The Origin of the Inca People

An Incan Folktale


In the old times people lived like wild beasts, without religion or laws, houses or towns, without cultivating the earth or wearing clothes, and without having separate wives. Our father the Sun, seeing people in this state, took pity on them. He sent Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo Huaco, his son and daughter by the Moon, to teach the people to worship their father the Sun, and to give them laws to live by so that they might live in houses and towns, and cultivate the earth and raise animals like rational and civilized men.

The Sun placed his two children in Lake Titicaca and gave them a golden staff, bidding them to set up their court at the site where it would sink into the ground at one thrust. Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo Huaco left the lake and walked north. They spent the night in a dwelling the Inca Manco Capac called Pacarec Tampu, House of the Dawn, because he left it as the sun rose. When they reached Huanacauri hill in the valley of Cuzco the staff sank in the ground with a single thrust, disappearing into the earth, whereupon they determined to establish their dwelling in the valley.

Manco Capac then went north and Mama Ocllo Huaco south, telling the people they met of their divine mission and calling them out of the wilderness. The people recognized them as children of the Sun by their clothes, their pierced ears, their words, and their faces, and followed them back to the valley. There they founded the city of Cuzco. Those people convoked by Manco Capac formed Hanan, or Upper, Cuzco, and those convoked by Mama Ocllo Huaco formed Hurinor Lower, Cuzco. Manco Capac ordered that the upper half should have precedence over the lower half, as the elder brothers over younger brothers, or right and left arms, as the former were gathered by a man and the latter by a woman. The same division was made in all the towns, large and small, of the empire.

The Inca Manco Capac taught the men agriculture and how to build irrigation canals, and the Coya (queen) Mama Ocllo Huaco taught the women how to spin and weave and make clothes, and all other domestic duties. In short, everything pertaining to human life was taught them, with the Inca serving as the teacher of the men and the Coya as the teacher of the women (Classen, 39).

Condensed from Garcilaso de la Vega, Comentarios reales , vol 1 pp.40-44.

This Incan folk tale of the origins of Incan society illustrates several fundamental aspects of Incan culture. Not only does this tale establish the Inca's divine origins and grant them a god-given right to their land, but it also establishes the proper relationship between the Incas and their environment. Before the arrival of the Incas the people of the land lived as utter savages. The Incas, children of the divine Sun and Moon, "bring the people of the earth out of the chaos of their natural condition into a state of divinely sanctioned order. To do so they must teach to people to conduct themselves correctly both with respect to their bodies and to nature...." (Classen, 40). In establishing these codes of conduct the legend of Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo Huaco sets the parameters that will influence nearly every aspect of Incan life, from gender roles and social practices, to the physical layout of cities. Furthermore, this legend symbolizes the harmonious union of the three levels of the Incan Cosmos: the Sky, the Earth, and Man. "The golden staff given to Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo Huaco symbolizes the divine power of the sky that fertilizes the earth at a receptive point. The staff sinks in to Huanacauri hill, connecting the three levels of the cosmos and establishing Cuzco as a chosen site of communication between the sky and the Earth. The axis mundi thereby established is composed the three overlapping axes - the golden staff of the sky, the mountain of the earth , and the body of the Inca. This union is accomplished through the medium of the Inca, who is thenceforth the preeminent mediator of cosmic exchange and order" (Classen, 40).

Hence this seemingly simple story of the establishment of Cuzco is in truth a complex analogy which serves the Incas by providing them with a divine history, a code of conduct pertaining to themselves and to nature, and a working model of the universe.

From Josh Marcy's, Topher Wilkins' and Adam Tarnoff's ID1 paper.