ON THE ROLE OF CREATION AND ORIGIN MYTHS IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF INCA
STATE AND RELIGION
The article will focus on material on
two ancient Peruvian cultures, Tiahuanaco, which according to
the Peruvian archaeological periodisation belongs to the sc. Middle
Horizon (approx. 700-1100 AD) and the Inca culture, called
also Tahuantinsuyu after the country of the sc. Late Horizon (I part
of the 13th century - 1532).
The ruins of Tiahuanaco city and centre
of worship are located on the Altiplano in today's Bolivia, ca 4000 m
from water level, and 21 km north-east from Lake Titicaca. Tiahuanaco
was a capital of a theocratic state governed by priest kings. The
state exerted its influence on the development of the whole southern
part of Peru in the closing centuries of the last millennium,
expanding its influence in a peaceful manner on the vast highland as
well as coastal territory. Tiahuanaco, therefore, carried out a
pacifistic cultural mission quite different from that of its
contemporary militant country of Huari (Wari) in the Peruvian Andes.
The religious sources of this period are first and foremost
archaeological findings, but to a great extent also the recordings of
the 16th century chroniclers.
The religion of Tiahuanaco centred
around the cult of a sky and thunder god Viracocha. The deity was
generally depicted as having staves in both of his hands and an
aureole around his head. The aureole suggests the qualities of a sun
god, represented on the bas-relief in the upper part of the famous
Sun Gate in Tiahuanaco as well as on ceramic. The staves, on the
other hand, suggest Viracocha's distant ancestry from the nearly
thousand years older Chavín sky god in North Peru. His
attendants were ranking deities in the shapes of cougar, condor,
falcon and snake. Viracocha was worshipped as the main god in Huari
as well; there his characteristics were apparently more militant. A
head of Tiahuanaco state functioned both as a king and the
arch-priest and he was revered as Viracocha's embodiment on earth
(Kelm 1990: 524-528).
The chronicle records describe the
citizens of Tiahuanaco as «the Viracochas», who were
fair-skinned and wore white long robes. Viracocha is also described
as a man with fair skin and white beard, attired in a long robe and
sandals, wearing a staff, with a cougar lying at his feet. He was a
kind and peace-loving god who had also subjected the dreadful
jaguar-god to his power. The idea might refer to the Tiahuanaco's
peaceful mission among the distant warrior cultures of Peru.
According to the legend, however, evil people in short clothes came
to the sacred lake and forced Viracocha to leave to north. On his
departure they mocked and taunted him for his long robe and lenient
disposition. Eventually, he had descended from the highlands to the
coast and left over the ocean, promising to return some day (Séjourné
1992: 215, 258).
In 1921 one of the leading researchers
of Peruvian cultures from the first part of this century José
de la Riva Agüero y Osma, who had also studied the chronicle
records as well as linguistic and archaeological data for nearly 25
years, published his «theory of the paleo-Quechuan empire».
