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Juan de Betanzos was born in Spain but spent his adult life in the Viceroyalty of Peru. By far the most important source of information about him comes from his only remaining work, originally entitled Suma y narración de los Yngas... , which has been abbreviated in English translation. In 1557 Juan de Betanzos finished his Narrative of the Incas, the single most authentic document of its kind. He drew on testimony of descendants of the Inca kings who still remembered the oral history and traditions of their ancestors.The colloquial style of his Narrative suggests that Betanzos had no more than a secondary school education. At the time, all university students had to learn Latin, but no trace of Latin can be found in his sentence construction, nor are there references to classical scholars, as in the works of educated writers like Bernabe Cobo. Betanzos reads more like the loose style of the soldier Pedro Pizarro, who only had a primary school education. However, as Betanzos explains in his introductory letter, his style was affected by the fact that he was translating his material, and he tried to do as literal a translation from his informants' Quechua as possible.
Juan de Betanzos became the most respected Quechua interpreter of the Viceroyalty of Peru. It took him several years to learn the Quechua language with no dictionaries, grammars, or textbooks. In his prologue, which is a letter to Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza written in 1551, Betanzos explains that he spent six years of his "mocedad," or youth, on a commission preparing a Spanish-Quechua Doctrina christiana, a manual for priests that included the essentials of Christian beliefs, two vocabularies, prayers, and confessionals. Unfortunately, the manuscript has been lost. Nevertheless, the fact that the colonial government hired him for such an important assignment around 1544 shows that Betanzos had earned a reputation as the best Quechua interpreter and translator of that early colonial period. The Doctrina christiana (Lima, 1584), edited by Father Acosta, shows what a formidable task Betanzos undertook in pioneering the translation of Christian concepts foreign to the Quechua language.
Some time after 1541, when Francisco Pizarro was assassinated, Juan de Betanzos married Doña Angelina Yupanque. At birth, she was taken to her uncle, the Inca Huayna Capac, who expressed his joy by calling her his mother. A year later the Inca named her Cuxirimay Ocllo and declared that she would marry his son Atahualpa. Thus in 1532, shortly before the conquest, Cuxirimay, just ten years old, was taken from her native Cuzco to the northern province of Caranque, where she married Atahualpa. During the battle of Cajamarca, when Pizarro took Atahualpa prisoner, she remained nearby at the Inca's camp. Later she stayed with the imprisoned Atahualpa in Cajamarca. After Atahualpa's execution, she took the Christian name Doña Angelina and returned to Cuzco. By around 1538 she had become the mistress of Francisco Pizarro. She bore him two boys, Juan and Francisco. Juan died very young, but Francisco grew up with the great mestizo writer known as the Inca Garcilaso, who remembered playing with him when they were both about nine years old. Garcilaso also remembered Doña Angelina's marriage to the interpreter Juan de Betanzos.
Marriage to Angelina meant instant wealth for Betanzos because she had extensive land grants and property in the Cuzco area. Their daughter, Maria, married in Cuzco. Doña Angelina and her family provided Betanzos with his major source of information on Inca traditions. Though the Betanzos narrative reflects the brilliant memory of his wife and family, no one, not even Betanzos, ever told what she looked like or how she acted. This great woman, married to the last Inca king, taken as part of the plunder by the conquistador Pizarro, and used for her collective memory of the Inca saga, comes down to us as a shadowy figure behind the glitter of the men in her life.
In 1551 Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza ordered Betanzos to prepare an account of Inca history and traditions. Betanzos indicates that he had finished at least up through Part I, chapter XIV, in 1551. The next year the viceroy died, but Betanzos kept to his Narrative until he finished rather abruptly in 1557. At this time he went to Lima to visit the new viceroy, Andres Hurtado de Mendoza, Marquis of Cañete. Betanzos asked to accompany an embassy to negotiate with the Inca Sayre Topa, head of the neo-Inca state northwest of Cuzco. The viceroy granted the request, and Betanzos spent several months trying to convince the Inca to come back under Spanish rule. Since Betanzos ended his Narrative shortly before going on this embassy, one must read other sources to find out how Inca Sayre Topa came to Lima, got a warm reception from the viceroy, and settled in Cuzco.
