Back to top

Inca Religion and Customs

Inca Religion and Customs
Translated and edited by Roland Hamilton; foreword by John Howland Rowe

A translation of a 1653 work, providing vast amounts of data on the religion and lifeways of the Incas and their subject peoples.

May 1990
This is a print-on-demand title. Expedited shipping is not available.
Add to cart
279 pages | 6 x 9 | 5 maps |

Completed in 1653, Father Bernabe Cobo's Historia del Nuevo Mundo is an important source of information on pre-conquest and colonial Spanish America. Though parts of the work are now lost, the remaining sections which have been translated offer valuable insights into Inca culture and Peruvian history.

Inca Religion and Customs is the second translation by Roland Hamilton from Cobo's massive work. Beginning where History of the Inca Empire left off, it provides a vast amount of data on the religion and lifeways of the Incas and their subject peoples. Despite his obvious Christian bias as a Jesuit priest, Cobo objectively and thoroughly describes many of the religious practices of the Incas. He catalogs their origin myths, beliefs about the afterlife, shrines and objects of worship, sacrifices, sins, festivals, and the roles of priests, sorcerers, and doctors.

The section on Inca customs is equally inclusive. Cobo covers such topics as language, food and shelter, marriage and childrearing, agriculture, warfare, medicine, practical crafts, games, and burial rituals.

Because the Incas apparently had no written language, such postconquest documents are an important source of information about Inca life and culture. Cobo's work, written by one who wanted to preserve something of the indigenous culture that his fellow Spaniards were fast destroying, is one of the most accurate and highly respected.

  • Foreword by John Howland Rowe
  • Introduction: Father Cobo and the Incas
  • A Note on the Translation
  • Measurements
  • Book I: Religion
    1. Paganism of lnca Religion
    2. Origin Fables
    3. Afterlife
    4. Viracocha the Creator
    5. Sun Worship
    6. Moon and Star Deities
    7. Worship of the Thunder, the Sea, and the Earth
    8. Pururauca Deities
    9. Guauque Idols
    10. Idolatry of the Deceased
    11. Other Deities
    12. Temple of the Sun at Cuzco
    13. Chinchaysayu Road
    14. Antisuyu Road
    15. Collasayu Road
    16. Cuntisayu Road
    17. Temple of Pachacama
    18. Temple of Copacabana
    19. Temple of Tiaguanaco
    20. Temple of Apurima
    21. Sacrifices
    22. Addlitional Sacrifices
    23. Acts of Worship and Prayers
    24. Sins
    25. Raymi Festival
    26. Festivals of the Second Month
    27. Festivals of the Third, Fifth, and Sixth Months
    28. Festivals of the Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Months
    29. Festivals of the Tenth Month
    30. Festivals of the Eleventh and Twelfth Months
    31. Itu Festival
    32. Coronation of the Inca
    33. Functions of the Priests
    34. Sortilegos
    35. Curing
    36. Diviners
    37. Cloistered Women
    38. Omens and Superstitions
  • Book II: Customs
    1. Quichua and Aymará
    2. Garments
    3. Towns and Houses
    4. Home Furnishings
    5. Food and Drink
    6. Education
    7. Marriage
    8. Agriculture
    9. Warfare
    10. Medicine
    11. Weaving
    12. Building and Stone Work
    13. Bridges
    14. Boats
    15. Silverwork and Metallurgy
    16. Hunting
    17. Games and Music
    18. Tombs
    19. Burial
  • Notes
  • Glossary
  • Index
  • Indexes for the Shrines of Cuzco

The translator, Roland Hamilton, is professor of Spanish at San Jose State University.


Browse this book with Google Preview »

Those interested in an accurate understanding of Inca culture must consult the sources, Spanish chronicles written in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Although the Incas left no written records before the conquest, the Spanish chronicles are based on extensive interviews with Inca witnesses and on personal contact with those subjugated by the Incas. A surprisingly large number of these chronicles have survived and are used by all researchers in the field. Many of the documents contain vague and misleading passages which create great difficulties for the reader. One chronicle, however, stands out for its clarity and accuracy. I refer to the works of Father Bernabe Cobo. Completing his research in the first half of the seventeenth century, he produced what has become recognized as one of the most respected sources on the Incas.

