National Geographic : 1938 Feb
THE INCAS: EMPIRE BUILDERS OF THE ANDES BY PHILIP AINSWORTH MEANS AUTHOR OF "ANCIENT CIVILIZATIONS OF THE ANDES," AND "FALL OF THE INCA EMPIRE" HALF an hour after I had descended from the airplane which brought me to Cuzco, Peru,* its implacable, modernistic roar still sounded in my ears. Consequently, when I strolled into the huge Plaza of San Francisco where the great Indian market is held every day, I felt chronologically confused. In my ears the twentieth century whirred, but before my eyes was a scene that belonged to the six teenth century at the latest. Hundreds of Indians, mostly women, were carrying on a leisurely trade. I saw a few people of Spanish blood in modern dress walking in the arcades along the margins of the plaza, but everyone else in the scene was Indian. Perhaps the most striking indigenes of all were the llamas, those haughty and beautiful cousins of the camel. With their tall, pointed ears gaily decked with streamers of colored wool, and sometimes even with little bells of copper or of silver, they seemed to tread the earth with scornful pride. Little by little the airplane roar yielded to the staccato, purring-clicking sibilance of a strangely other-worldly language rising into the thin, cold air around me. Presently I realized that it was Quechua, the ancient general tongue of western South America. BARTER TRADE SURVIVES Drawing nearer, I observed the trade going on in the booths. The first one I saw was partly modern in aspect, for a woman there was selling Woolworthian trifles in exchange for small coinage and, in the intervals between customers, she busied herself with an up-to-date portable sewing machine. A few steps farther on, however, I came upon another booth which was altogether antique in appearance. A sturdy Indian woman was offering haunches of llama meat, and another was slowly, reluctantly, adding a potato at a time to a pile on the ground. Both women were unhurried and serene, all their emotions being concentrated in their faces. The expression of the seller was one of determined avarice; that of the buyer was one of steadily increasing hesi tancy (Plate VI). I could see that very soon the buyer would reach her limit and would take her self and her potatoes off to some other booth whose mistress had less lordly ideas about the potato value of a haunch of llama. I was, indeed, witnessing an authentic barter trade such as was universal under the Inca Empire. My mind turned back to olden times when, between about 1100 A. D. (the Crusades were then stirring Eu rope to holy zeal) and the middle of the 15th century (when Gutenberg and his printing press were helping to inaugurate our modern age), the Incas gradually built up a solidly organized realm of amazing size. I reflected that, in a period equal to that between the arrival of Columbus in the Antilles and our own Mexican War, a fam ily of American Indians had created an empire worthy to be compared with the realms of Alexander, of Caesar, of Charle magne, or of Napoleon; an empire, more over, which outshone others because its benevolent and sagacious ruling caste, the Incas, strove successfully to make all their subjects prosperous and happy within the bourns of their Indian culture. Speculation has attributed to the Incas and their subjects various fantastic origins. But modern science knows that both were American Indians who, by their exceptional ability in making use of their natural sur roundings, succeeded in building up a great American Indian civilization.t The truth here, as so often elsewhere, makes a pro found appeal to the imagination and to the universal desire for romance and heroism. QUECHUA-SPEAKING LLAMA HERDERS Please note, however, the phrase "the Incas and their subjects." The Incas were not a whole people, as were the Maya. In reality, about 1100 A. D., the Incas were a small tribe of Quechua-speaking llama herders dwelling on a cold and lofty plain some leagues southwest of Cuzco. Their homeland had a stark, grandiose beauty, as does every other region up and down the * See the National Geographic Society's New Map of South America, issued as a supplement to THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, December, 1937. t See "America's First Settlers, the Indians," by Matthew W. Stirling, THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, November, 1937.