The Last of the Incas by Edward Hayams and George Ordish is another retelling of the Inca story. The first half of the book consists of a summary of pre-Incaic Andean life and of Inca myths of origin, social organization, and history. The remainder of the book recounts the familiar tale of the overthrow of the great empire by ten score desperate adventurers.
Written for readers who may or may not ever have read anything else about the Incas, the book seeks to trace the causes of the Inca downfall and to provide, as it were, a capsule course in the history of Andean cultural development. There are, unhappily, many things factual and theoretical to which one can take exception.
Andean social practices are compared to modern socialism and communism in several places, but the parallels are sophomoric. We are told that the Andean system was “despotic,” but it was the expression of the people’s will, albeit an unconscious expression; and the works it carried out did not glorify the chiefs or kings or Caesars of this Far Western world; they served the people’s welfare.
The megalithic site of Tiahuanaco and the embroidered funerary clothing of the Paracas culture—one mantle with six hundred thousand stitches used to lay out the designs to be filled in afterward—to be used at last to swath the desiccated bodies of real men. Are these expressions of the peoples will and dedication to their welfare?
The authors have every right to rationalize all the traits of the Inca state which seem most repugnant to others. Some who have studied the Empire of the Four Quarters are likely to sense an uncomfortable parallel to Orwell’s Animal Farm in those institutions.
We are asked to believe that the minds of the Inca aristocracy were mostly filled with thoughts of unselfish service to the state. Although we may credit them with greater industry than most other aristocracies the reason seems to lie in the newness of their empire and in the primitive state of the voluptuary arts.
Of the several peculiarities of usage indulged in by the authors the term Indio for Indian is most irritating in view of the sociological significance with which it is loaded.
The flood of popular literature dealing with ancient civilizations of the New World produces from time to time a book of interest to the specialist as well as to the general public. Empire of the Inca by Burr C. Brundage is one of them. Dr. Brundage has attacked the granitic mass of source material of pre-conquest Inca culture and hewn from it a synthesis of Inca socio-political development which reads plausibly and well. The reader who has some experience of Peruvian history may feel uneasy at a specious interpretation of myth or of traditional accounts and, in particular, of a tendency to load too much speculation onto the fragile framework of evidence. On the whole, however, a nice balance has been achieved between readability and accuracy within the limitations of the sources.
Starting with the misty legends which surround the founding of Cuzco, we encounter the first Incas, a gamey gang of lean and hungry wanderers, so like the first accounts of the founders of many of the empires of the world, as they bully and shoulder their way into the comparative luxury of the valley of the Huatanay. Their squabbles within that teacup Andean valley, as they push a few hundred yards at a time into more favorable territory, seems to presage that extraordinary aggressiveness which was to grow even more virulent with time.
Two chapters are devoted to a discussion of Peruvian religions and to often conflicting creation myths, with special attention to those of the Inca previous to the Imperial epoch. The reasons for such an extensive discussion become clearer when we reach the reign of Viracocha Inca, the first of the Inca rulers who emerges with some clarity into the light of history or of oral tradition, as a recognizable personality. The inadequacies of the old myths as well-springs of Empire had become critical. A new cult of empire, a mystique of a sacred mission had to be devised to rationalize the program of conquest. Viracocha supplied it by means of a supernatural vision during which the deity, from whom he took his title, appeared and revealed to him the glorious future of the Empire.
Viracocha’s son Pachacuti receives the most comprehensive treatment of any figure in the book. The author rightly considers him the outstanding figure of pre-Columbian history. He exploded upon the scenes as the savior of his nation and it’s capital at the moment of it’s greatest peril. He began his reign with the deposition and merciless humiliation of his father and the former heir to the throne. Under his rule the empire experienced a tremendous expansion, while Inca institutions, both traditional and those designed to consolidate Inca power, became firmly established. His son Topa Inca, whom he made co-regent when he felt his powers waning, proved to be a ruler of the same stamp. Under Topa the Inca technique of conquest and organization were developed to their highest state of refinement. Simultaneously, the inherent weaknesses of the system ripened toward the day when they would precipitate the ruin of the state. Like a plant under the influence of some powerful growth-stimulating chemical, the empire of the Inca rushed to its destruction whose agent was to be an incredibly fearless and determined middle-aged adventurer, Francisco Pizarro.