The theory focused on the hypothesis that Tiahuanaco was originally
the cradle and home of the Inca Empire, and the Inca themselves the
upper class of the once emigrated Tiahuanaco people. He also argued
that the Quechuans, Aymarans and Araucanians had to originate from
the same ancient and anthropologically close ancestral nation who
spoke a language related to theirs, and was developed to a degree
that could influence them, the younger peoples. Riva-Agüero's
term for such ancestors was 'paleo-Quechuans' (Busto I s.a.:
Even today the Aymarans inhabit the
surroundings of Lake Titicaca. They have preserved heritage on their
ancient migration and the subjugation of the town people who were
driven from the city. Also, the archaeological data supports the idea
of the late arrival of the Aymarans. Riva-Agüero speculates that
the paleo-Quechuans were now forced to leave among other places for
the Cuzco Valley, the later settlement of the Inca. A chronicler
informs us that the first king of the Inca Manco Capac came from
Tiahuanaco (Vega 1988: 34-37). We also know that the relationship
between the Quechuans and the Aymarans could be characterised by a
constant feud which might have been caused by the fugitives' anger
towards the invaders. Agüero also argues that the affinity of
the Quechuan and Aymaran languages is due to the existence of a
common primal language, possibly the paleo-Quechuan. The
archaeological data also confirms the Aymaran immigration. The
chullpa's, or the burial towers around Titicaca belonged
supposedly to the Aymarans; still, the earliest settlers of
Tiahuanaco mummified their dead similarly to the Inca, similarities
could be found also between the pottery from the golden age of
Tiahuanaco and that of the Inca - the ceramic ware of Aymarans
is considerably different. The clothing of the Aymarans differed as
well, being shorter than the Quechuan dress, which once again
supports the legend about the departure of the long-robed
Tiahuanacos. Montesinos, the chronicler, informs us that the priest
kings of Tiahuanaco, or los amautas as they were called, fled
the country trying to save the cult of their own gods (Busto I s.a.:
191). This is another evidence proving that the Inca originated from
the upper class who were forced to leave Tiahuanaco by the militant
Aymarans, or los piruas. The idea of the Inca having been
militant aroused from the new circumstances. The Inca regarded the
surroundings of Titicaca as their former home and revered Viracocha
as a god who had told them to build the city of Cuzco. Later, the
mythology related to Viracocha acquired an important role in the Inca
Thus, we might reason that the founders
of the Tiahuanaco culture were the common ancestors of the Quechuans
and Aymarans, i.e. the paleo-Quechuans. Presumably, the militant
Aymarans crushed Tiahuanaco in the 10th-11th century and forced the
majority of the upper class flee northward to the mountain valleys
inhabited by other Quechuan kin tribes. The Aymarans could not
destroy the powerful civilisation all at once and founded the kingdom
of Colla, which in the 15th century was incorporated into the state
of the same Inca who were once driven from their homeland by the
Collas. Thus, the hypothesis of Riva-Agüero expanded to a theory
which is acknowledged by most of the historians in Peru.
Consequently, the Inca were the genetic
and cultural successors of the Tiahuanaco people. According to the
archaeological data these Quechuan emigrants arrived at their kin
tribes in the Cuzco Valley at the beginning of the 12th century and
founded their city-state on the spot. Since 1538 the Inca ruler
Pachacutek Yupanqui employed the necessity of defeating the militant
Chancas, subjugated other Quechuan city-states and merged them into
the empire that reigned the whole of Peru, northern Chile, northern
Bolivia and southern Ecuador until the invasion of Spanish
conquistadors. The archaeological material for the religion of this
period is abundant, and can be compared to the detailed accounts of
the 16th-17th century Spanish chronicles (Kauffmann Doig 1991: 78).
The highest ranking deity of the Inca
was a celestial supreme being who was first known under the name
Viracocha, later also as Pachacamak. Originally, Pachacamak was a sky
god of the Lurín Valley in central Peru whose name was later
given to the sky god of the Inca. The main god of the Inca state
religion was the sun god Inti, who might have been a nature totem of
the Quechua or a god of a certain tribe. Another significant deity in
the Inca pantheon was the thunder god Illapu who was apparently
distinctive from the Tiahuanaco sky god, but was named after a
thunder god of the central Peruvian tribes. Viracocha became the
culture hero of the Inca who was said to have brought culture to
people, then set off to the Pacific and promised to return. (Kulmar
The Inca myths can be divided in two
groups - the creation myths and the origin myths.
1. Briefly about creation myths
The world was created by Viracocha near
Lake Titicaca. After the great deluge or the receding of chaotic
floodwaters Viracocha descended to earth and created plants, animals
and men to the empty land; he built the city of Tiahuanaco and
appointed 4 world rulers of whom Manco Capak became the superior of
the Ursa Major world, i.e. the north horizon (Busto II 1981: 7).
2. Briefly about origin myths
2.1. Myths about the Ayar brothers
Four pairs of brothers-sisters created
by Viracocha to rule the world left the cave of Mountain Pacaritambo.
