Friday, November 8, 2013

Learning from the Incas in a "Maravilla del Mundo"

This past weekend and throughout the semester really, we have learned so much about the Incas not only in the "Maravilla del Mundo" (Wonder of the World) Machu Picchu on our latest excursion but also throughout all of Peru. Normally, I’m not one for history, but the history of the Incas and the Spanish Conquest is so interesting that I can’t help but share it! In general, what impresses me the most is not only how advanced they were, but more so how much they honored their gods and beliefs. For me, that is where I learned the most. Although their religion was different, I believe God’s grace and truth were present in the Incan culture. 
Surrounded by fog on top of Wayna Picchu (the mountain that looks down on Machu Picchu)
On top of Wayna Picchu
While in Cusco and the Sacred Valley, we had the amazing opportunity to visit seven archaeological sites and learn the history of the Incan (and even pre-Incan) ruins. I would like to share some of what we learned at each site:


Originally, this was a pre-Incan site, but the Incas conquered it, and improved on it. (Unlike the Spaniards, they didn’t destroy when they conquered a town, but instead the built upon and added to what already existed.) The Incas had such a strong and impressive empire because they learned and improved on the achievements of those they conquered. (Our guide explained that the only two things that the Incas invented or discovered on their own was their perfect construction of walls and their terraces used to create micro-climates for their agriculture.)
This site contains the only known cemetery of the Incas. There are thousands of bodies buried in the wall of the mountain, but sadly all have been sacked by grave robbers, so now what’s left are thousands of holes in the side of the mountain. 
All the holes are the tombs. Imagine the Incas lowering down the side of the mountain by ropes to get to the tombs...
The most interesting part of this site was the story that went along with it. To talk with their god, the Incan priests used what they considered “connectors,” but what we consider drugs. With these connectors, they climbed up the mountain to receive instructions from their god. As our guide explained, you have to imagine the combination of their state of mind with the strong winds on the top of the mountain. They interpreted the sounds of the wind as the voice of their god, and many times the instructions they “heard” were to build another construction of some type. 
In Pisak
Climbing around in Pisak
Photo Credit: Neal Bierling


This site was a pre-Incan fortress, but once conquered by the Incas conquered, it became a control for Cusco. This is where the Inca trail to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley starts.


There are three areas of this site that represent the three worlds that the Incas believed in: that of the gods, the living and the dead. In the area of the dead, which is a natural cave, the Incas had a table where they performed mummification. This table is naturally so cold that it preserved the body to be mummified for about a month. According to our guide, if you were to lay on the table for 30 minutes, you would die of hypothermia. What’s eerie about this table is that it’s significantly colder than the rock of the cave itself, and according to our guide, they can’t scientifically explain why. (Most of the group touched the table, and it was definitely colder than the rest of the cave.)
Mummification Table
At the entry of this site was a big rock formation in the shape of a frog. The Incas gave offerings to this rock, asking the gods for rain because they believed that the frog talked to the gods. (Frogs start to croak in rainy season...) In general when they wanted to ask the gods for something (rain, change of season, etc.), their first offering would consist of food and plants. Then they would wait about twenty days to see if the gods answered their request. If that offering didn’t work, they would sacrifice a llama and wait another twenty days. If that didn’t work, they would resort to their last option: a human sacrifice. This wasn’t something that happened often in the Incan culture; like I said, it was last option. However, as our guide explained, from their perspective, human sacrifice was often successful. Suppose they went through the normal motions, waited 20-30 days after each offering and then began to perform the ceremony of the human sacrifice (which took about a month). That would take a matter of 3 or more months. By that time, the climate will have changed naturally, so the human sacrifice was “successful.” 


Often called "sexy woman"(just say it aloud 3 times), this site is thought to be another temple for the sun god. This incredibly large construction was originally about 60 feet just considering the outer and lowest wall. Today, we can only see about 20 feet of it because parts of it were destroyed, but most of it is still buried underground (due to the efforts of the Spanish to hide it). 
Sexy Women in Saqsawaman
Photo Credit: Emily Harrell


This was the temple of the sun god. Surprising to us, Qoricancha was more important to the Inca empire than Machu Picchu. We learned how to tell the difference in importance of Incan buildings by their construction: the more accurate and precise the Incan construction, the more important the site was.
What perfect construction and alignment of the stones!
As part of the Spanish Conquest, a catholic church was built on top of Qoricancha. This was the Spanish’s way of showing power and imposing their catholic religion. Since much of the Incan construction was very hard to destroy, they built on top of it to cover it up. However, the Incan construction is anti-seismic, so after a earthquake in 1950, much of Qoricancha was uncovered
when the Spanish church fell and the Incan constructions remained standing.
The "Legos" of the Incas. To have such strong walls, the Incas used the idea of legos: where there's a niche, there's a protrusion to match it.
Throughout the trip, I was continually shocked by the destruction done by the Spanish. There is so much they could have learned from the Incas, but instead the decided to impose their own ways, including their religion. Our guide explained that their way of forcing Catholicism on the Incas was to first forbid them to talk of certain things, such as a religious temple or a belief, and after something has not been spoken of for say forty years, a culture forgets the truth of its existence.