In this introduction, I will give some of the highlights of Father Cobo's life, especially that part which relates to his research on the Incas. Then I will discuss the procedure I used to identify the original manuscript of Cobo's works on the Incas and give a resume of this manuscript. I will pay special attention to the section on Inca religion and customs contained in the present translation. Finally, I will comment on Father Cobo's scholarship and on his place among Inca sources.

Father Bernabe Cobo was born in Southern Spain, in the little town of Lopera, in 1580. Evidently he attended elementary school there. In 1595, he traveled to the large city of Seville, at the time a rnajor port of call for ships going to and from America. Young Bernabe must have come to pray at the cathedral, the most prominent building in the city, before embarking on his journey to the New World. Little did he know that after his death his writings on the Incas would be deposited in the library of this same cathedral.

On his way to Peru, Cobo stopped for over a year in the West Indies. Continuing on through Panama, he reached Lima in 1599. The colonial town of Los Reyes, Lima, was a cultural center that boasted the best schools in Spanish America. Here young Bernabe received his secondary education before continuing on to advanced studies with the Jesuit Order.

Father Cobo traveled the Inca roads from Lima to Cuzco in the year 1609. Later, on several different trips, he walked on across most of central and southern Peru. He carefully examined the Inca monuments in Cuzco and also conducted interviews with the descendants of the Incas.

Cobo visited the Lake Titicaca area at least twice, first in 1610 and again in 1615. He did missionary work here, getting to know the people and their languages, Quichua and Aymara. He also visited the ruins of Copacabana and Tiahuanaco.

During subsequent years, Father Cobo served as a Latin teacher in Arequipa and probably became director of a school in the coastal town of Pisco. After 1620, he spent most of his time in Lima, except for an extended trip to Mexico which lasted from 1629 to 1642. Devoting more and more time to his historical writings, he finally finished the Historia del Nuevo Mundo in 1653. He died in Lima in 1657.

Father Cobo explains in the prologue to his Historia that it contained forty-three books divided into three parts. The first deals with the natural history of the New World and the history and customs of the Incas; the second with the discovery and "pacification," as Cobo put it, of the West Indies and Peru, and with colonial institutions; the third deals mainly with New Spain. All that remains to us today is the first part, composed of fourteen books, and three books of the second part which tell of the foundation of Lima.

The manuscript for the section on the Incas, Books 11 through 14 of the first part, resides in the library of the cathedral of Seville, known as the Biblioteca Capitular Colombina. Until 1974, when I visited this library, the manuscript was considered to be a copy of a lost original. However, I wanted to identify Cobo's original writings for myself. Consequently I obtained a microfilm copy of the Colombina manuscript from the director. Next I went to the library of the University of Seville which houses the manuscript for Books 1 through 1O, including the prologue, signed by Cobo. This manuscript is uniform in page size and binding with the Colombina manuscript; it is also clear that the two volumes were written in identical handwriting. Thus the prologue applies equally to both Volumes. However, in order to make a positive identification of Cobo's handwriting, I needed another point of comparison. I knew there were letters written by Cobo from Mexico to Lima in 1630 and 1633. So the following year, I headed for Lima to inspect the originals held in the National Library. Careful comparison of the handwriting revealed that the manuscript at the Colombina Library in the cathedral was not a copy, but the original, executed in Cobo's own handwriting.