The whole world was living in an uncivilised and ignorant manner. The
newcomers began with organising the mankind and divided people into
ten large communities. Leading the tribes the brothers set off in
search of enough fertile land to sustain themselves. They carried
Sunturpaucar, a long staff adorned with colourful feathers, a cage
with a sun-bird who could give good advice and other sacred objects
in front of them. Making shorter and longer stops they moved towards
Cuzco. In the course of the long journey the group became smaller:
the rivalling brothers confined one of their companions to a cave,
two others wished to break away but were turned into stones. The only
surviving brother Ayar Manco a.k.a. Manco Capak accompanied by his
sister and wife Mama Ocllo and his brothers' wives, founded the city
of World Pole in the name of Viracocha the Creator and Inti the Sun
God, and settled there with his people.
2.2. A myth of Manco Capak and Mama Ocllo
A long time ago when the world was
filled with savages, misery and poverty, a brother and a sister, a
married couple Manco Capak and Mama Ocllo left Lake Titicaca. Inti,
the sun god had sent them to refine the surrounding peoples, and gave
them a golden stick for testing the land for cultivation and then
settling in the suitable place. Having found such a place they had to
found the state, teach the people how to live proper lives and
advocate the worship of the sun god. The journey took a long time.
Eventually, in the Cuzco Valley the golden stick disappeared into the
ground, and they could start with their mission. Manco Capak taught
his people the cultivation and irrigation of land and handicraft,
Mama Ocllo taught women spinning, weaving and sewing. The tribe of
Manco Capak became to be called by the name of Hanan Cuzco (High
Cuzco) and the relatives of Mama Ocllo by the name of Hurin Cuzco
(Lower Cuzco). The city and the state was founded in the name of
Viracocha and Inti the sun god, also the Sun Temple was built in
Cuzco (Busto II 1981: 10-17).
How to interpret the myths?
María Rostworowski de Díez
Canseco argues that the creation of the Inca state is introduced
already in the creation myths (Rostworowski 1988: 31-34). Although
originally they seemed to function as creation stories about
Tiahuanaco culture, they were later apparently customised by the Inca
for ideological purposes. The origin of the Inca from the cultural
centre around Lake Titicaca has been supported by archaeological
data. Editing seems most apparent in accounts of introducing the
first legendary ruler Manco Capak, on the one hand, and in dividing
the world in four parts, on the other. The Inca state Tahuantinsuyu
was also divided into four large provinces ruled by governors.
Recent customisation is even more
apparent in the origin myths. Today's scholars argue that both the
myth of the Ayar brothers as well as the myth about Manco Capak comes
from the same source, whereas the former is older and less edited,
the latter more recent and also more edited.
Both versions say that the main
character Ayar Manco or Manco Capak had arrived from south and
settled in the Cuzco Valley. The part of the story suggests the
Tiahuanaco origin of the Inca as well as the flight of the Quechuan
elite from the Aymaran invaders.
Leaving Lake Titicaca could serve as a
hypothesis that the home of the Inca was located on the Isle of Sun
(La Isla del Sol) in Lake Titicaca - according to archaeologists
it might have been one of the residences of the upper class
Tiahuanaco people. The hypothesis would also explain why Manco Capak
was sent by the sun god, as the island became to be called the Isle
of Sun only after the sun worship had become the Inca state religion.
In the original version the brothers
are sent to refine people by Viracocha, which suggests even the
earlier modification of the story from the time when Viracocha was
revered as the main god.
The four pairs of brothers-sisters in
the original version refers to the four Quechuan tribes who left
Tiahuanaco. The married couple consisting of a brother and a sister,
in its turn, could be explained by the fact that the Quechuan tribe
was exogamous and consisted of two fraterias: in exogamous societies
men belong to one frateria and women to another. This could be
inferred also from the myth version concerning the division of Cuzco
in two - the High and Lower fraterias.
