Religion of the Ancient Inca - From the Perspective of Christianity

Essay, 2004
14 Pages, Grade: B-


Table of Content

1 Fascination of a Legend

2 The Incan Empire
2.1 Culture
2.2 Religious Culture
2.2.1 Cosmovision
2.2.2 Rituals

3 The Christian Perspective 9
3.1 Proselytization
3.1.1 First Contact
3.1.2 Controversies and Similarities
3.2 500 Years Later

4 Conclusion


1 Fascination of a Legend

Sometimes, religious traditions are till today fascinating stories. When I heard the fairy-tale of “Manco Cápac and Mama Ocollo” by a temperamental Peruvian woman, I was upset when I heard the lurid ending. The Spanish conquered the Incan empire and her words were: “Blood! Blood everywhere!”.

I was wondering - why do people kill each other because of their religion? This question must exist since human’s belief in religions, because history tells and presence shows us similar situations. One religious group wants to devastate the other - a situation we still experience today.

Thus, back to the Inca. Why was the destruction of the Inca by the Christian conquerors so strong that almost the whole empire, the traditions and the religion is gone till now? The Christian immigrants must have seen the natives of Peru as foreign creatures they could not understand. Their belief of good and bad, of moral and ethic was too different to understand the Incan

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 1: Manco Capac

( Bujok, 1992, p. 383) culture.

For the next pages of this essay, I want to take off my “Christian classes” (which the Spanish conquerors obviously had) and have a look to the religious culture of the Inca. Who were those Native South American people whose huge empire was based in Peru and covering the entire Andean region? What was their idea of the world and the beyond? I want to give an objective view, but this will hardly be possible of a lost culture. Only archaeology can give us some hints, however, the findings were primarily interpreted by Christians, e.g. Catholic University in Salta (Argentina) unwraps and studies newfound mummies of the Andean culture (Schuster, 1999).

As a next step in this essay, I will show some controversies to Christianity. This might help to understand, why the Spanish could not accept the ideology of the Inca and why this culture is still fascination in today’s life. What were the barriers between these religions. Thus, I belief there must have been some similarities, because humans need for knowledge of the beyond is unbroken through history, society and nationality.

Could parts of the Inca still be alive, only hidden in the new Christian culture? What if the Spanish had not entered the Incan empire - could their religion exist in today’s world?

I will base this paper on recent literature, personal ideas and the words of a Peruvian lecturer I met during my studies of cross-cultural psychology (main focus: countries of the Andes).

2 The Incan Empire

2.1 Culture

The tribe originated in the eleventh century in the Cuzco valley in the Andean highlands where, according to Incan legends, the founder Manco Capac and his sister and wife Mama Ocllo, had chosen the site for the capital city, Cuzco, by plunging a golden staff into the earth. Manco Capac symbolized the first emperor and descendant of the sun; he was the first Inca. This happened about A.D. 1200, long after the actual origins of the tribe (Owens, 1966, p. 18).

The Incan society was in a rigid hierarchical order, with the Inca in the top. He was the “son of the sun” and leaded the empire. His wife was called Coya and was his sister at the same time (Rostworowski, 1992, p. 383). As the term Inca says, the sun played a very important role in the life of this ancient society and was part of their religion, which managed the societal system as well as everyday life. The basic social group was the Ayllu, which was a family clan that held a small portion of land in common. Society was strictly stratified and social mobility was rare (Owens, 1966, p. 19). Some authors even talk about the first real existing communism (Wikipedia, 2004), while Owens (p.21) describes the

Figure 2: Map of the Incan Empire (Bujok, 1992) Incan empire as a welfare state.

When a man was unable to work

illustration not visible in this excerpt

his acre of land, the Ayllu would have helped him, as well as the state that provided food. Communal spirit and cooperativeness were strong, but government usually tried to keep people busy.

Thus, the social, military and political organization of the Incas had developed beyond that of their neighbors, the Incas expanded their territory and learned how to govern conquered peoples. In the leading years between 1430 and 1530, Incan dominion was extended over an area of 380,000 square miles running from the north of Ecuador to central Chile, a distance of 3,000 miles. According to Owens (1966, p. 22) two main roads connected the empire from North to South, one

on the coast and one in the highlands. As they knew no wheel and no

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 3: Chasqui (Schuster, 1999)

locomotion by animals, they used fast relay runners (Chasquis) that carried messages from one part to another.