Evidently, Betanzos received some compensation for translating Christian doctrine, recording Inca traditions, and acting as interpreter. Although he gives no details about how much he was paid, the tone of his introductory letter to the viceroy is more that of a paid official than of an independent scholar. His insistence on how long and hard he would have to work to translate an authentic account of Inca history and traditions sounds like justification for a handsome honorarium. He seems to have preferred working as an interpreter, however, because he requested that the viceroy grant him a place with the embassy to Sayre Topa rather than seeking another job translating. After this assignment as an interpreter, Betanzos appears to have spent the rest of his life in Cuzco.
Betanzos divided Narrative of the Incas into two parts. Part I covers Inca history to the arrival of the Spaniards. Part II deals with the conquest, mainly from the point of view of the Incas, to 1557. Betanzos's informants were from Atahualpa's family. They remembered some details of the mythological creation of the world by the god Viracocha and of the legendary foundation of Cuzco by Manco Capac (chaps. I-V). But from the second to the seventh Inca, the information dwindles to almost nothing (chap. V). The record of the eighth Inca relates mainly to his son, Pachacuti Inca Yupanque, the ninth Inca and great grandfather of Atahualpa (see Part I, chap. XXXII, on Pachacuti's lineage). Evidently, Doña Angelina and her family were taught epic poems detailing the life and times of their lineage from Pachacuti to Huayna Capac (see Part I, chaps. VIII, XIII, XVII., XIX, and XLI). These poems included speeches or statements by the main characters in the account. See, for example, Part I, chapters XXXI and XXXII, where Betanzos quotes Pachacuti giving instructions for his own funeral and making up a song about himself.
Pachacuti comes forth as a culture hero who defended Cuzco against overwhelming odds, successfully set out on military expeditions of conquest, and established the system of government, laws, city planning, and many of the Inca religious rites (chaps. VI-XXXII). His son Topa Inca and grandson Huayna Capac carried on the tradition of military exploits and expansion of the empire (chaps. XXXIII-XLVIII).
Part II has more of an eyewitness tone. Doña Angelina and her family saw or heard firsthand reports of the civil war between Huascar and her husband, Atahualpa. She remembered in great detail about Atahualpa's birth in Cuzco, his father's funeral, Atahualpa's military exploits and severity with anyone who dared to differ with him. Huascar, on the other hand, was born in a small town south of Cuzco, took scant interest in the military, openly slept with married women, killed their husbands if they complained, and drank to excess (chaps. I-XIV).
Doña Angelina, who, as a child of ten, spent the months after the conquest in 1532 in Atahualpa's camp, remembered the Incas' reactions to the Spaniards, their concern about whether the Spaniards were viracocha gods or mere men, whether they should be attacked, Atahualpa's treatment as a prisoner, and his death (chaps. XIX-XXVI). Betanzos also conferred with other eyewitnesses. He mentions speaking to Incas who were at Cajamarca near Atahualpa's litter during the initial battle of the conquest (Part II., chap. XXIII.). The rest of his account covers events occurring shortly before and after Betanzos came to Peru. Betanzos probably got several firsthand reports for Manco Inca's siege of Cuzco in 1536, the neo-Inca state, Manco Inca's death in 1545, and the selection of Sayre Topa as Inca (chaps. XXIX-XXXIII.). Betanzos brings his account to an abrupt end with a trip in 1557 to Lima, where he asked to be included in the embassy to Sayre Topa (chap. XXXIV).
Betanzos gives no indication that he aspired to publish his work. He did not even bother to update the introductory letter of 1551 or to add a letter to the new viceroy in 1557. Presumably, someone took the work back to Spain, but no one mentions it until Father Gregorio Garcia states in his work on the origin of the Indians (published in 1607) that he found Betanzos very valuable for Inca traditions. No one else seems to have used Betanzos until William Prescott, working in Boston, mentions him briefly in his History of the Conquest of Peru, published in 1847. Finally, Jiménez de la Espada edited the first edition from a manuscript still held in the library of El Escorial, Suma y narración de los Incas (Madrid, 1880). This incomplete manuscript includes only the introductory letter and eighteen chapters of Part I, which led scholars to date the manuscript at 1551. A complete manuscript turned up in the library of the Fundación de Bartolomé March in Palma de Mallorca." María del Carmen Martín Rubio edited the first Spanish edition of this manuscript with the Editorial Atlas (Madrid, 1987).
