8/12/09 - the inca

In today's excerpt - the Inka (Inca) empire a now lost empire that was located in the Andean region on the west coast of South America and Inkan royal mummies:

"In 1491, the Inka ruled the greatest empire on earth. Bigger than Ming Dynasty China, bigger than Ivan the Great's expanding Russia, bigger than Songhay in the Sahel or powerful Great Zimbabwe in the West Africa tablelands, bigger than the cresting Ottoman Empire, bigger than the Triple Alliance (as the Aztec empire is more precisely known), bigger by far than any European state, the Inka dominion extended over a staggering thirty-two degrees of latitude—as if a single power held sway from St. Petersburg to Cairo. ...

"The Inka empire, the greatest state ever seen in the Andes, was also the shortest lived. It began in the fifteenth century and lasted barely a hundred years before being smashed by Spain. ...

"The Inka sovereign had the title of 'Inka'—he was the Inka—but he could also include 'Inka' in his name. In addition, Inka elites changed their names as they went through their lives. Each Inka was thus known by several names any of which might include 'Inka.' ...

"People in Andean societies viewed themselves as belonging to family lineages. (Europeans did too, but lineages were more important in the Andes; the pop-cultural comparison might be The Lord of the Rings, in which characters introduce themselves as 'X son of Y' or 'A of B's line.') Royal lineages, called panaqa, were special. Each new emperor was born in one panaqa, but created a new one when he took the fringe. To the new panaqa belonged the Inka and his wives and children along with his retainers and advisers. When the Inka died his panaqa mummified his body. Because the Inka was believed to be an immortal deity, his mummy was treated, logically enough, as if it were still living. Soon after arriving in Qosqo [the Empire's capital] Pizarro's companion Miguel de Estete saw a parade of defunct emperors. [Pizarro was the Spaniard who conquered the Inkans]. They were brought out on litters, 'seated on their thrones and surrounded by pages and women with flywhisks in their hands, who ministered to them with as much respect as if they had been alive.'

"Because the royal mummies were not considered dead, their successors obviously could not inherit their wealth. Each Inka's panaqa retained all of his possessions forever, including his palaces, residences, and shrines; all of his remaining clothes, eating utensils, fingernail parings, and hair clippings; and the tribute from the land he had conquered. In consequence as Pedro Pizarro realized 'the greater part of the people, treasure, expenses and vices were under the control of the dead.' The mummies spoke through female mediums who represented the panaqa's surviving courtiers or their descendants. With almost a dozen immortal emperors jostling for position, high-level Inka society was characterized by ramose political intrigue of a scale that would have delighted the Medici. Emblematically, [new emperor] Wayna Qhapaq could not construct his own villa in [his country]—his undead ancestors had used up all the available space. Inka society had a serious mummy problem."


Charles C. Mann


1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus


Vintage Books Edition


Copyright 2005 2006 by Charles C. Mann


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