By this time, the Andean regions were dominated by the principle of duality, while one was subordinate to the other. For instance Inca and Coya, man and woman, sun and moon. The empire was divided in four parts, as the name Tahuatinsuyu says “the four united regions”, meaning north, south, west and east (Rostworowsky, 1992, p. 386 f).

The common language of the early Peruvians was Quechua. To distribute it under the new conquered folks, the Inca tried to relocate families in other parts of the empire (Purin, 1992, p. 381). The Incas never evolved any system of writing. The only non-verbal form of communication known is Quipu, which is a series of colored strings with knots in them (Owens, 1966, p. 18 f).

A coinage system was not known, but a taxation called Mita, whereby each commoner had to undertake a certain amount of public work annually. This was necessary for building roads, military service, message carrying, and the like (ibid., p. 20). According to Ford (1971, p. 26), the Inca divided their field in three parts, where one was assigned to the religion and cult, the second was taken for themselves and the third part of their farming remained for serving the community. Usually the parts did not have an equal size, but the proportion is unknown, yet. The produces from the lands of the Incas was used to offer for the food needs of governing functionaries, as well as for the general maintenance of the ruling class.

Figure 4: Mama Ocllo

(Rostworowski, 1992, p. 383)

illustration not visible in this excerpt

2.2 Religion

2.2.1 Cosmovision

As in many Andean cultural elements, Incan religion is also a product of the evolution developed in this corner of the world through thousands of years living in symbiosis with nature.

Incan territory imposed very fast over a large area, so it was hard to convert conquered peoples to the “sun-religion”. This is the reason why pre-Incan beliefs survived and Incan regions showed variations in their religion (Goyzueta, 1997). Local groups were granted considerable religious freedom as long as these practices conformed to the core concept of conquered regions (Jennings, 2002).

All deities were subordinated and created by an invisible, eternal and all-mighty god whose name was Wiraquocha. He was ruler over the three worlds of ancient Peruvian cosmovision: The upper world Hanan Pacha, the earth’s surface Kay Pacha, and the underground Ukhu Pacha. One of the most popular gods was Inti, the sun-deity, because his son, the Inca, was the leading person of the country. His female counterpart was Killa, the moon-deity, she was sun’s wife. While Killa was identified with silver, Inti was venerated with gold. This metal was representative of the religion, used exclusively ceremonial and had no economic value. Conch shells or fabrics were even more valuable, because one represented mother sea, Qochamama, and the other was craftwork that took a very long time to learn.

All the gods dwelled in the upper world and over there arrived the spirits of dead noble persons. Two mythical beings established a communication between the different worlds. These two characters were in the form of snakes: Yakumama standing for mother water and Sach ’ amama standing for mother tree. Yakumama was seen as the god of waters, because when she passed world’s surface she transformed into a great river and when she passed the upper world, she appeared in thunder and lightning. Sach ’ amama had two heads and walked vertically with slowness, so she had an appearance of an aged tree. Arriving to Hanan Pacha, she transformed into a Rainbow. This deity was bonded with fertility and fecundity. Besides, mother earth, Pachamama and mother sea, Qochamama, were popular pan-Andean deities (Goyzueta, 1997).

2.2.2 Rituals

Observation of the stars was part of the religious culture as well as a science and many constellations, such as Venus, Ch ’ aska, or the Pleiades constellation had divine characters. The homage of luminaries had a high practical value for calendar calculation and agricultural planning (Botzenhard, 2003).


Excerpt out of 14 pages


Religion of the Ancient Inca - From the Perspective of Christianity
LMU Munich  (Psychology of Excellence)
Comparative Religions
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ISBN (eBook)
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Religion, Ancient, Inca, From, Perspective, Christianity, Comparative, Religions
Quote paper
Iris Hackermeier (Author), 2004, Religion of the Ancient Inca - From the Perspective of Christianity, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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