This is a question we were often asked. Well, the answer is that we wanted to make a trip to celebrate our First Wedding Anniversary. We decided to do South America. To me, South America meant Incas (including Machu Picchu) and the Amazon… and Peru is one country that has it all! (Click on the link for inspiration)
Also, a lot of our friends had traveled to Peru and were a source of inspiration and guidance too. This was our first time in the South American continent and our first crossing of the equator.
A brief look at History
Peru was the land of the Incas! There were other tribes in the area, like the Parancas, the Moshes, the Chimpu etc. But through invasion, the Incas had the mightiest empire that extended from Quito (in Ecuador) to the tip of Chile. Their capital city was Cuzco (in present day Peru).
The Incas were a highly advanced race that developed in total isolation to the world. Their masonry is legendary. They built with huge blocks of stone, with no mortar between the blocks. They relied on tightly fit joints, to hold the construction together. The Incas never had Arches. All their doorways, windows etc were trapezoidal. Their surviving constructions still stand the test of quakes!
Two other important things the highly ordered Incas did not learn were the Wheel and Writing! They did have the Potter’s wheel, but never the wheel for transportation. Most likely because they didn’t need any. The rocky Andean terrain and the region’s lack of domesticated animals, would render any primitive vehicle, useless. But they did have an amazing system of highways called the ‘Inca Nan’ which were smooth trails to be used mainly by Inca runners (messengers) and moving caravans/army. They also had very ordered city layouts.
The ‘Inca’ (ruler) was considered to be the son of the Sun and the Incans had utmost respect for nature. They worshiped the Sun, Moon, Stars, natural formations, freak accidents of nature, mummified remains of previous Inca rulers etc. Their religious ceremonies included music, dance and drunken revelry. They popular drink was Chicha (fermented maize beer) and Cocoa Tea (which only Inca royalty were allowed to drink). They spoke the language called ‘Quechua’. The natives did not work for money. They worked for the common good of the community. There were artisans, farmers, weavers and the like. They mainly cultivated corn, maize and potatoes. Potato is South Americas most famous contribution to the world.
Into this peaceful life came the Spaniards in 1532. The Spanish expeditions had discovered Panama and were eager to press further down the Pacific ocean. The expedition to Peru was led by the brave Francisco Pizarro. The Inca Huyana-Capac was the last Inca of a consolidated Incan empire and he died around the time of Pizarro’s expedition. Luck favored the Spaniards, as at the time Pizarro and his men marched into Peru, a civil war was raging between his sons Atahualpa ad Huascar. Incan customs do not insist that the eldest son should be the next Inca. So, often a less able ruler is usurped by a more able sibling. Atahualpa’s forces from Northern Peru killed Huascar and Atahualpa was marching south towards the capital city Cuzco, when he met the Spaniards who had landed on the Peruvian coast and was moving inland. The Spaniards had horses which the natives had never seen. They also had gun powder and better armours. Pizarro’s men took Atahualpa captive, though they were greatly outnumbered (80 mounted Spaniards to 7000 natives). Atahualpa was wise enough to realize that the foreigners were most interested in the gold and silver, abundant in Peru. He decided to buy his freedom by promising to give the Spaniards enough gold to fill the rectangular house he was imprisoned in (reconstructed house shown in pic). The Spaniards agreed and Atahualpa sent his forces to collect gold and silver from all over the empire, especially from the rich capital Cuzco. He succeeded in procuring the ransom in 8 months, making it one of the most famous ransoms in History! The Spanish soon melted the gold artifacts (with no regard for the craftsmanship) and sent a major portion of it to the King of Spain. The rest, they divided among themselves according to rank. But they suspected Atahualpa of secretly plotting against the Spaniards and executed him anyway!
The Spaniards then marched to Cuzco and were favoured by the Huascar faction as they had just executed Atahualpa. They installed a puppet Inca named Manco Inca, while they took over the main palaces in Cuzco. Through Manco Inca, they demanded more gold, tributes and labour from the natives. Soon they were ill-treating the Inca and oppressing his people. This inspired Manco Inca to rebel against the Spaniards. But the rebellion failed and he was forced to retreat to a city Vilcabamba which he founded in the most inaccessible part of the Andes. Vilcabamba was a source of inspiration to the oppressed natives all over Peru. Manco Inca revived the Incan religion and customs at Vilcabamba. From here, he continued to patriotically rebel against the Spaniards, until his assassination in Vilcabamba.
His son Titu-Cusi Inca continued the legacy at Vilcabamba. On his death, his lesser able brother Tupac-Amaru became the Inca. By this time the Spaniards realized that Vilcabamba was a serious threat to the integrity of the Spanish rule in Peru. They drew up a list of charges against the Incas and waged a brutal war on the last Incan stronghold of Vilcabamba, 50 years after Manco Inca made it his refuge. They executed Tupac-Amaru Inca and dispersed the Inca descendants once and for all.
The Spanish systematically destroyed the Inca religion and mass converted people to Christianity. They built churches right on top of Inca temples, burnt all their religious symbols and executed all those who tried to preach the Inca rituals and beliefs . The Peruvians had no trouble embracing the new religion as there were many striking similarities. Eg: Convents. The Inca convents were called ‘Mamaconas’ where religious women committed themselves to the service of their God, the Inca. Also, the sudden change of their fate convinced the natives that the foreign God was clearly more powerful than theirs! But it was more difficult for them to assimilate the new form of government followed by the Spaniards. The system where one had to earn one’s living, confused them. To satiate their conscience, the Spaniards used the excuse that colonists all over the world used- the subjugation of an inferior and pagan race, by a superior race, in the name of Christianity!
I love History and I could go on and on. I highly recommend the book ‘The Conquest of the Incas’ by John Hemming, which is more like a historical thriller!
Peru gained independence from the Spanish crown in 1821. Ever since Peru has had some bad leaders including the infamous recent ex-President, Fujimori. Today, though a poor country, Peru is on the road to better times.