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Quichua Indians

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Quichua Indians, formerly the dominant people of the Empire of Peru, and still the largest homogeneous body of Indians in existence, constituting the bulk of the rural population of Peru and Ecuador. The name — written also Qquichua, Quechua, Kechua — most probably signifies those who "speak correctly", as distinguished from tribes from alien stock. The numerous tribes or small nations comprising the Quichuan linguistic stock occupied a territory nearly conterminous with that of the empire at its greatest extent, but reaching out somewhat beyond its borders on the north, and extending on the south, with interruptions, to about Coquimbo, Chile, at 30 S. lat. The Inca seem to have had their original territory somewhere between Paucartambo and Cuzco. The Quichua proper, living south from Cuzco, were among their earliest conquests. Of the cognate tribes the principal were the Huancavilca, Manta, Cara, Cañari, and Quitu (Ecuador); the Lamano, Rucana, and Quichua proper (Peru), the latter about Cuzco and the upper Apurimac in central Peru, all of a high stage of civilization; the cognate Malaba and other small tribes above Esmeraldas, on the Ecuador-Colombia frontier, remained unconquered and uncivilized. Of the nations or tribes conquered and incorporated by the empire, but of alien stock, the principal were the Aymará tribes, on the Peru-Bolivia border; the Yunca tribes, on the coast from the Gulf of Guayaquil to below Truxillo; and the Calchaqui, in northwest Argentina. The Aymará were probably the direct originators and inspirers of the Quichua civilization, and still preserve their separate identity and language to the number of over half a million souls of pure or mixed blood. At the period of its greatest expansion, about the year 1500, the Empire of Peru probably contained at least ten million souls. Under the Spaniards the natives rapidly decreased. In 1580 an official census gave them as 8,280,000 souls. In 1839 d'Orbigny estimated the Quichua and Aymará groups respectively at approximately 1,393,000 and 561,000 souls, about one third of each being of mixed blood. The present total probably approximates 2,500,000, but separate Indian figures are not available.

The foundations of Quichua history are laid in the mythic period, but the sequence of events may be traced with fair degree of probability back to about the year 1000. According to tradition their culture hero appeared first at Tiahuanuco (Lake Titicaca); he brought about order upon earth and apportioned its sovereignty among four rulers, one of whom was Ayra-Manco. Ayra-Manco was one of three wonder-working brothers, who, with their three sisters, had their residence at Pavec-tambo, "House of Veneration", south of the site of Cuzco, or according to another version, at Paucar-tambo, "House of Beauty", some two hundred miles to the northwest. Owing to a dispute over the possession of a magic golden sling the brothers separated, two of them being finally transformed into stone statues, while the third by supernatural command journeyed to Cuzco (i.e. navel, or centre), where he built a temple to the sun and established his capital as the first Inca king of Peru, under the title of Manco Capac, "Manco the Ruler". Eliminating the mythic features, Manco Capac's period is fixed by Bollaert at about the middle of the eleventh century. Without conceding the extravagant claims of Montesinos, who gives a list of 101 Inca rulers up to the Spanish conquest, we may assume that his work fairly summarizes the historical traditions of the Quichua. The earlier rulers seem to have devoted their attention largely to the elaboration of a calendar, the regulation of religion, and the building up of their kingdom by concessions of land to refugees from various quarters. Almost from the beginning there were established cloistered orders of priests and virgins of the sun.

There is probably no foundation for the claim advanced by Montesinos that the use of letters was known in remote antiquity, but subsequently lost. So far as known, the quipu was the only mnemonic system in use in Peru. Rocca, the eleventh (?) ruler before the conquest, is said to have been the first to assume to himself and his successors the title of Inca. The Calchaqui of Tucuman were subdued under Viracocha (about 1330?); the Chincha and Chimu, to the latter of whom belonged the great temple of Pachacomac, about 1400. The Moxos of eastern Bolivia were brought into alliance by Yupanqui (d. 1439). Tupac Yupanqui, toward the close of the fifteenth century, subdued the Cañari of Ecuador, and began the conquest of Quitu, which was accomplished by his son, Huayna Capac, in 1487. Huayna Capac divided the sovereignty between his two sons, giving Quitu and the northern provinces to Atahualpa, and leaving the southern provinces, or Peru proper, to Huascar. On his death in 1525 civil war soon broke out, and almost at the same time Pizarro's band lauded on the coast. Huascar was captured by his royal brother and was killed in 1533. Within the year the Empire of Peru was brought to an end, after a short struggle, by the treacherous seizure of Atahualpa himself by Pizarro, by whom he was executed on 29 August, 1533 (see PERU). Tupac Amaru, nephew of Huascar and last of the direct claimants to imperial dignity, was beheaded by order of the viceroy in 1571.