On the advice of the eminent Andean scholar Professor John H. Rowe, I embarked on a project to translate the manuscript on the Incas. The first fruits of this labor resulted in the History of the Inca Empire, published in 1979 by the University of Texas Press. This is the only publication to date based on Cobo's original MS. This work comprised Books 11 and 12 of the original. Dealing with the physical features and customs of the Indians in general, it gives a detailed account of the origin and history of the Incas. The present translation of Books 13 and 14 of the original discusses Inca religion extensively and covers a wide variety of customs. All other books of Cobo's works published to date were based on imperfect copies of Cobo's originals. For more details, see my introductory materials for the History of the Inca Empire.

Book I of the present translation (Book 13 of the original) contains thirty-eight chapters on Inca religion. In it Father Cobo relates some fascinating origin myths, gives a careful explanation of many deities, and describes the major shrines in detail. He also tells about numerous rites and sacrifices, as well as the role of the priests, sorcerers, and doctors in Inca society.

Book II of this translation (Book 14 of the original) contains nineteen chapters on Inca customs. This book documents many topics of everyday life, such as clothing, weaving, building, food, drink, farming, marriage, and others.

Father Cobo's originality is that of any competent historian: the judicious use of primary sources in fashioning an overall view or thesis about a historical situation. His sources included interviews in Cuzco with descendants of the Incas, careful observation of the customs of the Indian peasants of the sierra, and the best written accounts by other chroniclers, some of which have since been lost.

His thesis was that the Inca believed a host of nature deities controlled their lives and needed to be appeased by careful attention to prescribed rituals and sacrifices. With respect to their customs, Cobo held that the Inca craftsmen achieved marvelous results with minimal equipment. For example, he points out that with simple tools the Inca's weavers made the most extraordinary cloth, the stonemasons constructed incredibly fine walls, and the farmers raised excellent crops.

While interviewing the Indians, Father Cobo soon realized that the peasants had forgotten all about the royal Inca political and religious institutions; therefore, he interviewed only descendants of the Inca on that subject. However, he collected much information on the customs of the common people. Many of these practices can still be observed today. For example, in the countryside near Cuzco, I have seen peasant houses with thatched roofs just as Cobo describes. Each house has a cooking fire inside and no chimney. The smoke rises through the thatch. (See Book II, Chapter 3.)

In other cases some changes have occurred. Father Cobo provides excellent descriptions of the monuments at Cuzco, especially the Temple of the Sun, Copacabana, Tiahuanaco, and Pachacama as he saw them in the early part of the seventeenth century. This information is very useful in determining how these monuments have been modified subsequently. For example, even my own casual observations at Tiahuanaco and Pachacama indicate that restoration has greatly altered these sites. Scholars need to do more studies using Cobo's material and that of others, as well as on-site research, if they are to continue the work of scholars like Max Uhle, who did an exemplary study back in 1896. (See Book I, Chapter 17, note 40.)

With respect to his written sources on the Incas, Cobo gives very general information. In the prologue to his Historia (not translated) he acknowledges having a manuscript copy of Pedro Pizarro's chronicle, Relacion del descubrimiento y conquista de los reinos del Peru . . ., dated 1571, first published in Madrid, 1844. Cobo also makes general reference to sources at the beginning of his account on the Incas (See History of the Inca Empire, Book II, Chapter 2.) Here Cobo indicates that he had manuscript copies of the account by the Licentiate Juan Polo de Ondegardo. In fact, he probably possessed the complete version of his treatise on Inca religion compiled in 1559, an extract of which was published in Lima in 1585 with the title Errores y supersticiones de los indios, as well as the work by Cristobal de Molina of Cuzco, Relacion de las fabulas y ritos de los Incas, written in 1575, published in Santiago, 1913. Additionally, he had a manuscript of a report done for the Viceroy Francisco de Toledo. This Toledo report, incidentally, has not been found by modern scholars.

In the same place mentioned above, Cobo also acknowledges his two most important published sources: the Historia natural y moral de las Indias (Seville, 1590), by the Jesuit scholar Jose de Acosta, and the Comentarios reales . . . de los Yncas (Lisbon, 1609), by the mestizo author Garcilaso de la Vega Inca.

