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The Last Incan Empire

The Last Incan Empire

Hello and good day!

Today is a federal holiday, Columbus Day.I've always thought that Columbus Day was a strange holiday.

I'm not going to wade into the controversy about the legacy of Christopher Columbus, whether he is somebody who should be celebrated or not, all things considered. It just seems odd to me that we'd take a day off from work, and shut down the banks for this day.

What are we supposed to do? Light some candles in the name of Christopher Columbus? How do you go about celebrating Columbus Day?

Something from Fortunato Chocolate is probably a good start, but I digress. Thinking about Columbus and his accomplishments always brings a couple of thoughts to my mind.

First, I always end up thinking about the capture of the last Incan emperor, Atahualpa, by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro. It is such a mysterious and unbelievable event. Same with Hernan Cortes capturing Montezuma. I am more familiar with the story of Pizarro, so I will stick with that.

After all, the capture of the last Incan empire occurred in Cajamarca, the city where I met my wife and where my brother Brian lived with his family for more than 15 years, when he wasn't in the jungle working with cacao farmers.

Atahualpa had just consolidated his power after a bloody civil war against his brother. The civil war kicked off when Atahualpa's father, the previous emperor, died and left a power vacuum.

Civil wars amongst siblings was common in the Incan empire, as the emperors had huge harems of wives and hundreds of children. The kids didn't grow up together and love each other like brothers.

They grew up jockeying for power and considered siblings to be rivals. It is hard to get your head around just how vast the Incan empire was. As a reference point, the Andes mountains run 4,300 miles north to south. That is 30% longer than the Untied States.

The Andes run from Ecuador in the north, all the way down to Argentina in the south.The Incans controlled the entire mountain range and much of the coast line and jungle running parallel to the mountains on either side.They came down out of the mountains and brought existing cultures under their dominion over the course of a couple hundred years.

The Incans were excellent administrators, and under Atahualpa, they were at the height of their power when the Spanish showed up. Francisco Pizarro came with a rag tag group of about 150 soldiers. 150 soldiers, arrayed against a vast, powerful empire.

Upon arrival in boats, the Spanish kidnapped and tortured some folks to find out where the Emperor was located. They learned that the emperor was in Cajamarca. They abducted guides and forced them to lead the way to Cajamarca at sword point.

This group hiked and rode horses from the coast up into the Andes mountains to an elevation of 9,000 feet. The Spanish brought some viruses with them that the locals weren't used to and that started killing off folks from the moment of their arrival. Once they arrived at Cajamarca, Pizarro and his band got their first glimpse of the Incan army. They immediately lost heart.

Out in the hills, they saw tens of thousands of soldiers lined up in formation.After getting their emotions back under control, the Spanish sent one of their abductees to go tell the emperor they wanted a meeting. Atahualpa would never condescend to meet with people on such short notice, but he complied, because he wanted to get a look at these strange men from another land.

He came into town with a royal litter and a few thousand soldiers. Again, the Spanish soldiers lost heart. How in the world were they going to be able to defeat this huge army? Pizarro calmed the troops and told them the plan. They were going to kidnap the emperor.If the Incans were anything like the Aztecs, they wouldn't be able to function without their leader.

Atahualpa came to the meeting place sitting on a platform that rested on the shoulders of about 10 men.He got down and walked towards Pizarro and a priest who the Spaniards had brought along.

When Atahualpa got near, the priest launched into a speech letting Atahualpa know that they were there in the name of God and the queen of Spain and that Atahualpa should repent, become a Christian, and accept the queen's sovereignty.

The priest held out a Bible as a gift to Atahualpa.Of course, the whole thing was a tremendous breach of etiquette. First, nobody would ever talk to the emperor without permission. Second, nobody would ever yell at and lecture the emperor. Third, nobody would ever reach out and give something directly the emperor, they'd work through assistants to the throne.

However, Atahualpa didn't execute the foreigners straight away for their bad manners, the way he normally would have, because he was curious. He took the Bible, looked at it, had no idea what it was because the Incans didn't have books, and then he threw it on the ground because it seemed useless.

With that, the priest yelled that the barbarian had desecrated the good book and he ordered the troops to attack.Everybody started firing their guns and running out of hiding.This caused quite a commotion. The guns weren't going to be effective for killing a lot of soldiers, they weren't rapid fire.

But the noise was new and scary to the Incans, and that sparked off chaos. In the ensuing melee, Pizarro grabbed the emperor and took him hostage. Now the real turning point of this whole thing revealed itself. The Spaniards came out riding horses, wearing armor, and brandishing sharp metal swords.

The combination of those three things left the Incans defenseless. Even though they were fierce, highly trained, experienced fighters, they mostly fought with clubs and rocks. They didn't have metal armor. And they didn't have horses. The advantage of horses and metal swords allowed 150 Spanish soldiers to mow down thousands upon thousands of Incan soldiers.

The Spanish did not suffer a single casualty in that initial brawl. The Incan emperor begged for his life and promised to fill two big rooms to the ceiling with gold if the Spanish would let him live.The Spanish agreed and treasure started coming in from all over the empire.

Once the rooms were filled, the Spanish reneged on their promise and executed Atahualpa. Without a leader, even one who was being held hostage, the unity of the empire disintegrated. All those tribes who hated the Incas because they'd been subjugated by them viewed all this as an opportunity for liberation. There was no unity amongst the Peruvian natives and this set the stage for the Spanish to assert their rule, one area at a time.

Columbus's discovery set that whole chain of events in motion.It also set in motion the events that led to most of us living here in the United States. Accept for the native Americans, none of our ancestors are originally from here.

We're almost entirely a nation of immigrants.For the vast majority of human history, folks in other parts of the world went about their business in total ignorance that there were two other continents, filled with millions of people and advanced civilizations.

Think about that.Written human history goes back several thousand years.  Until just a few hundred years ago, nobody in Europe, Asia, or Africa knew that there were two, huge, additional land masses and a whole other humongous ocean out there. So yes, Columbus's discovery was obviously a monumental historical event, and very recent all things considered.

If an average life span is 70 years, 1492 is just 7.6 full lives ago. It is very weird to think about that, but it is true. All that being said, it still doesn't make sense to me that Columbus Day should be a holiday and that banks should be closed.

One last thing, if you want to know why Europeans were invading the Americas and not the other way around, why the Incas and Aztecs were not invading Spain, the book Guns, Germs, and Steel lays it all out.

It would appear that it was pretty much all environmental luck of the draw. Eurasia was set up well geographically, on a horizontal axis, for the easy spread of plants, ideas, and technology.It had better pack animals, and horses, and excellent natural resources for building tools and weapons.Anyhow, I've already gone pretty long today, so I will leave it there.

Thank you so much for your time!

I hope that you have a truly blessed day!


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