Unfortunately, this Atlas edition contains many transcription errors. For example, the word çapa always appears in the Palma manuscript with the ç (see folio 64v, line 33, Part I, chap. XXVII). Çapa or zapa means "unique," as in çapa Inca, "unique Inca." The Atlas edition usually transcribes this word as capa, which is a different word in Quechua. Sometimes phrases come out garbled. For example, on folio 53v of the Palma manuscript, line 30 reads: "y que aeste tal fuese llamado çapsi churi que dice hijo del comun" (Part I, chap. XXI.), which translates as "this one [child] would be called çapçichuri, which means son of the community." The Atlas edition has a meaningless phrase: "y que este çapçi fuese llamado tal Churi que dice hijo del comun." The Palma manuscript makes sense, for in Quechua çapsi means "community" or "people," churi means a "father's son." The passage refers to children considered to belong to the community because their mothers were prostitutes. These examples make it clear that any serious scholar interested in the Betanzos Narrative must work with the Palma manuscript (see the Note on the Translation).
The colloquial style of the Narrative suggests that Betanzos spoke with his informants in Quechua and then dictated his account to a scribe. This account was transcribed in the Palma manuscript with the regular lettering of an early seventeenth-century copyist or educated author, which makes it relatively easy to read. Each chapter has a heading in bold printing followed by a continuous stream of words, mostly in longhand, generally without periods and usually not divided into paragraphs. Phrases and sentences are repeatedly separated by the conjunction "y," meaning "and." In general, sentences are very long and contain several dependent clauses. Most lettering appears to be lowercase with random use of uppercase letters, though uppercase does appear at the beginning of some proper names. Written accent marks were not used. Each folio averages about 3 z lines of about fourteen words. The few standard abbreviations can generally be recognized in context. The 1 5z folios make up 304 handwritten pages. Most doubtful passages in the Palma manuscript can be attributed to errors by the copyist. For example, in the Palma manuscript, f.1 5v, line 8, a phrase has been omitted that appears in the Escorial manuscript (see Part I, IX. n. 1 and XIV. n.1). Punctuation marks and paragraphs have been used in the English translation to make it more readable.
Careful study of the Betanzos Narrative adds many insights into Inca history and traditions. For example, there has long been a controversy over Inca chronology. Traditionally, scholars have followed the work of the Inca Garcilaso in his Royal Commentaries, first published in 1609. This work places much of the expansion of the empire before the ninth Inca. In his classic study, "Inca Culture at the Time of the Spanish Conquest" (Handbook of South American Indians, vol.II.,1946), John H. Rowe argues convincingly that the first eight Inca rulers conquered only towns near Cuzco and that Pachacuti provided the catalyst that turned a small regional state into a great empire. No matter how one interprets the Betanzos Narrative, it corroborates the theory of catalytic development under Pachacuti.
Inca marriage customs have often been debated, especially marriage of the Inca rulers to their full sisters. The Betanzos Narrative indicates that the tenth Inca, Topa, was the first to marry his sister, Mama Ocllo. Whether she was his full or half-sister is not clarified. Topa's successor, Huayna Capac, seems to have done the same. However, Huayna Capac appears to be the only Inca ruler who came from the union of brother and sister. He arranged the marriage of Atahualpa to a cousin, Cuxirimay (see Part I, chap. XLVII., and Part II., chap. VI). Since Cuxirimay was only ten when the marriage took place, just before Atahualpa's installation as Inca in 1532, the union was probably never consummated and was more ceremonial than anything else. It suggests that Topa Inca's and Huayna Capac's marriages to sisters may also have been mainly ceremonial. All the Incas had numerous secondary wives for their sexual pleasure.
The Betanzos Narrative gives many other details about rites performed at birth, weaning, puberty, marriage, and death as well as about how the Incas performed many religious festivals. Many other important passages cover Inca administration, laws, social customs, the calendar, the post system, warfare, weapons, and engineering works. For example, the instructions for constructing a suspension bridge make it sound as though any well-trained gang of workers could do it. Furthermore, Betanzos states (Part I, chap. XLV) that he visited the great temple of Viracocha at Cachi, now better known as the temple of Racchi. His description of this temple coincides with recent studies by Graziano Gasparini and Luise Margolies in Inca Architecture (1980, trans. Patricia J. Lyon).