Working within an overall framework of his own, Cobo turned to Acosta for the philosophical background of idolatry. Cobo drew on Polo de Ondegardo for the hierarchy of the gods, his insistence on the importance of sacrifice, including human sacrifice, and his general ideas concerning the multitude of huacas or shrines and other sacred objects. Cobo used Cristobal de Molina of Cuzco for some legends, Inca rituals, and ceremonies as well as prayers. He followed Pedro Pizarro for material such as the worship of the dead (Book I, Chapter 10) and the shrine of Apurima (Book I, Chapter 20).

Although he used Garcilaso Inca's versions of some legends and myths, Cobo, nevertheless, implicitly rejects the Garcilasan interpretation of Inca religion as a kind of primitive Christianity. For example, Garcilaso states that the Incas had no human sacrifice. Cobo explains in detail how Inca human sacrifices were performed, and for what reasons. Archaeological evidence corroborates Cobo's explanation. Garcilaso stated that the Incas had only one god, Pachacama. But Cobo, correctly, discusses hundreds of Inca deities, their powers, and the sacrifices made to them.

Father Cobo used some sources without acknowledging them at all, a common practice at the time. For example, he based his material about the shrine at Copacabana (Book I, Chapter 18) on the work of the Augustinian Friar Alonso Ramos Gavilan, Historia del celebre santuario de Nuestra Senora de Copacabana... Lima, 1621. Cobo also appears to have had an unidentified manuscript for his account of the shrines of Cuzco (Book I, Chapter 13-16). New research has discredited the theory that Cobo's source on the shrines was written by either Polo de Ondegardo or Molina of Cuzco. (See Book I, note 30). Whatever the sources may have been, it is clear that Father Cobo has preserved invaluable material for the study of the Incas.

Although Father Cobo did careful historical research, he still retained the mentality of a seventeenth-century priest. He accepted the authority of the Bible on all matters, historical or otherwise. For example, on hearing a fable which included destruction by water, he connects it with the Biblical Flood, thinking that the Indians had some knowledge of the Flood. He identifies the Inca gods with the devil. Cobo did not think these deities were merely figments of the Indian's imagination. He truly believed they were manifestations of the devil with certain supernatural powers. Hence he felt compelled to condemn native beliefs.

Cobo believed the book of Genesis explained the creation of the world and the beginnings of civilization. This influenced his interpretation of the native myths. He considers most native myths nonsense because they differ from the stories in Genesis. Nevertheless, Father Cobo was deeply interested in Inca religion, and he compiled a very reliable and comprehensive study on the subject.

Father Cobo enlivens his account with interesting tales. He evidently told these stories as he got them in order to entertain the reader. But he always uses them to prove a point. For example, at one point he recounts a Spanish folk tale about the treasures buried at Tiahuanaco to teach a lesson about covetousness. This story indicates that the ancient rulers of Tiahuanaco were reputed to have had vast treasures (Book I, Chapter 19). He tells another fascinating story about a wondrous cure (Book II, Chapter 10, thus illustrating indigenous knowledge of medicinal plants. In order to show that at Tiahuanaco cut stones were found everywhere, he tells how the priest had his native sculptor dig just where they happened to be standing, and they found stones suitable for statues {Book I, Chapter 19). Professor John Rowe has investigated this matter, and he found that "the story is even better than Cobo thought. Those statues of San Pedro and San Pablo are still in front of the church, and they are genuine ancient statues, carved in the Pucara style. The Indian sculptor dug down and found two statues and palmed them off on the priest as his work" (personal communication).

Finally, I will say a word about the place Father Cobo's work occupies among the many sources on the Inca. There have been two periods of intense activity in Inca research: the second half of the sixteenth century up to the early seventeenth century and the twentieth century. During the first period, the novelty of initial contact and the desire to explain the new reality inspired the production of chronicles like those of Juan Polo de Ondegardo and Jose de Acosta.