The natives were now parcelled out into repartimientos and mitayos as slaves, or forced labourers, the result being the swift and terrible wasting of their numbers. Although the spirit of the Indians was well-nigh broken there were occasional outbreaks, the most notable of which was the great rising of 1780 led by another Tupac Amaru, claiming descent from the old Inca race, who for a time restored Indian supremacy over a large extent of territory. Being finally taken he was butchered at Cuzco, together with his wife, children and all his relatives, with a barbarous cruelty never exceeded in history. His sacrifice, however, resulted in a mitigation of the oppressive system, which was finally abolished at the close of the war of independence (1824), in which the Indians bore their full part. With the establishment of settled conditions after the Conquest, the work of Christianizing the natives was begun, chiefly by the Dominicans and Jesuits, and before the close of the seventeenth century practically the whole of the native race of the former empire, west of the Cordilleras, was converted.

The civilization of the ancient Quichua was not quite equal in some respects to that of the Maya nations of Yucatán and Guatemala. The social organization, while imperial in form, was really based upon the clan system. For administrative purposes the empire was divided into four great districts (suyu), respectively north, south, east, and west from Cuzco, the capital. Land was held and tilled by the clan in common, and every able-bodied person, not assigned to other service, was a producer. Of the crop, one-fourth was assigned to the workers and their families; one-fourth to the dependent sick, widows, and orphans; one-fourth to the Government, and one-fourth to religion. From the one-half claimed for Government and religion a portion was held in reserve for famine seasons and other emergencies. Seeds, wool, leather, and cotton were also distributed, under supervision of the Government, which also regulated the ownership of livestock. Military service was a universal obligation. To hasten the assimilation of the conquered peoples large bodies of them were regularly colonized in the older portions of the empire, the inhabitants of these latter districts being transplanted to the new possessions. The religion of the Sun was made obligatory throughout the empire as was also, so far as possible, the use of the Quichua language.

There seems to be no doubt that the ancient Peruvians had attained the monotheistic idea. Their great god was the Sun, from whom the Incas themselves claimed descent, although the white-skinned and bearded culture hero, Vriacocha, "Sea Foam" (?), apparently a personification of the dawn, was regarded with almost equal veneration. The emperor was the great high priest of the nation. The ceremonial forms were elaborate and magnificent and without the bloody rites so frequent and sickening in other native systems. The great Temple of the Sun in Cuzco contained a massive golden image of the sun, and the walls and roof were covered with plates of solid gold, which the unfortunate Atahualja in vain delivered as a ransom to the faithless Pizarro. The great Sun temple at Quito and the temple dedicated to the Yunca god Pachacamac were of nearly equal magnificence. The dead were wrapt in cloths and deposited in graves or tombs of various construction. At Ancon on the coast is a vast necropolis from which thousands of mummified bodies have been resurrected. Near Trujillo, in the Yunca country, are several great burial pyramids, one of them two hundred feet high, filled with bodies in separate niches. From one of these pyramids sixteen millions of dollars in gold are said to have been taken.

The golden wealth of Peru under the Incas almost surpasses belief. The country was rich in the precious metal, which was systematically mined by the Government. Silver was mined in due proportion and worked, like gold, into objects of skill and beauty. Tools, weapons and household implements were fashioned of copper, bronze, and stone. Iron was unknown. Emeralds and porphyry were in use for decorative or sculptural purposes. Their potters excelled in general workmanship and in variety and ingenuity of design. Head flattening prevailed. Clothing, blankets, and other textile fabrics were woven from cotton and from the hair of their flocks. Agriculture had reached a high standard, with systematic irrigation, mountain terracing and use of guano manure from the coast islands. Great herds of llamas and alpacas were kept as burden-bearers or for their hair. The vicuña was protected for game purposes. It is in architecture and engineering that the Quichua have left their most enduring monument. Their temples, fortresses, canals, and stupendous mountain roads are still the wonder of every traveller; and the great imperial highway stretching along the Andes for a thousand miles from Cuzco to Quito was the equal of any of the famous Roman roads, and is still in good preservation.

