The Aborigines of Peru

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First Interview with the Inca

A small party of horse, led by Hernando Pizarro and by the brave and chivalrous De Soto, was at once des patched to report to the Inca the arrival of the Spaniards.

Dashing boldly up, upon their spirited horses the Spaniards entered the space occupied by the Peruvian camp, and soon stood in the royal presence. Atahuallpa, distinguished by the “borla,” or crimson fringe bound around the forehead, an ornament peculiar to the Incas, sat expecting their arrival, surrounded by his officers of state. He did not so far unbend his dignity as to pay the least attention to the novel appearance of the steel-clad cavalcade, but kept his eyes immovably fixed upon the ground. Without dismounting, Hernando saluted the monarch, and, through Felipillo s interpretation, made known his general s avowed purposes, and earnestly requested the king to visit the Spanish camp in person. One of the attendants, speaking in behalf of his master, briefly re plied, “It is well.”

Hernando still persisted in requesting the monarch to make known his pleasure, and to speak to them personally; whereupon Atahuallpa, turning his head, and looking upon him with a smile, announced that he was then in the observance of a fast, but would visit the Spanish quarters on the ensuing day. He further directed that the troops should confine themselves to the buildings situated upon the plaza or public square.

De Soto is said to have been mounted upon a noble charger, and, to excite the admiration of the Inca, he put his horse to his full speed, and wheeling suddenly, drew him short up immediately in front of the monarch. Atahuallpa’s nerves were proof against this display, and he gave no signs whatever of any emotion. It was afterwards reported that he caused several of his attendants to be put to death for exhibiting alarm, upon this occasion, at the fury and spirit of the war-horse.

Some of the women of the royal household now offered the Spaniards the fermented drink of the country, “chi-cha,” in golden goblets. This they drank in their saddles, and then spurred back to the encampment at Caxamalca. Their report of the power of the Peruvian force tended greatly to discourage the little band of adventurers, but only served to nerve their bold and unscrupulous leader to a more determined purpose. Recollecting the success of Cortez in securing the person of Montezuma, and through him, for the time, controlling the officers of the capital, Pizarro determined upon the same policy. He made known his resolution to his officers, and then proceeded to distribute sentinels at points where they could command a view of the approaches to the city, and of the Peruvian camp.

At daybreak on the following morning, Pizarro commenced his arrangements for the surprise and capture of the Inca. The great square (more properly, in this in stance, a triangle) was surrounded with low buildings, with large entrances on the same level with the enclosed space. They were built partly of stone, but mostly of unburnt brick or clay. The Spanish cavalry, in two separate bodies, respectively under command of Hernando Pizarro and De Soto, was concealed in large halls, from which a sally could be made at a moment’s warning. The foot soldiers were stationed in another quarter, where they could most promptly second the efforts of the horse; and two small falconets, constituting the only artillery, were placed under charge of an officer called Pedro de Candia, from the place of his birth.

The Peruvian monarch, on his part, made preparations to appear in the utmost state, and to impress the eyes of the strangers with his power and magnificence. So much time was occupied in the movements of the immense army that it was after noon before the Inca arrived at the city. He was about to pitch his camp without the walls, and postpone his visit till the following morning, had not Pizarro sent a message, earnestly requesting him not to delay his coming, as all was ready for his entertainment. Entirely un-suspicious of the perfidious intention of the Spaniards, Atahuallpa complied with the request. It was nearly sunset when he entered the town, accompanied by thousands upon thousands of obsequious but unarmed attendants. He was borne by numbers of his people upon a high palanquin, on a “seat of massive gold, hung about and adorned with the most brilliant feathered work. His dress was equally magnificent, and sparkled with the rarest gems.