During the second period, the development of scientific anthropology and archaeology resulted in much serious research on the Inca. Father Cobo comes at the end of the first period, and his method is that of a serious historian who has compiled and analyzed invaluable documents on the Inca. However, Cobo's manuscripts remained virtually unknown until the first publication in Spanish of the Historia del Nuevo Mundo came out in Seville between 1890 and 1893. This puts his work at the beginning of modern scientific research just before 1895, when another European working in Peru, the German archaeologist Max Uhle, started the field work and research with accounts by Cobo and others that greatly enlarged our understanding of the Inca Empire.

Through his training as a Jesuit and his keen observations gleaned from many parts of Peru, Father Cobo developed into an outstanding scholar. Carefully using original sources and personal experience, he prepared one of our most important and extensive sources on the Inca. Though earlier editions are based on imperfect copies, the present translation was based on the original. It completes the work initiated with the History of the Inca Empire and offers the reader an exciting new source in English on the religion and customs of the Incas.

The Indians of Peru were so idolatrous that they worshiped as Gods almost every kind of thing created. Since they did not have supernatural insights, they fell into the same errors and folly as the other nations of pagans, and for the same reasons both the Peruvians and the other pagans were unable to find the true God. This is because they were immersed in such an abysmal array of vices and sins that they had become unfit and unworthy of receiving the pure light that accompanies a knowledge of their Creator. Moved by his arrogance and envy of our welfare, the common enemy of mankind, using malice and astuteness, succeeded in usurping from these blind people the adoration that they really owed to their true Creator, and he [the devil] kept them prisoners in harsh bondage, depriving them of the happiness which he himself did not deserve. Upon finding fertile ground in the simplemindedness and ignorance of these barbarians, he reigned over them for many centuries until the power of the Cross started stripping him of his authority and ousting him from this land here as well as from the other regions of this New World.

This Peruvian region was very large and was inhabited by numerous Indian nations, so there were many different types of religion and idolatries, not only before the people were conquered and brought under one government, but afterward also. Although it is true that the Peruvian kings required all conquered persons to receive their Inca religion, they were not required to abandon entirely the religion that they had before. This was because the Incas only made the newly conquered subjects give up that part of their religion which seemed to contradict Inca religion. Therefore, not only did the conquered keep their former gods, but the Incas themselves accepted these gods and had them brought to Cuzco, where they were placed among the Incas' own gods. The Incas worshiped these new gods somewhat, but much less than they worshiped their native gods. It is remarkable how little the Incas cared for these new gods. When some province rebelled against them, the Incas ordered the protective native gods of the rebellious province to be brought out and put in public, where they were whipped ignominiously every day until such province was made to serve the Incas again. After the rebels were subdued, their gods were restored to their places and honored with sacrifices. At this time the Incas would say that the province had been subdued through the power of the rebels' gods, who wanted to avoid being insulted. And it is even said that the majority of the rebels surrendered just because they heard that their idols were exposed to public insults.

Since, as I have already stated, the peoples of this Peruvian Empire had so many different kinds of idolatries, if one were to write down the details about each one, the task would be endless. Therefore, I will write here only about the idolatry that was followed by the Inca nation, which had been adopted throughout the entire kingdom because the Inca kings imposed it on all of their vassals. These kings were so clever in imposing their idolatry that it was not only accepted by all of the Indians who were conquered, but it came to be so esteemed by them that it was an honor for them to profess it, and they heeded it more than their own idolatry. This the Incas achieved by emphasizing the importance of the special favor done for their vassals in allowing them to worship the Inca gods. Since their intention and desire was for the conquered to adopt their opinions about religion, they did not let them all enjoy this favor at first, nor did the Incas have celebrations with them. On the contrary, some things were reserved only for the Incas themselves and members of their families. In other cases, the conquered were not allowed to participate with the same solemnity and formality as was customary for the Incas. However, as time passed and services were rendered to the Incas, they would allow some provinces to do some of these things. Thus the vassals came to hold this as a great reward for their services. Since it was difficult to obtain this concession, it stimulated the Indians to be especially careful and diligent in observing the Inca celebrations. The fact that these ceremonies were not open to all and that those who did not have this privilege could not even be present increased the respect and devotion they had for these rites and superstitions. The foreign subjects esteemed these dispensations and privileges more than any other thing that the Incas could give them. They believed that with these dispensations and privileges they would be capable of achieving what they asked for to fulfill their needs and alleviate their tribulations. What is more, they felt that their needs were met when they were granted permission to practice the sacrifices and ceremonies of the Incas. The Incas themselves would guarantee them everything on granting them this favor. The Incas based all this on fantasies, dreams, revelations, and orders that they pretended to receive from their gods. The object was to make the common people think that only the Incas and whomever they selected would be permitted to worship Viracocha, who was their main god, and their other idols with the rites that were established for that purpose. All of this was a contrivance of the Incas to enhance the prestige of their religion, and by means of it to keep their subjects the more subdued and obedient.