The modern Quichua is of medium height, with large chest, dark-brown skin, and well-marked features; strong, enduring and long lived; industrious, gentle, and disposed to melancholy. He is given to music and song recitation. He is fond of church ceremonial, with which he frequently mingles some of his ancient rites, and loves to set up wayside shrines and decorate them with flowers. Their houses, outside of the towns, are of stone or wood, and thatched with grass, of one room, without window or chimney. Their favourite dish is chupe, a highly peppered meat stew, and the favourite intoxicant is chicha, of corn chewed, boiled with water, and fermented. They are great smokers. They are dressed in woollen clothing of their own weaving, generally surmounted by a cloak, and a white sombrero or skull-cap. The Quichua language has been extensively cultivated; it is capable of expressing fine shades of meaning. Of the several dialects, that of Cuzco is considered the standard and that of Quito the most remote. It is still the language of Ecuador and Peru, outside of the principal cities, and even of the wild tribes formerly attached to the Jesuit and Franciscan missions of the upper tributaries of the Amazon. The earliest study of it is the "Gramática de la lengua general del Perú", by the Dominican Father Domingo de Santo Tomás (Valladolid, 1560). Between that date and 1754 nine other grammars and dictionaries by the missionaries were published at Lima. Of modern studies the most important are: Markham, "Grammar and Dictionary of Quichua" (London, 1864); Anchorena, "Gramática Queehua" (Lima, 1874); von Tschudi, "Organismus der Khetsua Sprache" (Leipzig, 1887); and Middendorf, "Das Ruma Simi oder die Keshua Sprache" (Leipzig, 1890). Of its abundant native literature the most remarkable example is the pre-Conquest drama of Allanta, of which the best of many editions is that of Zegarra, "Ollanta: Drame en vers Quechnas du temps des Incas" (Paris, 1878, tr. London, 1871). A collection of modern native folk songs, under the title of "Yaravies. Quitenos", was published by Espada at Madrid in 1881.


ACOSTA, Hist. nat. y moral de las indias (Seville, 1590, tr. London, 1604); AMBROSETTI, Exploraciones Arqueológicos, Calchaqui tribes (Buenos Aires, 1906-8); BALLIVIAN, Docum. para la hist. de . . . Bolivia (Tupac Amaru rising) (La Paz, 1906); BOMAN, Antiquités de la région Andine (Paris, 1908); BRINTON, American Race (New York, 1891); BRÜHL, Culturvölker Alt-Amerikas (Cincinnati, 1837); CASTELNAU, Expédition dans l'Amérique du Sud (1843-7) (Paris, 1890-3); CIEZA DE LEÓN, Hist. de Perú (Seville, 1553; tr. Travels through the Mighty Kingdom of Peru, London, 1709); FORBES, Aymara Indians in Ethn. Soc. Jour. N. S., II (London, 1870); GARCILASO DE LA VEGA, Commentarios reales de el origen de los Incas (Lisbon, 1609; tr. Hakluyt Soc., London, 1869); IDEM, Hist. gen. del Perú (Córdova, 1617; tr. Royal Commentaries of Peru, London, 1688); HERNDON AND GIBBON, Exploration of the Valley of the Amazon, II (Washington, 1854); HERVAS, Catálogo de las lenguas, I (Madrid, 1800); MARKHAM, Cuzco (London, 1856); IDEM, Travels in Peru and India (London, 1862); IDEM, Ollanta, an Ancient Ynca Drama (London, 1871); MONTESINOS, Memorias Peruanas (Ms. ca. 1640, see PRESCOTT, Peru, II); D'ORBIGNY, L'homme americain (Paris, 1839); PRESCOTT, Hist. of the Conquest of Peru (London, 1847); RAIMONDI, El Perú (monumental work in several quarto Volumes with plates and atlas) (1874-1902), III, bk, II, Historia de la geografía del Perú (Lima, 1879); RECLUS, The Earth and its Inhabitants: South America. I. The Andes Regions, tr. KEANE (New York, 1894); RIVIERO AND VON TSCHUDI, Antiguedades Peruanas [Vienna, 1851; tr. (mutilated) by HAWKS, London, 1854]; SAVILLE, Antiquities of Manabe, Ecuador (Heye Expedn.), (New York, 1907); SQUIER, Peru (New York, 1877); SUAREZ, Hist. gen. del Ecuador (Quito, 1890-1903); VON TSCHUDI, Peru: Reiseskizzen(1838-1842) (St. Gall, 1844; tr. Travels in Peru, London, 1847); UHLE, Explorations in Peru (Univ. of California, Berkeley, 1905); VELASCO, Hist. del reino de Quito (written 1789) (Quito, 1841-4; French tr. in TEMAUX-COMPANS, Voyages etc., XIX, (Paris, 1850); DE ZARATE, Hist. de la descubrimiento y de la conquista del Perú (Antwerp, 1550; tr. London, 1581).

Bibliography Information
Obstat, Nihil. Lafort, Remy, Censor. Entry for 'Quichua Indians'. The Catholic Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​q/quichua-indians.html. Robert Appleton Company. New York. 1914.
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