Address Of The Chap Lain

Arriving at the middle of the great square, with his people, to the number, as was computed, of from five to six thousand, ranged in respectful silence around him, Atahuallpa was surprised to see nothing of the Europeans. Presently, however, the chaplain, Vicente de Valverde, made his appearance, and, addressing the Inca, commenced a long-winded oration upon the religion of the Spaniards, the authority of their monarch and of the Pope, and the purposes of the expedition; and concluded by exhorting him to discard his idolatrous worship, to receive that now proffered, and to acknowledge himself the subject of the emperor! Old Purchas gives the following outline of the ecclesiastic s oration: ” Excellent lord, it behooves you to know, that God in trinity and unity made the world of nothing, and formed a man of the earth whom he called Adam, of whom we all have beginning. Adam sinned against his Creator by disobedience, and in him all his posterity, except Jesus Christ, who, being God, came down from heaven and took flesh of the Virgin Mary; and to redeem mankind, died on a cross like to this (for which cause we worship it); rose again the third day, and after forty days, ascended into heaven, leaving for his vicar in earth Saint Peter, and successors, which we call popes; who have given to the most puissant King of Spain, Emperor of the Romans, the monarchy of the world. Obey the Pope, and receive the faith of Christ; and if ye shall believe it most holy, and that most false which ye have, ye shall do well; and know that, doing the contrary, we will make war on you, and will take away and break your idols; there fore leave the receivable religion of your false gods.” All this (to him) tedious and incomprehensible jargon was interpreted to the Inca according to report, with some rather ludicrous errors, in the explanation of the religious dogmas. He listened in silence until he heard the arrogant and insolent conclusion, when not even the apathy or self-control of the Indian was sufficient to en able him to conceal his indignation. He replied in language befitting a king, that no man could claim superiority over him, and that he would never abjure the religion of his country. “For the emperor,” he said, according to Purchas, ” he could be pleased to be the friend of so great a prince, and to know him; but for the Pope, he would not obey him, which gave away that which was not his own, and took a kingdom from him whom he had never seen; as for religion, he liked well his own, and neither would nor ought to call it in question, being so ancient and approved, especially seeing Christ died, which never befell the sun or moon.” Then taking from the priest’s hand the Bible or breviary which he held forth as the authority for his unheard-of assumption, the Inca threw it upon the ground, angrily announcing his, determination of calling the Spaniards to a speedy account for their presumption, and for the wrongs already inflicted upon his nation.

The friar sought out Pizarro, and urged him to make an immediate attack, offering him absolution for any sin he might commit in so doing. The fierce Spaniard and his impatient troops were but too ready to accept this advice. All day had they kept their stations in a condition of the most trying suspense, ready every moment to be called to action. The appointed signal was instantly given, and in the midst of a discharge from the falconets and muskets, the whole force rushed furiously upon the unarmed crowd of natives. Never, in the history of the world, was a more bloody and remorseless massacre committed. In the short space intervening between sunset and darkness, several thousand of the miserable wretches were slain unresistingly. In vain did the nobles throng round their monarch, with noble self-devotion throwing away their lives for their master, and opposing their bodies to shield him from the weapons whose force they had no means to avert. The unhappy prince was taken prisoner, and securely confined in an adjoining building. The Spaniards were greatly struck with the appearance and noble demeanor of their royal captive. He is represented as not far from thirty years of age, of a well-built and commanding figure, with regular features and a singular majesty of expression ” his countenance might have been called handsome, but that his eyes, which were blood-shot, gave a fierce expression to his features.”

The only Spaniard wounded during this bloody and horrible transaction was Pizarro himself, who received a wound in the hand from one of his own men, while endeavoring to ward off a blow aimed at the person of the Inca.

Prisoners and Plunder Obtained

Next day the Indian prisoners were set at work to bury the heaps of their slaughtered companions, and detachments of troops were sent over to Atahuallpa s former place of encampment. These returned in a few hours, driving in great numbers of prisoners of both sexes, many of the women being those belonging to the Inca’s household. The Spaniards reserved as many slaves as their need or pride required; the rest of the prisoners were set free, contrary to the advice of some in the army, who were strenuous that they should be maimed or massacred. The victors were now at liberty to plunder at will, and their extravagance and waste had full scope. The vast flocks of llamas, so long the pride and support of the country, and over which such a systematic and watchful care had been exercised for ages, were slaughtered without stint, or left to roam neglected among the mountains. The stores of beautiful fabrics of wool and cotton, with which the city was stored, were open to the depredation of all; and no small amount of plunder, in gold, silver, and emeralds, was secured at the Peruvian camp, or taken from the bodies of the slain, and laid by for future division.

The Inca was, meanwhile, treated with a certain respect, but his person was most carefully guarded. He was al lowed the services of his attendants, who, throughout his captivity, showed no diminution of obsequiousness and respect, but bowed as humbly before their revered monarch in his fallen fortunes, as when he sat upon his throne of state, the arbiter of life and death to all around him.

Atahuallpa could not fail to perceive what was the master motive to all acts of his captors. Appealing to this, he promised Pizarro that, if he would engage to set him at liberty, the floor of the room where they then stood should be covered with gold for his ransom. The size of the apartment is variously stated, but it was at least seven teen feet broad, and twenty or thirty in length. As the Spaniards appeared to look upon this promise as an idle boast, the Inca raised his hand against the wall, and added that “he would not merely cover the floor, but would fill the room with gold as high as he could reach.”