It is true that from the beginning of their empire the Incas were not always steadfast in their religion, nor did they maintain the same opinions and worship the same gods. Actually, at various times they took on many new rites and ceremonies, and though they eliminated some, they always kept loading the people down with more of them. They were prompted to make such changes because they realized that in this way they improved their control over the kingdom and kept it more subservient. The entire basis for the Inca political government rested on an orderly mechanism for keeping their people subjugated and for ensuring that they give up any hope of rebelling against their rulers. The opinions that they formed on what pertains to religion were also aimed at the same objective. It was in the name of religion that they made their conquests, on the pretext that Viracocha, as the creator of the world, and the Sun, Thunder, and the rest of their gods must be honored and obeyed properly. The Incas considered that their gods were responsible for preserving all creation by means of the power that was given by the gods to the Incas for this purpose, especially the kinship they pretended to have with the Sun, the special help they got from him personally in times of war, and other such fabricatons. They were tyrant-lords, and time and experience taught them all the necessary means to sustain their tyranny and rule with more firmness. Moreover, since their many forms of worship and rites changed over the ages, it is appropriate to point out that the material gathered here is based only on what was observed at the time that the Spaniards came into this land and the Indians started to receive the doctrine of heaven. [Here are] the opinions which remained [from the previous forms of worship and rites] and which were the most widespread and uniform.

Although the Inca idolatry and false religion was the best organized and most reasonable compared with the nonsense and errors of the other nations of these Indies, in spite of all that, it was so full of fabrications, hoaxes, and absurdities that it is surprising to see how intelligent men could be persuaded to believe in it, how they could worship such an infinite number of things as gods, to the point of venerating the most vile and disgusting things on earth. It is also incredible what nonsense they attributed to their gods and how carefully they worshiped them and offered sacrifices to them, as will be shown in this book. This situation must not be construed as evidence that those who believed such things and abided by them were dumb animals. Anyone who knows about the vanities and foolishness of the most noble and wise nations of Europe and the other parts of the Old World such as the Egyptians, the Chaldeans, the Greeks, and the Romans, whose knowledge has been so highly valued throughout the ages, will find nothing new or strange in reading the fables and foolishness of these Indians. In fact, it will be seen that many of the ancient philosophers had some opinions that were more simpleminded and less reasonable than those of the Indians. Similarly, it does not follow logically to argue that the Indians were incompetent just because they worshiped idols and transitory things; on the contrary, it shows that though they lacked the true light of faith, they did have the ingenuity to look for something which they could respect and have confidence in. And it is no trifle that the Indians themselves took the trouble to look for the cause of each thing, like the pagans, and though the Indians were mistaken in their inquiry, not even the ancients, who were so given to scientific study and investigation into the nature of things, ever succeeded in finding the true Architect of all creation. Moreover, the ancients also worshiped sticks, stones, images of animals, and other man-made things such as these. In fact, the Indians achieved some things on the basis of natural reasoning which surpassed the practices of the other pagans. For example, the Indians had come to realize that there was only one true God and first cause, and though they were somewhat vague on the matter, they adored him as the Creator of all things.