Betanzos spins a dramatic and complex tale of revenge during the conquest period mainly from the point of view of the Incas. After the sudden death of Huayna Capac, the bitter civil war between his sons Huascar and Atahualpa emerges as a test of honor rivaling that of the proudest Spaniard. For example, Atahualpa's emissary of goodwill strikes Huascar as a traitor, so Huascar has him skinned and a drum made of his hide. Huascar's mother tries to no avail to keep the peace. After Atahualpa's generals win the war, he has Huascar's whole family killed--men, women, and children. Pregnant women have their wombs opened and their unborn children stripped from their bodies (Part II., chap. XIX). The arrival of the Spaniards leaves Atahualpa stunned at first, which explains the massacre at Cajamarca. However, by 1536 the Incas come to know the Spaniards. Manco Inca feels displaced by the Spaniards and, taking advantage of the rivalry between Pizarro and Almagro, takes his revenge by mounting a seige of Cuzco that lasts over a year and nearly breaks the Spaniards' hold on Peru (Part II., chap. XXXI.).
Drawing from the most authentic sources, especially his Inca wife, Doña Angelina, Juan de Betanzos faithfully translated the history and traditions of the Inca rulers. Though never acknowledged as such, the feminine touch of Doha Angelina comes through in the details about rites of birth, coming of age, marriage, and death. The full and accurate details of this monumental work finally appear in English with this translation of the Palma manuscript. Both scholars and readers who study this Betanzos Narrative will reshape their views of Inca civilization.
In ancient times, they say, the land and the provinces of Peru were dark and neither light nor daylight existed. In this time, there lived certain people who had a lord who ruled over them and to whom they were subject. The name of these people and that of their ruler have been forgotten.
During this time of total night, they say that a lord emerged from a lake in this land of Peru in the province of Collasuyo and that his name was Contiti Viracocha. They say that he brought with him a certain number of people, but they do not remember the number. When he had emerged from the lake he went from there to a place near the lake where today there is a town called Tiahuanaco in the province of Collao referred to above. When he and his people arrived there, they say that he suddenly made the sun and the day and ordered the sun to follow the course that it follows. Then, they say, he made the stars and the moon.
They say that this Contiti Viracocha had emerged another time before that one, and that on that first occasion he created the sky and the earth but left everything in darkness. Then he made those people who lived in the time of darkness previously mentioned. These people did some disservice to this Viracocha, and since he was angry, he returned, emerging this last time, as he had done before. In his anger, he turned to stone those he created first, together with their lord, as a punishment for annoying him. In that very moment, he made the sun and the day and the moon and stars, as we have said.
When this was done, there at Tiahuanaco, he made some people from stone as a kind of model of those that he would produce later. He made a certain number of them from stone in this way, together with a chieftain to govern and rule over them, and many women, some pregnant and others delivered. The babies were in cradles, according to their custom. When he had made all these of stone, he set them aside in a certain place and then made another province of people in the manner described. In this way, he made another people of Peru and of its provinces there in Tiahuanaco, forming them of stones in the way stated.
After he had finished making them, he ordered all those he had there with him to depart, leaving only two in his company. He instructed those who were left to look at the stone likenesses, and he told them the names he had given to each kind of people, pointing to them and saying, "These will be called the so and so and will come out of such and such a spring in such and such a province and will settle there and be increased, and these others will come out of such and such a cave and will be called the thus and so and will settle in such and such a province. Just the way I have painted them and made them of stone thus they must come out of the springs and rivers and caves and mountains in the provinces which I have told you and named, and you will go at once, all of you, in this direction," pointing toward the sunrise, taking each one aside individually and showing him the direction he was to follow.
II. Which concerns how the people of this country emerged under the orders of Viracocha and of the viracochas he sent to accomplish this task; how Contiti Viracocha and the two that remained with him left to do the same work, and how Viracocha rejoined his people at last after having finished, and how he put out to sea, never to be seen again.
So these viracochas of whom you have heard left and traversed the provinces that Viracocha had told them. When they arrived at the place where they were going in each province, they called on those whom Viracocha had pointed out to them in Tiahuanaco of stone as being the ones who had to emerge in that province. Each viracocha stationed himself next to the place where he had been told that these people had to come out, and then said in a loud voice, "So and so, come out and people this land, which is now uninhabited, because Contiti Viracocha, who made the world, has so ordered it." As the viracochas called them, the proper people came out of the places which Viracocha had appointed. So they say that these viracochas went along, calling and bringing out the people from the caves, rivers and springs, and high sierras, as you have already heard in the previous chapter, peopling the country in the direction where the sun rises.
