Culture of the Inca Empire and Peoples

Allison Methenitis

History and Origin

The Inca Empire originated in the 13th century in the city of Cusco, Peru. Despite a civil war in 1525, throughout the 14th century the empire began to conquer land in the Andean
Rule of the Inca Empire
region of South America, and by the 15th century the Incas were one of the most powerful groups in that region, controlling an empire 2500 miles long. [1] One of the greatest accomplishments of the Incas is Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu ruins
Located north of Cusco, the site was meant to be the dwelling of the emperor. However, the building was never finished due to the arrival of the Spanish. The Spanish first came to the Inca Empire after the civil war. Atahualpa, the Inca ruler at the time, invited the Spanish in hopes of enslaving them. [2] The Spanish leader, Pizzaro, wanted the gold found in the Inca Empire, so he came up with a plan to kidnap Atahualpa. When Atahualpa did not cooperate, the Spanish killed him and Pizzaro took over control of the Inca Empire after conquering several more leaders. In 1532, after Pizzaro had taken all of the land from the Inca rulers, the empire was over 300,000 square feet.

The Language of the Incas

Despite the Spanish rule, the native language of the Incas remained the primary language. People of the Inca Empire spoke what is now known as Southern Peruvian Quechua. However, the common name was runasimi which means human speech. [3] Quechua has no known origin, although it does share roots with Aymara, another indigenous language of the Andes. There are two major varieties of Quechua called Quechua I and Quechua II. Quechua I is spoken mainly in the middle of the Inca Empire and Quechua II in the North and South. [4] Although the Inca Empire does not exist today, Quechua is still spoken in small isolated villages in Peru as a second language; however it is seen as low prestige.

Occupations of Common People

Commoners were not allowed to start their own business as individuals. All labor was done in work groups of 10-20 commoners called ayllas. Each aylla was like a family. Specific jobs or tasks were assigned to each person in the aylla. The Inca society followed the traditional roles of men and women. Men left the house to do manual labor, usually farming. The emperor, who owned all of the land used for agriculture, would separate it into sections for each aylla to work on. Since the terrain of the Andes is mountainous and difficult to farm on, the Incas dug platforms or terraces called Andenes into the sloped land which allowed crops to grow in the fertile soil of the Andes. The farmers were allowed to keep a portion of the yield based on the size of their family. Women stayed home to take care of the children. According to Inca law, free time was not tolerated. Commoners must be doing some kind of labor unless they were sleeping or celebrating a holiday. The law also stated when and where members of the aylla would work. Breaking a law was punishable by death which kept the people in line. [5]

Traditional Food

Food was very important to the Inca Empire. Their main source of power was agriculture due to the fact that they controlled a large amount of the world’s food. The common people were very skilled at preserving food and using it efficiently. Storehouses were built to keep food for the army as they passed through a town. The Incas were the first people to keep food from spoiling by freeze drying it. Potatoes were the main food of the Incas, and they were able to keep them for up to a year by freezing them overnight in the cool temperatures, and then letting the water evaporate the next day. The result is a potato mush called chuño. This process was also done on beef which resulted in dried beef strips called charqui. The Incas also invented popcorn as a way of keeping the corn grown on the farms. The main meal of the day was a stew with whatever was growing on the farms thrown into the pot. With this an alcoholic drink called chicha was served. After the meal, cocoa leaves were chewed which was a slight narcotic. [6]
Freeze dried potatoes

Food storehouses in Inca ruins

Religious Beliefs and Traditions
Inti the sun god

The Incas were polytheistic people believing in many gods and goddesses. The main and most powerful god was Inti, the sun god. Inti had unlimited power and ruled all of the other gods. The Incas believed that the rulers of the empire and their families were descendants of Inti. Other important gods and goddesses were Viracocha, the creator, Illapa, the god of thunder and lightning, Pachamama, the goddess of the earth, Mamacocha, the goddess of the sea, and Mamaquilla, the goddess of the moon. [7] Incan religion had leaders that were not gods. The emperor was the most powerful along with high priests that would carry out his work. The high priests would practice divination which was used to cure illnesses brought about by evil spirits. Animal sacrifices were often carried out to appease the gods. Revered objects, places, and people called huacas were worshiped and also sacrificed for the gods to maintain a natural balance. Evil spirits were chased away by spreading sanko, a paste made from maize, on the door of the house. [8] The dead were mummified and buried with their possessions. It was believed that the souls of the dead watched over the living from the afterlife. When emperors or Incan rulers died, their mummies were thought of to still be alive. They were sought out for advice and often “ate meals” with their descendants.

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    D'Altroy, Terence N. The Incas. Malden: Blackwell Publishers Inc., 2002. Print.
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  8. ^ Métraux, Alfred. The History of the Incas. New York: Pantheon Books, 1970. Print.