Not stopping here, the Indians set out to find explanations for the existence of each thing and causes for their origin. Thus they came to understand many of the second causes, which could be seen by their effects. Actually, they made a glaring mistake by believing that there was only one Universal Creator of all things, to whom they always made their supplications and sacrifices, while at the same time worshiping, with equal reverence and with the same ceremonial services and subservience, second causes such as the sun, water,earth, and many other things that they held to be divine. In each case they believed that these things had the power to make or preserve what was necessary for human life, and this was always their main interest. For this same reason the Indians felt obliged to worship the second causes the same as the Creator, and this gave origin to an infinite number of idolatries and superstitions. Nevertheless, the fact that they were willing to speculate is a good indication that they were intelligent people and less barbarian than the other peoples of this New World. Therefore, we find that the less religion a nation has, the more coarse and barbarian it will be. And it is important to realize that although the Peruvians were wrong, they certainly did seek out the first and second causes of things. If they were mistaken in worshiping the second causes, it was because of the power the Indians attributed to these second causes to take part in the preservation of the universe. What I think, as I carefully consider the rites and opinions of these Indians, is that in general they had the same customs and fabrications as the Romans, and this is no wonder because they both had the same master. This is borne out by the fact that after their victories the Incas sought to have all the people in their kingdom respect the authority of the city of Cuzco, and the principal gods were brought from all the provinces to be put at first in the Temple of the Sun. This is very reminiscent of the Romans, who had that magnificent building called the Pantheon.

The compliant nature of the Indians is the principal reason why they accepted so much nonsense and so many errors. After having accepted some error, the Indians would soon believe anything about the matter that the priests or Incas wanted to make up in order to substantiate their opinion. By taking advantage of this compliance, every day the priests and attendants would make up a thousand fictitious stories and mysteries of the visions and miracles that happened to their guacas. They did this because they had a selfish interest in the offerings and sacrifices made by the people. The common people were made to believe these stories and mysteries so that as the reputation of the Inca gods grew, so also would the amount of offerings grow. Some firmly accepted things were so obviously unfounded that undoubtedly some people must have scrutinized them and realized how false and deceptive they were. Nevertheless, when something is well established, even though it is clearly bad, no one will contradict it, even though some understand its true nature. Certainly it is true that many philosophers realized that the multitude of gods was a mockery. Nevertheless, they did not dare talk about it because they did not want to conntradict the multitudes of people. This is especially valid for these Indians, who had very little freedom, severe punishments, and many people who made their living by these [religious] occupations.

The devil had these blind people so thoroughly accustomed to his misguided sect, especially the Incas (the nation that was probably more given over to religion than any other in the world), that they performed his rites and sacrifices with so much determination and so often that practically all the products that they harvested and all the things they made, and even their own children, were consumed in them [sacrifices]. Actually they showed profound devotion, and each one was careful to worship and sacrifice what he was assigned. Their religion was so firmly established, universally received, and amazingly strict that they offered and sacrificed even their own children by killing them and their own property by burning it, as was their custom. Therefore, it cannot be presumed that their acts were empty gestures, because human nature would not allow them to kill their own children and jeopardize their property so happily if they did not expect some reward for what they were doing or if they did not believe that they were sending their children to a better place than the one they had here. And it is evident that for people to produce exterior signs of happiness in making these sacrifices, in their own minds they believed without any doubt that the sacrifices were not made in vain. Thus there is no question that these acts were conditioned by some hope. People who would kill their own children and destroy their own property would be acting more like animals than human beings, unless they felt that such acts were somehow useful.

