstrosity of a name out every time. Nonetheless, the Inca deserve more credit from the general public than they deserve, and it is my patriotic duty (as an author of a small-time blog that really only my mother subscribes to) to spread the word about this underrated civilization. It really is the least I can do.

Like any other civilization, the Inca have a dumb origin story about people coming out of random caves and turning into stone for stupid reasons and something about a sacred llama (really they were just asking for this llama stuff). But I'm a historian, not a crap-people-made-up-ologist, so turn on the History Channel if you want to learn about sensationalized hoopla (or about Ice Road Truckers, for some reason). Anyway, the Inca grew around their capital of Cusco in present-day southern Peru around the 12th century. It was really a humble small-time operation, where the troubles are all the same and everyone knows your name, but this would change under the leadership of Pachacuti in 1438. Pachacuti meant "He who shakes the Earth," which was better than his previous nickname: "He who let the dogs out." But Pachacuti certainly did some Earth-shaking by conquering the lands around Cusco in Peru and Ecuador during his thirty-year-reign. It is also believed that the famous Machu Picchu (fig.2) was built as a lavish summer home for him, the ruins of which had delighted tourists since its rediscovery in 1912 until it was tragically stolen by one of Carmen Sandiego's nefarious henchmen.

Fig.2: The ruins of Machu Picchu attract about 500,000 visitors per year, which is 499,999 more 
visitors than I want tromping around my personal vacation retreat!
The Inca's torrent of conquest continued under Pachacuti's son, Túpac Yupanqui, which meant "noble accountant," apparently because he could find you deductions like no one else. He certainly didn't make any exemptions as he conquered the Pacific coast of South America from Colombia down to Chile, and duly made them his dependents. Unfortunately, he was audited for exceeding his mileage allowance after his defeat at the Battle of the Maule against the Mapuche in the late 15th century, and southward expansion was given a notice of deficiency. Nonetheless, he accurately reconciled his empire and divided it into four different brackets for easy (or 1040-EZ) management. By his death in 1493, the Inca Empire was at its territorial peak, and contained somewhere between 4 and 37 million people within its realm, give or take about 16 million. Hmm, I suppose the Noble Accountant wasn't that great at bookkeeping after all...

Fig.3: It's common knowledge that the AL Collasuyu
is one of the stronger divisions in the league, and
almost always picks up that wild card spot.
The Inca Empire was never a unified land, as the Inca emperors never initiated a Shi Huangdi-like plan to force people together with a common language, culture, and way to cook a potato. The Inca allowed the various tribes in South America to keep their identity, as long as they sacrificed petty things like political independence, religious freedom, and their children to military service. But hey, as long as we can still be ourselves, those little details don't matter at all. The Empire was formally divided into the four directional divisions of northeast, northwest, southeast, and southwest (with corresponding Inca names, fig.3), and then the teams broken up between the National League and American League. The Inca would educate select children from each of these regions, so each would be able to govern themselves effectively, and that there wouldn't be a "dumb state" like we have today in Mississippi.

Even the Inca religion was a patchwork of various beliefs incorporated throughout South America's western coast. The common deity promoted by the Inca nobility was Viracocha, who was the creator of all living things, and even some great non-living things like apple pie with vanilla ice cream on top. Like Zeus, Viracocha is depicted with lighting bolts in hand, and had a variety of female deities by his side with whom he could be "very good friends." These ladies include Pachamama, goddess of Earth; Qochamama, goddess of the sea, and Hoochiemama, goddess of smokin' hot babes. The Inca also believed in the afterlife: once a person died, they would be led down a dark path filled with obstacles to heaven by a black dog, who hopefully wouldn't get distracted by a squirrel or the mailman or anything. Even in death, a person's body needed to be preserved in order for their trip to the afterlife to go smoothly, so the Inca engaged in natural mummification by freezing bodies on top of the Andes Mountains (it's almost akin to "vegan mummies," as opposed to all that processed stuff those Egyptians do). Some Peruvian cultures continue this practice today, and even bring out the mummies for family gatherings and celebrations. And you thought meals with Uncle Bob was awkward when he was alive...

Fig.4: No, Francisco. 
I don't want the stale 
taffy in your coat 
pocket. Stop asking!
Of course, the Inca Empire would not reign forever, no matter how many stars we wish upon. Those Spaniards arrived around 1526 under the direction of conquistador Francisco Pizarro (fig.4), who was ready to bring the conquist to South America. In what can be considered the epitome of bad timing, the Inca were busy with a civil war of succession between two brothers, and really didn't need to be bothered with an invading force equipped with superior weapons and an unrelenting religious narcissism. The Spanish, being the opportunists they are (some would call it "jerkiness," but tomāto tomăto), decided to take advantage of this and play both sides against the other. They also gave everyone and their mother smallpox, just for a little added insurance. By the time Atahualpa defeated his brother Huáscar in 1532, the Spanish solidified their position throughout the Andes, millions of Incas were dying of disease, and empanadas were quickly becoming all the rage. Already, resistance seemed to be a lost cause, but Atahualpa attempted to halt the Spanish advance. He even dared to throw the bible given to him by one of Pizarro's friars on the ground like it was a worthless Stephanie Meyer novel! Not having any of that, Pizarro ordered his execution in 1533 by garrote, which is a device that slowly strangles you to death. I think I'll take the smallpox instead, please!

Nonetheless, the Inca continued to rule in a remote area of the Amazon Rainforest called Vilcabamba, and would make motions to overthrow Spanish rule of their kingdom. Atahualpa's other brother, Manco, would temporarily retake Cusco in 1536 while distracting the Spanish by poking their one shoulder while heading the opposite way, but they eventually caught onto his ruse. Manco's son, Túpac Amaru, went the old-fashioned route by killing some Spanish ambassadors in 1572. But before you could say Tawantinsuyu (which, admittedly, takes a few attempts), the Spanish laid siege to Vilcabamba, captured Túpac Amaru and his generals, beheaded them all, and still had time to catch the second half of the Real-Barça game. This is considered the end of the Inca Empire, but some guy named José Gabriel Condorcanqui two centuries later didn't get the memo. He took up the name Túpac Amaru II (subtitle: The Reawakening) and started his own rebellion for the indigenous population in 1780. If you were looking for a happy ending here for the Inca, you're better off renting another movie where the uprising doesn't fall flat and the leading role doesn't get drawn, quartered, and beheaded.

Fig.5: Taste the rainbow!
That depressing stuff aside, we can still look back on the Inca Empire and admire their ingenuity, political institutions, and scope of their territory. Quite a few countries in present-day South America, notably Peru, prefer to trace their origins to the Inca, and continue to promote various customs that originated during that time. It's sad that the Inca aren't as recognized as a successful empire in the way of several others of comparable size and strength throughout history, but if you'd like to see the embodiment of their awesomeness, just look at their banner (fig.5). It's two snakes...vomiting a rainbow. I mean, c'mon. Can't get much cooler than that!

Or can it?

No comments:

Post a Comment