History of North America

inca culture

The Inca culture it is the result of the fusion of the customs of several Andean civilizations.

Many peoples settled in a territory between the Andes mountain range and the Pacific Ocean and remained isolated due to geographical conditions.

However, they had domesticated cotton, used ceramics, as well as alpaca and vicuña wool for clothing. Likewise, their sacred food was maize and it is estimated that there were about 200 different species of this grain.

As for metals, they used gold, silver and copper in their adornments and pieces used in religious rites.

Inca people

The oldest existing civilization in the central Andes is the Caral (3000 and 1800 BC) contemporary with peoples such as the Egyptians, Indians or Chinese.

The Mochicas, Chavín, Nazca, Inca, Lambayeque-Chimu, Paracas, among many others, also developed there.

Inca religion

The Inca religion was polytheistic and sacrifices, feasts and temples were dedicated to the gods. Like all agricultural societies, their myths, the way of telling time and relating to the world were based on nature.

Therefore, just like animals and plants, the human being fulfilled the life cycle:being born, growing, reproducing and dying.

For the Inca people there were three worlds that were independent but communicated:

Hanan Pacha (upper world):where is the information for agriculture through the stars, clouds, sun and winds. Birds and rainwater communicated between the other worlds.

Kai Pacha (middle world):human beings and animals lived there and it was the space where life happened through the union of liquids. Example:rainwater came from the world above and fertilized the earth, which would provide food. Big cats, like the puma, are the symbols of this world.

Uku Pacha (underground world):where plant life sprouts and where animal life is born again. The earth is the place where seeds germinate, but it is the last abode of human beings and animals. The snake is the animal that represents Uku Pacha.

The worlds were also connected through fluids such as chicha (a fermented drink made from corn), water and blood.

The conception of the world of the Inca civilization was based on duality:night/day, man/woman, wet/dry. Although opposite, these elements complemented each other and this duality is what makes the world move.

Human sacrifices

The Incas performed human and animal sacrifices in order to obtain good harvests and maintain the balance between the worlds.

The great religious ceremonies began with a combat whose objective was to remove the covering of the adversary's head. Victims were stripped and taken in procession.

During the ceremony, the blood of captured warriors was offered to the great gods in cups specially prepared for this purpose.

Inca customs

For the Incas, there was no clear distinction between the world of the dead and the world of the living.

Therefore, as in other cultures of antiquity, it was customary to bury the dead with objects that would be useful on this trip.

The body was placed in a fetal position and wrapped with spiral tissue indicating that it was returning to the earth and becoming a seed that would germinate.

In the same way, the ancestral Inca mummies were unearthed and participated in the most important community meetings sitting next to the elders.

Inca Society

The Incas managed to dominate so many peoples thanks to their military and political skill.

One of the principles was that of reciprocity:the Incas demanded tributes and compulsory work in public works, but gave land for cultivation according to the size of the family.

The ethical system was based on honesty, work and loyalty to the ancestor, summarized in three principles:

  • Love Your - don't be a thief
  • Loves Queylla – don't be lazy
  • Love Llulla - don't be a liar

Marriage was very important as it meant the beginning of a new life. Only the Inca, the Emperor, could have more than one wife.

The Inca's wife assumed the functions of governor while her husband was at war.

Inca art

Inca art was present in the objects used to worship the gods and also to adorn the priests and leaders at the time of religious ceremonies.

The material used, the prints and the colors also revealed the position of the individual who wore it within Inca society.

Inca fabrics

One of the most elaborate arts of the Incas is the fabrics used in a ceremonial way. Both the prints and the colors were chosen according to the function for which the fabric was intended.

An example is the “dragon cloak”, from the Paracas culture, which wrapped the body before it was buried.

On its surface we find the Inca dragon:head of a feline, body of a serpent and two legs like birds. It is embroidered in yellow (the world above), green (the mute in the middle) and black (the world below) and red (the blood, the vital liquid).

Inca pottery

Ceramic was a material widely used by the Inca peoples, either to make domestic utensils or to be used in religious ceremonies. The sacred vessels - huacos , in Quechua - were important because they were linked to water, an essential element for life.

They could be anthropomorphic (human-shaped) or zoomorphic (animals), symbols representing the cycle of life such as the spiral, water (still or in motion).

Inca Adornments

The adornments – bracelets, wristbands, earplugs, breastplates, necklaces – were used in public ceremonies and made of precious metals such as gold, silver and copper.

These objects were engraved with mystical symbols such as the animals that represented the three worlds, that is, birds, cats and the serpent.

Inca music

We will probably never know what Inca music sounded like. We can only guess what different instruments made of materials such as ceramics and wood sounded like, like this whistle:

Larco Museum | Ancestral Sounds ML002590

Did you know that we have other texts about the Incas? Also Read :

  • Incas:features of the Inca Empire
  • Inca art
  • Pre-Columbian Peoples

Bibliographic References

The Mochica Art of Ancient Peru. Gold, myths and rituals. Exhibition Caixa Forum. 2015.

Larco Museum. Lima, Peru. Consultation 09.17.2020.

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