Pizarro accepted the offer, and a line was drawn around the room at the agreed height. The gold, whether in the form of bars and plates, or of vases and statuary, was to be piled without being broken up or reduced in bulk. Besides this undertaking, which was to be accomplished within two months, a smaller room was to be filled setwice full of silver, in like manner. ” Messengers were immediately commissioned to order gold from every quarter of the kingdom, to be brought as speedily as possible for the ransom of the monarch.

Huascar, hearing, in his place of confinement, of the reverse which had befallen his brother, at once opened a communication with Pizarro, and made offers still more magnificent than those of Atahuallpa, if the Spaniards would espouse his cause. Pizarro expressed his determination to hear the claims of both parties, and to decide, from the evidence that should be adduced, as to their respective rights. Huascar was, very shortly after this, put to death by his keepers, as was generally believed, in accordance with secret instructions from Atahuallpa.

Hernando Pizarro’s Visit to Pachacamaca

The royal mandate, commanding the desecration of the magnificent temples and palaces, by stripping them of their wealth of precious metals, was obeyed as speedily as practicable. Gold came in to Caxamalca in large quantities, but the difficulty of conveyance caused no little delay. While waiting the completion of his captive s undertaking, Pizarro sent emissaries to Cuzco to examine the condition and wealth of the country, and dispatched his brother Hernando, with a small party of horsemen, to visit the city of Pachacamac, three hundred miles distant, upon the seacoast. Hernando returned to Caxamalca with glowing reports of the beauty and fertility of the country through which he had passed on this expedition. He had visited the city for which he had directed his course, and had destroyed the great idol upon the temple, the former object of worship to the inhabitants, and which had been allowed to maintain its place by the Peruvian conquerors, and to receive joint homage with the sun. In crossing the rocky and rugged mountains, the shoes of the horses gave out, and, as no iron was to be procured, it was necessary to replace them with silver! or, as some say, with a mixture of silver and copper.

Hernando brought back with him Challcuchima, a veteran officer of the Inca’s, and the most esteemed and trust worthy of his generals. He voluntarily accompanied the Spanish cavalcade, having been told by its leader that his monarch desired to see him. When the old soldier came into his master s presence, (barefoot, and carrying, according to custom, a small burden, in token of inferiority,) he lamented audibly that he had been absent at the time of his capture; and, weeping bitterly, kissed the hands and feet of the fallen prince. Atahuallpa preserved the calm, unbending dignity, which he ever assumed in communications with his subjects.

The messengers sent to Cuzco demeaned themselves with the utmost pride and insolence. The whole of the long journey was accomplished in litters or sedan chairs, borne by the natives. At the royal city these emissaries superintended the stripping of the great temple of its golden plates and ornaments, of which a vast weight was prepared for transportation to Caxamalca.

Immense Treasure Collected At Caxamalca

At the latter place of encampment, the Spanish army was very considerably reinforced in the succeeding month of February, (1533,) by the arrival of Pizarro’s old comrade Almagro. He brought with him, from the Spanish settlements on the Isthmus, two hundred well-armed soldiers, fifty of whom were cavalry. Thus recruited, Pizarro was eager to extend his conquests and acquisitions. The promises of the Inca were not, as yet, wholly fulfilled, although -such piles of treasure were accumulated as might well astonish and satisfy even the eyes of the rapacious Spaniards. The beauty and finish of many of the massive vases and figures were long after admired by the artists of Europe. Among the representations of natural objects wrought in the precious metals, was the ear of maize. Of this, the leaves and tassel were perfectly imitated in silver work, the yellow kernel within glistening with the purest gold.

It was determined to acquit the Inca of any further fulfillment of his promise, but to retain him a prisoner, and at once to break up and divide the treasure. Some of the more beautiful specimens of art were reserved to be sent to Spain; the rest was melted into ingots by the native artisans. “The total amount of the gold as stated and computed by Mr. Prescott, “was found to be one million, three hundred and twenty-six thousand, five hundred and thirty-nine pesos de oro, which, allowing for the greater value of money in the sixteenth century, would be equivalent, probably, at the present time, to near three millions and a half of pounds sterling, or somewhat less than fifteen millions and a half of dollars. The quantity of silver was estimated at fifty-one thousand six hundred and ten marks.” The gold, as above estimated, is, indeed, more than thrice the sum that the same weight of the precious metal would be worth at the present day. The peso de oro is said to have been, specifically, about equal to three dollars and seven cents.