This archaeological site is named for an Incan military general: Ollantay. Ollantay was a commoner during the time of the Incas. Ollantay, unlike most commoners, had the chance to talk with the noble class, and during his time amidst the noble class, he fell in love with the daughter of the emperor. When the emperor found out about this, he said either Ollantay had to forget about the woman or he would be put to death. Ollantay chose death, and due to this the emperor changed his mind and allowed the couple to get married. Their wedding took place in Ollantaytambo, and “tambo” means place of rest, so literally, Ollantaytambo means place of rest of Ollantay. In another way, it is and was a place of rest for anyone on their way to Machu Picchu because it’s on the way to Machu Picchu. 
As I mentioned earlier, the commoners were separated from the noble class, so they could not enter into Ollantaytambo. One interesting section of Ollantaytambo was used to communicate between the commoners below and the nobles above. Several people would sing into individual niches in the wall to lead the people below in a religious ceremony. It was like their own form of a megaphone. (We tried it, but it wasn’t quite the same without the full construction.)
Trying Out the Incan Megaphone (Yes, we are singing into the wall...)
Photo Credit: Neal Bierling
Ollantaytambo was a great loss to the Spanish conquest. It was decorated with gold and silver, but when the Spanish came, they stripped it away. Moreover, they ordered a carving of a Spanish face in the wall on the mountain opposite Ollantaytambo. They told the Incas that it was the face of their god Wiraqocha and that they were his messengers, so that the Incas would obey them. Ollantaytambo became a sacrifice to conserve Machu Picchu. Had the Spanish not stopped in Ollantaytambo, it’s likely that they would have made it to Machu Picchu. However, once the Spanish arrived in Ollantaytambo, the Incas sent a messenger along the Inca trail to warn those at Machu Picchu of the Spanish. On receiving the news, they hid the Inca trail, so that Machu Picchu would not be found. 

And last, but not least....

Machu Picchu

This was originally a religious refuge. There are various temples throughout Machu Picchu, and the whole complex as a whole is stunning due to its complexity, construction and size. 
See the tall mountain in the back? It's called Wayna Picchu and we climbed it!
Machu Picchu from above on the mountain Wayna Picchu
Eventually, Machu Picchu is going to close for a year to restore Machu Picchu. Interestingly enough, our guide explained that there exists an archaeological site that is twice as big and just as beautiful as Machu Picchu, but it’s only accessible on foot by a 4-5 day trek. Our guide explained that there are problems with the Peruvian government concerning tourism, and this was one of them: that they haven’t developed the tourism to this newer site. (Think back to the fact that most of Saqsawaman is still underground--That’s because the government won’t fund its full excavation.) Additionally, they won’t fund many new excavations, even though almost every one conducted uncovers something new. 

Within Machu Picchu

While in Machu Picchu, I think it’s safe to say that we were all awestruck. Not only was it the creation of the Incas that was amazing, but also the creation of God that surrounded it. Just think, the God that made humans, including the incredibly intelligent Incas, has created wonders so much bigger and greater than Machu Picchu. We (or at least I) tend to think that religions like that of the Incas were so different from ours so much so that they almost bordered on madness because all their customs seem illogical to us. In reality, they have several similarities with Christianity. There’s a Incan myth that says the sun god sent his two children to the earth to make order and govern the bestial humans that existed on the earth. Sound at all familiar? It has several parallels with our creation story. Moreover, the Incas did so much to please their gods. They built structures of over 60 feet with rocks weighing a matter of tons using only a system of ropes and ramps! It makes me wonder: do I give as much effort to worship my God? Although we differ in many beliefs, I think we can admire some of the truths found in the Incan culture. Much of what they did, they did out of their faith; almost every section of their life was directed by their beliefs. I think many times it’s too easy to keep God in one section of our life, but I would like to do as the Incas did, making him the main character, so that His works may be seen throughout every section of my life.  
On top of Wayna Picchu inside its ruins

1 comment:

  1. Leesha, This is a very insightful summary of our visits to the archaeological sites. Congrats. Paz y Shalom, Neal