The disposing of all the other Ayar
brothers on the journey in the original version refers either to
their settling to different places or the feud between the tribes of
Manco and the rest of his brothers.
Different accounts confirm that the
Inca led to the Cuzco Valley by Manco Capak had to drive local tribes
from the land in order to establish themselves there. People from the
droughty Altiplano had to search for humid soils necessary for
cultivating corn. Therefore, Manco's golden stick was supposed to
point to the land where corn could be grown. For settling in the new
place a fight was put up, and we all know the outcome of the attack.
In fact, chronicler Sarmiento do Gamboa's expression «gloomy
and fertile» might refer to the gory battles fought for the
Both versions end with the account of
building the city by Manco in the name of Viracocha the Creator and
Inti the sun god. The former was originally the sky god of the
ancient Tiahuanaco people, whose cult was later abandoned. Inti, on
the other hand, was the tribal deity of the Inca who later became the
highest ranking god in the pantheon. The fact that in the later
version the instigator of refining people was Inti, and also that a
temple to the sun god was first erected in Cuzco suggests that the
journey from Altiplano to the Cuzco Valley must have taken a long
time, at least a couple of centuries (archaeological data supports
the fact that Tiachuanaco was destroyed by the Aymarans in the 10th
century, and the Inca reached the Cuzco Valley at the end of the 12th
century). Thus, during this period one deity was substituted for
another: Viracocha became deus otiosus, Inti, on the other
hand became so popular that the first temple was built for him.
As I mentioned before, the supreme god
was given a new name - Pachacamak. From then on, Viracocha was
associated with the myth of a culture hero, because:
the fact that the Tiachuanaco people had spread the cult of
Viracocha widely in Peru was never forgotten;
the sc. civilisational emigration of the Inca really did take
the abandoning of the sky god's cult is reflected by the account
of Viracocha's set-off to the ocean;
Viracocha's promise to return refers to the fact that the sky
god's cult never really disappeared, and in greatest troubles the
Inca still addressed their sky god, as is common for deus otiosus(Kulmar 1999: 101-109).
Thus, Manco Capak who supposedly ruled
the Inca at the time of their arrival at the Cuzco Valley, became the
first half-legendary ruler of the country and started the official
Inca dynasty. Certainly, he was nothing more than a tribal chief -
it took another two centuries for the Inca civilisation to reach its
golden era under the rule of the first emperor Pachacutek Yupanqui
(Busto II 1981: 22).
The founding of city in the name of two
gods could be interpreted in a manner uniquely provident and
theocratic for the history of the Andean state Tahuantinsuyu: the
supreme god Viracocha had provided that Manco's tribe will rule the
world, and Manco started to carry it out at the will and guidance of
Inti, the sun god. Thus, the civilisational mission of the Inca found
a theological explanation as well (see also Soriano 1990: 483-499).
Finally, these origin myths also reveal
the ethnocentric world-view of the Quechuans: the Inca believed in
the inherent superiority and wisdom of their own people, thinking
they were destined to refine the mankind whether other peoples
accepted it or not. That could be inferred also from the names of the
country and its capital. The name of the Inca empire Tahuantinsuyu
stands for «the country of four points of compass» (Vega
1988: 17). Most chroniclers (except for Sarmiento) argue that Cuzco
means «pole» (Busto II 1981: 8), i.e. the centre of the
world or the world pole.
The analysis of the history and society
of the Inca state has confirmed that it was the first and only
totalitarian state on the American continent and Pre-Columbian
America (Kulmar 1989: 74-76; Soriano 1990: 483-499). The ethnocentric
and imperialist origin myth formed the ideological foundation for
establishing such a scheme of society, determining also the mentality
of its nation by education and in everyday life.
Thus, the Inca built their historical
studies and regulations on the ancient Tiahuanaco myths, having
customised them according to their own need.
Translated by Kait Realo
For exact view, here is a pdf version of this article,
inca.pdf, size 136 kb.
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