Of all this booty, the crown had its fifth, and the rest was distributed in various proportions among the numerous claimants. But a small allowance was made to the new recruits, and still less to the settlers at San Miguel. Certain sums were devoted to the establishment of the Catholic religion in the new country.

Having now obtained all that was to be expected through the Inca’s intervention, at least without such delays as their impatient spirits could not brook, the unprincipled horde of freebooters whose proceedings we are now recording, determined to rid themselves of a captive who had become an encumbrance.

The ridiculous farce of a trial was gone through, at which such accusations as the following were made, and pretended to be sustained: He had been guilty of polygamy; of “squandering the public s revenues since the conquest;” of idolatry [!]; of the murder of his brother Huascar; and of striving to excite a rebellion against the Spanish authorities! This last charge, the only one brought before the self-constituted court, which is worthy of comment, was utterly unsustained. The country was perfectly quiet, and even the ingenuity of the prejudiced judges failed to connect the royal captive with any attempt at insurrection. It is said that the malice of the interpreter Felipillo induced him to distort the testimony adduced. This fellow had been engaged, as is said, in an intrigue with one of the Inca’s women. The usefulness of the interpreter protected him from punishment, but the expressed indignation of the prince, excited the permanent rancor and ill will of his inferior.

Trial and Murder of Atahuallpa

The unhappy Atahuallpa was sentenced to be buried alive in the public square that very night. When his doom was made known to him, he at first resorted to every entreaty and expostulation to move his murderers from their diabolical purpose. With tears he reminded Pizarro of the treasures he had lavished on the Spaniards, and the good faith which he had always shown, and promised a ransom far greater than that before brought in, if he could but have time to procure it, and if his life were spared. Seeing that entreaties and supplications availed nothing, the dignity and firm spirit of endurance of the monarch returned, and he calmly awaited his terrible fate. By the light of torches he was brought out and chained to the stake, and, at the last moment, submitted to the disgraceful mockery of an administration of the sacraments, and a formal profession of Christianity, that a speedier form of death might be awarded him. He perished by the infamous garotte.

Hernando de Soto, a man who, with, the faults of his age and nation, was vastly superior to the merciless villains with whom he was associated, was absent at the time of this transaction, and on his return condemned the proceeding in strong terms. A small proportion of the company thought the same with De Soto, concerning the murder, but by far the greater number were but too glad to be rid of a troublesome captive, to trouble themselves about the means of accomplishing their purpose. Those chiefly concerned, felt sufficiently the disgrace attendant upon their acts, to endeavor to shift the responsibility upon each other.

In “Purchas, his Pilgrimage,” is the following summary of the end of the principal agents in the murder of Atahuallpa: “Howbeit they killed him notwithstanding, and in a night strangled him. But God, the righteous Judge, seeing this villainous act, suffered none of those Spaniards to die by the course of nature, but brought them to cruel and shameful ends. Almagro was executed by Pizarro, and he slain by young Almagro; and him Vacca de Castra did likewise put to death. John Pizarro was slain by the Indians. Martin, another of the brethren, was slain with Francis. Ferdinandus was imprisoned in Spain, and his end unknown; Gonzales was done to death by Gasca. Soto died of thought in Florida; and civil wars ate up the rest in Peru.”

A condition of anarchy and intestine disturbance succeeded the death of the Inca, and the rude shock given by the Spanish invasion to the old system of arbitrary, but fixed and unchangeable laws. Seeing the value attached to the precious metals, the natives in many instances followed the example of the conquerors in plundering and destroying the public edifices of their own country. The quantity of gold and silver conveyed away and concealed forever from the covetous eyes of the Europeans was said to have infinitely surpassed that which they had secured.


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MLA Source Citation:

Brownell, Charles De Wolf. Indian Races of North and South America: Comprising an account of the principal aboriginal races; a description of their national customs, mythology, and religious ceremonies, the history of their most powerful tribes, and of their most celebrated chiefs and warriors; their intercourse and wars with the European settlers; and a great variety of anecdote and description, illustrative of personal and national character. Hartford, Conn., Chicago,E. B. & R.C. Treat; [etc., etc.]: Hurlbut, Scranton & Co. 1864. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 23 August 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/the-aborigines-of-peru.htm - Last updated on Jan 31st, 2013


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