The big trip is less than two weeks away, so I continue to cram as much Peruvian history into my little brain as possible. I share a little of it with you here in hopes it will make the photos I bring back from the trip more meaningful for you, as well. (That is code for “if you are writing a term paper on Peruvian history, you might want to keep searching”.)
That said, let’s talk a little about Franciso Pizarro (the guy with the Voldemort-like tendencies I alluded to in my last post) and Atahualpa, the last king of the Inca Empire.
Apparently growing up illegitimate and illiterate in Spain in the early 16th century didn’t get you much further than the village pig pen. I suppose you could aspire to head pig herder, but let’s face it, who does that?
After 34 years of such a less-than-glamorous lifestyle, Francisco Pizarro found himself on a boat bound for Colombia with Alonzo de Ojeda. The expedition was a bust, but Pizarro seized the chance to do something all successful business people instinctively do: He made himself indispensable.
Three years later, he was a shoe-in for Vasco Núñez Balboa’s crew on the voyage where the Pacific Ocean was discovered. Five years later, Pizarro led a force to arrest Balboa on trumped up charges by the crooked Governor Pedrarias, which eventually led to Balboa’s execution.
Losing no sleep over the incident, Pizarro happily accepted a position as mayor in what is now known as Panama, and set up housekeeping on a lovely estate there. Not too shabby for a former swine herder, but it was a temporary placation of his burgeoning greed. Six years later, he was ready for more. Much, much more.
In 1524 Pizarro teamed up with navigator Diego de Almagro and the priest Fernando de Luque, who held the purse strings for the three subsequent expeditions they did together. The first took them only to what is now known as Ecuador. They reached Peru with the second, which is where they first heard about the riches of the Inca Empire. Pizarro must have returned from that trip with his eyes glazed over with gold because his next step was a little cruise over to Spain to convince Emperor Charles V to let him lead an expedition to conquer the Inca for the Spanish flag. Pizarro returned to Panama having secured the emperor’s blessing, as well as his word that Pizarro would receive the lion’s share of the profits. Of course, Pizarro kept the latter part of that deal away from his traveling compadres.
On November 15, 1532, Pizarro’s path finally crossed that of the Inca Atahualpa. I imagine it might have been rather awkward, given Atahualpa was bathing in the hot springs in Cajamarca at the time. He was celebrating his recent victory over his half-brother, Huascar, for control of the Inca Empire, and preparing to march on Huascar’s former capital of Cusco. The conniving Pizarro gave Atahualpa a big ole “atta boy” by inviting him to a feast to be held the very next day in celebration of his recent victory; an invitation Atahualpa readily accepted. Atahualpa showed up to the feast with several thousand men, all of whom were unarmed. Probably not his wisest move. Pizarro brought 180 men to the party, complete with artillery and guns.
Atahualpa was probably taken further off guard when a Spanish priest presented him with a Bible and pressed him to accept both Christianity and the sovereign reign of Emperor Charles V. He flung the Bible to the ground, and let’s just say it was on.
Pizarro attacked, capturing Atahualpa and killing thousands of his men. Trying to keep his head, literally and figuratively, Atahualpa offered what turned out to be the richest ransom in the history of the world: A large room filled half with gold and twice over with silver. Pizarro was quite agreeable, and soon treasure started pouring in from all over the Andes Mountains. The conquistadors made sport of breaking up the gold so that it took longer to fill the room. In the end, after it was all destroyed and melted down, they had about 24 tons of gold and silver.
At that point, Pizarro apparently decided the goose that laid the golden egg was no longer useful. So, in true Governor Pedrarias fashion (remember Balboa’s downfall?), Pizarro charged Atahualpa with plotting to overthrow the Spanish (as if!), having his half-brother murdered, plus a few other lesser charges for good measure. I think you can guess what happened next. Atahualpa was sentenced to death.
Apparently Atahualpa was a pretty likeable guy, despite the fact he had been rather ruthless in his own ascent to power. During his months in captivity, some of his captors had come to know him better. They respected his bravery, intellect, commitment to ruling (which he continued to do after his capture), and the strong bonds he had with his children. So on August 29, 1533, the day Atahualpa was sentenced to die, some of them had a pretty hard time with it.
On that day, Atahualpa was tied to a stake and given a choice. He could be burned alive, or he could convert to Christianity and be strangled by garrote. Atahualpa believed, as did his people, that mummification was necessary to get to the afterlife, so he stoically did what he had to do to ensure his body would remain intact and unaltered. It is said he stared directly into Pizarro’s eyes as the life left him.
Now, for those who like to see people get what’s coming to them, take heart. Remember how Pizarro cheated his old friend Almagro out of his share of the Incan spoils? Fast forward a few years. It turns out Almagro regrouped and seized Cusco during a civil war in 1538. Unfortunately for Almagro, Pizarro had his half-brother track Almagro down and kill him. BUT Almagro’s son broke into Pizarro’s palace in 1541 and killed him as he ate dinner.
Who needs soap operas when we have history, right?! Time marches on, of course. Unrest continued in the area, thanks mainly to the fighting between conquistadors, until the late 1550s.
I understand from Mo, who is already in Cusco, that many of the Spanish structures were built on the ruins of the Inca. That is mostly what I will be seeing. But in my mind’s eye, I will see the Incas in their glory and imagine what life might have looked like – before the invasion, before a foreign belief system was forced on them, before their home was desecrated by strangers.
On a side note, Machu Picchu, which is about 46 miles northwest of Cusco, was never discovered by the Spanish – to which I say, “Bully for the Inca!” It was built around 1450 and mysteriously abandoned by 1572. It is not known exactly what Machu Picchu was used for, but we do know it was built on and around mountains of great religious importance to the Incan civilization.
I am grateful for the chance to stand on sacred ground left unblemished by the greed, hate, and cruelty of the Spanish Conquest. Of course, I can’t help but imagine how it would torture Pizarro’s very soul to know such a close treasure eluded him! You know. Kind of like the Cruciatus Curse.