When Contiti Viracocha had sent out his agents and they had gone in the manner stated, they say that he sent the two who had stayed with him in the town of Tiahuanaco to call and bring out the people in the way you have heard, dividing the two as follows. He sent one to the province of Condesuyo, which is on the left, if you are at Tiahuanaco with your back to the sunrise, so that he could go and do what the first ones had done and call out the Indians and natives of the province of Condesuyo. The other he sent likewise to the province of Andesuyo, which is on the right if you are placed in the manner stated with your back to the sunrise.
After these two had been dispatched, they say that Viracocha himself set out straight ahead toward Cuzco, which is in between these two provinces, traveling by the royal road that goes through the sierra toward Cajamarca. As he went along, he also called and brought out the peoples in the way you have already heard.
When he came to a province which they call Cacha, which belongs to the Canas Indians and is eighteen leagues from the city of Cuzco, Viracocha called out these Canas Indians. They came out armed, however, and did not know Viracocha when they saw him. They all came at him with their arms to kill him. When he saw them coming, he understood what they were coming for and instantly caused fire to fall from heaven, burning a range of mountains near the Indians. When the Indians saw the fire, they feared they would be burned. Throwing their arms to the ground, they went straight to Viracocha and all threw themselves to the ground before him. When he saw them thus, he took a staff in his hands and went where the fire was. He gave it two or three blows with his staff, which put it completely out, whereupon he told the Indians that he was their maker. The Canas Indians built a sumptuous guaca, which means a shrine or idol, at the place where he stood when he called the fire from heaven and from which he went to put it out. In this guaca they and their descendants offered a great quantity of gold and silver. They set up a stone statue carved from a great stone almost five varas in length and one vara in width, more or less, in the guaca, in memory of Viracocha and of what had taken place there. This guaca has stood there from ancient times until today, and I have seen the burned mountain and the burned stones. The burned area is more than a quarter of a league across.
When I saw this wonder, I called on the oldest Indians and leading men and asked them the explanation of that burned mountain. They told me what you have heard. The guaca of Viracocha is a stone's throw in front of the burned area on a plain across a river that runs between the burned area and the guaca. Many people have crossed the river and have seen the guaca and the stone statue, because they have heard the story from the Indians. I asked the Indians what this Viracocha looked like when the ancients saw him, as far as they have information. They told me that he was a tall man dressed in a white garment that reached to his ankles and was belted at the waist. His hair was short and he had a tonsure like a priest. He went bareheaded and carried in his hands something that seemed to them to resemble the breviaries that priests of today carry. This is the account that I obtained from these Indians. I asked them the name of the personage in whose place the stone was erected, and they said his name was Contiti Viracocha Pacha-yachachic, which means "God, maker of the world" in their language.
Going back to our story, they say that after he had worked this miracle in the province of Cacha, he went on, continuing his work. When he reached the place that is now called the Tambo of Urcos, six leagues from the city of Cuzco, he climbed a high mountain and sat down on the highest point, where they say he ordered the native Indians who now live there to come out of that high place. Because Viracocha sat there, they built a rich and sumptuous guaca in that place. Because he had sat down, they made a bench of fine gold and set the statue of Viracocha on it. In the division of spoils that the Christians made when they took Cuzco, this bench was valued at 16,000 or 18,000 pesos of fine gold.
Viracocha went on, making people as you have heard, until he reached Cuzco. There, they say, he made a lord whom he himself named Alcavicça, and he also gave the name Cuzco to the place where he made this lord. He ordered that the orejones should emerge after he had left.
He went on, continuing his work, until he reached the province of Puerto Viejo. There he met the others whom he had sent out, as has been said. He went out across the sea with them; they say that he and his companions walked on water as if on land.
We could have written much more that the Indians have told me about Viracocha, but I did not do so to avoid prolixity and great idolatries and beastliness. Let us leave him and talk about the origin of the orejones of the city of Cuzco. They also follow the beastly, pagan, and barbarous idolatry that you have heard.