The Life of Pachacuti Inca Yupangui

Bilingual Review, May-December 2001 | Go to article overview

The Life of Pachacuti Inca Yupangui


(1418-1471)

The Incas were the last aristocracy in a long line of civilizations dating back many thousands of years in the South American highlands and western coast. The Inca dynasty was founded by the legendary Manco Capac around the year 1200. There are contradictory stories about Manco's origin. One story has him emerging from a cave about eighteen miles southeast of Cuzco, along with three brothers, four sisters, and ten ayllukuna (clans or extended families) of followers. According to another story, the Sun created Manco and his siblings on an island in Lake Titicaca, 200 miles away. In either case, believing that they were blessed with special abilities by the benevolent Sun (manifestation of the Creator), Manco and the others left their place of origin in search of a new home in a fertile valley. Arriving in the Cuzco valley, Manco tested the ground with a golden staff and realized that this was the chosen place, Navel of the World. The ruling Inca family and clan adopted a highly structured system of marriage to continue their blood lines. The Sapa Inca was unchallengeable head of the family, clan, and state. With the growing city of Cuzco as his center, Manco invented the core ideas of the Inca order, which his successors perpetuated and developed.

Manco and his wife-sister Mama Ocllo gradually organized and established authority over the neighboring Quechua and Aymara villages. According to legend, Manco taught the people the sciences and arts of the soil, agriculture, husbandry, irrigation, and industries; Ocllo taught spinning, weaving, sewing, all the domestic arts, and the sciences. Manco's only rule at first was for every member of the village or tribe to share in the common labor and its produce, the fruits of the Sun. He instituted an annual work cycle following the seasons. Because people suffered greatly during the cold and wet months, he set up public storehouses whose contents were distributed as relief to all in times of need or calamity. The Sun mandated that the Incas bring this system to the world, so all could benefit from his benevolence.

As well as a culture hero, Manco was a conqueror: clans who refused to accept his power were driven out of the Cuzco valley. However, he never expanded much beyond that immediate area. The region was scattered with small independent city-states, variously fighting and forming alliances. A battle might determine hegemony, but the defeated city would soon re-arm and the cycle would repeat. On this very tenuous basis, through their superior organizational abilities, both economic and military, the Incas became the dominant power in the immediate region. But at the time of Pachacuti's birth two hundred years later, the Incas were still just a small kingdom, still in this same seemingly endless cycle of insecurity.

It was Pachacuti's unique genius to perfect Manco's ideas, to generalize and expand them into an agrarian socialistic system, and to spread them thousands of miles along the west coast of Tawantinsuyu (as the Incas called it) up to Ecuador and down to Chile and Argentina, to the entire known world.

There are conflicting stories about Pachacuti's early life. This account follows the story passed down by most of the chroniclers.

Pachacuti was born about 1418, the third son of Viracocha Inca (the eighth of the dynasty) and Coya Mama Runtu, the Inca's wife and sister. Like all the Inca emperors, Viracocha also had children by many other women.

As a boy Pachacuti was known as Cusi. He and his father did not get along; Viracocha found him unmanageable. His father grew much closer to an "illegitimate" son named Urcon. When Cusi was a teenager, Viracocha decided to send him away from a prince's life in Cuzco to work as a herd boy to the llama and alpaca flocks belonging to the Sun, which were used for wool and in ceremonies. For three years Cusi tended the flocks. Meanwhile, the elderly Viracocha Inca named Urcon as his successor.

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