Although all of the Indian nations of this Kingdom of Peru paid careful attention to their gods and shrines, none of them came anywhere near priding themselves on being as religious as the Incas. In fact the Incas were the most encumbered with ceremonies, superstitions, idols, and sacrifices, and they observed what was ordained with such care that their practices were inviolable laws and beliefs for them. Offenses committed against these laws or even carelessness in the stipulated forms of worship were severely punishable. Nevertheless, the Incas were so religious that they say very few were punished for noncompliance, even though great care was taken to keep track of religious observances. Certainly it was no easy matter to comply. Here is an example: For those selected to sacrifice their child, though this was an only child, it was a major offense to show any signs of sadness; on the contrary, they were obliged to do it with gestures of happiness and satisfaction, as if they were taking their children to bestow upon them a very important reward.

The most notable aspect of this religion is how they had nothing written down to learn and keep. They made up for this shortcoming by memorizing everything so exactly that it seems as if these things were carved into the Indian's bones. For this purpose alone the Incas had more than a thousand men in the city of Cuzco who did nothing but remember these things. Along with these men others were raised from youth by them, and these youngsters were trained so that these things would not be forgotten. I certainly do not believe myself that such care in preserving their religion and remembering their opinions and shrines was taken by the ancient pagans nor any other people. Those responsible for this duty were normally old priests or attendants of temples, and they did this work with great care. Whenever one of them was questioned alone he would give an explanation and tell about the powers said to be possessed by the guaca that he was responsible for, the solemnities and words necessary to make sacrifices to it, and the offering that was to be given to it. He would promise high hopes for good fortune, telling of other similar cases that he would make up in order to add to the reputation of his shrine. And since it is a fact that whatever does not follow the true path of God is weak and groundless, in many respects these Indians had their accounts more whitewashed to cover up the mistakes than the pagan philosophers and poets. Certainly it would not be possible to ask them for the full rationale for everything because they lacked sufficient insight. They did not even know the grounds on which they relied for their opinions. At the most, they considered the main cause to be the custom of their ancestors, which they held to be such an inviolable law for many things that some of them did not know how to give any other explanation, and if they did give any, though they were in agreement on the form, solemnity, and superstitions, they disagreed on the rationale. This is because they did not have any writings, and thus the rationale and motives of their ancestors were lost. Later they accepted the views that they found about things pertaining to religion, and each one added whatever struck his fancy. The ones who concerned themselves with such matters were a small group of respected nobles. The common people did not take the trouble to sort out explanations for things; they generally folowed the respected nobles, did as they were told, and did what they saw other people do. Thus even the very people who dedicated themselves entirely to their religion could not remember the beginning of most of their erroneous views. Without a doubt, the beginning must have been a very long time ago because so many things could not be invented in a short time and not all together. Moreover, the people could not assume such burdensome duties unless a long period of time was taken and a little bit was added during each succeeding age.

Apart from these people who were dedicated to their vain religious services and to maintaining their rites and ceremonies, very few of the other people had any idea about these things, nor did they know any of the rationale and motives for establishing thern The other people just did what was mandated and came to the guacas and shrines with sacrifices, without question. The most illustrious personages of the Inca lineage were the main exception because they achieved greater powers of reasoning in their views, and they expressed their ideas in a more orderly fashion than anyone else. Nevertheless, it was only possible to discuss this matter with a few of them.

These Indians used two names to designate their gods; one of the names was vilca and the other guaca. Both of them are used in the same way and mean not only any god or idol, but also all places of worship, such as temples, graves, and any other place that was venerated and where sacrifices were made. Therefore, I will use either word in this treatise, especially the word guaca, which was the most commonly used by the Indians, with the same variety of meanings used by them.



“While Cobo’s Historia is not a pristine account, it is hard to imagine what our knowledge of Andean societies would be without it. Four hundred years after Cobo landed in Lima, Roland Hamilton should be congratulated on his translations of the Historia del Nuevo Mundo, which remains a monument to the breadth of vision and intellectual energy of its author.”
American Antiquity


Available for Kindle
Available on Google Play
Available on Kobo
Available for Nook
Available on the Apple Store

This book may also be available on the following library platforms; check with your local library:
3M Cloud Library/bibliotheca