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of the Incas



Lanham • Boulder • New York • London

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Further Reading
Cieza de León, Pedro de. Parte primera de la cronica del Peru [in Spanish]. 1553. http://www.brown.
———. The Travels of Pedro de Cieza de León, A.D. 1532–50, Contained in the First Part of His Chron-
icle of Peru. Translated and edited by Clements R. Markham. Works Issued by the Hakluyt
Society, no. 33. London: Printed for the Hakluyt Society, 1864. Reissued, New York: Burt
Franklin, 1964 [1553].
———. The Incas. Translated by Harriet de Onis. Edited by Victor W. von Hagen. Norman: Uni-
versity of Oklahoma Press, 1959 [1553].
———. The Discovery and Conquest of Peru: Chronicles of the New World Encounter. Edited and trans-
lated by Alexandra Parma Cook and Noble David Cook. Durham, NC: Duke University
Press, 1998 [1554].
Pease, Franklin. “Cieza de León, Pedro de (ca. 1518–1554).” In Guide to Documentary Sources for
Andean Studies, 1530–1900, edited by Joanne Pillsbury, vol. 2, 34–36. Norman: University of
Oklahoma Press, 2008.


In 1555 the Spanish chronicler Agustín de Zárate wrote of the rigors of the high An-
dean environment. To live in these mountains, he said, was to endure rain, hail, snow, and
intense cold. Yet, he added, there were warm valleys where one could cultivate a plant
called coca, the leaves of which alleviated pain and hunger and which the Incas prized
more highly than gold or silver.
Chewed with potash or lime, coca leaves mitigate the effects of living and working
in the harsh Andean environment. The cultivation of this hardy bush (genus Erythrox-
ylum; family Erythroxylaceae) has a long history in Andean South America; there is
archaeological evidence for its use in Ecuador and the north coast of Peru by 3000 BC
(thus predating Inca civilization by over four thousand years). The Incas considered coca
essential to social and religious life; sharing coca was a gesture of hospitality and regard.
The host of a work party or feast was expected to make liberal distributions of coca to
those in attendance. Since generous feast-giving was a prerequisite for high status and the
ability to mobilize labor, access to coca held political as well as economic significance
(see Feasts, State-Sponsored).
The Incas cultivated two varieties of coca. Small-leaved tupa coca (Trujillo coca;
Erythroxylum novogranatense var. truxillense) grown in the mid to high river valleys of
northern Peru and parts of Ecuador and thriving in arid, rocky soil, 300–1,800 meters
(1,000–6,000 feet) in altitude. Larger-leaved mamas coca (Huánuco or Bolivian coca;
Erythroxylum coca var. coca) was cultivated along the eastern Andean slopes in high forests,
500–2,000 meters (1,600–6,500 feet) in altitude. Both varieties of coca contain under
one percent by weight of the alkaloid cocaine. Although mamas coca tends to have a
higher cocaine content, Inca nobility preferred the taste of tupa coca, which contains
methyl salicylate (wintergreen). When masticated with calcium carbonate (ashes or
powdered lime) to form a quid, the leaves are stimulating and temporarily suppress
fatigue, hunger, and thirst. Medicinal uses include the treatment of gastrointestinal prob-

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A woman offers coca leaf to a visitor;

scenes such as these are still common
in the Andes. Guaman Poma de Ayala,
Felipe. El primer nueva corónica y buen
gobierno. Edited by John V. Murra and
Rolena Adorno, 811/865. Mexico City: Siglo
Veintiuno, 1980 [1615].

lems and high altitude sickness. Because the leaves contain iron, phosphorus, vitamin A,
and riboflavin, coca has nutritional value as well.
Coca’s economic and political importance cannot be separated from its crucial role
in Inca religion. The precious leaf was offered not only to other people, but to deities as
well. Inca society was organized around sacred places (huacas) of various sorts, including
heroes turned into stone, ancestral origin places, tombs of mummified forebears, and
prominent landmarks. In Cuzco, the imperial capital, priests tended temples dedicated to
the Sun, the Moon, Lightning and the mummies of deceased emperors; while throughout
the empire, ethnic communities paid homage to their own local huacas and ancestors (see
Deities; Religion). To maintain positive relationships with these powerful entities, it was
necessary to “feed” them with sacrificial offerings. Coca was an essential component of
virtually all these sacrifices; it was burned with maize and shells, pulverized and blown as
a powder, and even offered as a masticated quid. Coca was also used in divination; ritual
specialists would burn a mixture of coca and llama fat and predict the future based on the
appearance of the flames. The Huarochirí Manuscript (a narrative of native Andean religion,
compiled around 1600; see Avila, Francisco de) recounts how that region’s paramount
huaca, Pariacaca, commanded the people to supply coca for his son (another local huaca)
before chewing it themselves. Dancers performed for Pariacaca three times a year carrying
large leather bags of coca contributed by their home communities. Presumably this coca
was left with Pariacaca’s priests for use in offerings as well as for their own consumption.

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It is unclear to what extent access to coca leaf was controlled under Inca rule. Many
Spanish chroniclers state that its consumption was strictly limited to the aristocracy, and
the Incas clearly did try to control the cultivation and distribution of coca among their
subject peoples. After conquering the Chillón valley on Peru’s central coast, for example,
they sent mitmac (colonists from other ethnic groups) to commandeer tupa coca plantations
and cultivate them for the Cuzco nobility and priesthood of the Sun. Other mitmacs were
sent to coca-growing regions in Bolivia. On the other hand, eminent historians such as
John V. Murra and María Rostworowski argue that the Incas were not completely
successful in establishing a monopoly on coca.
Even under Inca subjugation, local polities maintained access to coca through
long-standing exchange relationships. While people of higher status, such as curacas and
priests, had more access to the leaf than people of lower rank, commoners did consume
coca; in fact, the chronicler Juan de Betanzos says they always had it in their mouths.
While Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala depicts rulers, queens, and military leaders
carrying coca bags, his chronicle also includes a drawing of simple horticulturalists shar-
ing coca leaves. Travelers chewed coca to ward off fatigue, and when crossing a pass they
would rub their coca quid on a ceremonial mound of stones (apacheta), asking for a safe
and prosperous journey. If resting or sleeping overnight in a cave, they rubbed coca quid
on the cavern ceiling, imploring, “Cave, do not eat me” (i.e., “do not collapse”). Another
early chronicler, the priest Molina el Almagrista, also implies that coca chewing was a
daily practice, commenting that whenever the natives chewed coca they would offer some
to the Sun; if they passed a fire they would reverently throw in a few leaves as an offering.
The Spanish conquest had a profound effect on the political economy of coca. Al-
though the Church discouraged its religious uses, production of coca leaf actually in-
creased under Spanish rule; colonists conscripted native Andeans to work in mines and
paid them in coca to increase their work output. Mining took a heavy death toll, as did
punishing labor conditions on greatly expanded coca plantations in the upper Amazon.
In 1860 a German chemist developed a method to refine pure cocaine from the leaves.
For a time cocaine was touted as a wonder cure for a range of ailments and was used as
anesthesia in surgical procedures; simultaneously its recreational use and abuse grew, and
by the 1930s cocaine was banned or severely restricted throughout North America and
Western Europe.
Although cocaine is distilled from coca leaf, the two must not be confused. Masticated
or consumed as tea, the effects of coca leaf are roughly comparable to those of a cup of
coffee or a cigarette. Coca is still consumed throughout the highlands of Peru and Bolivia
to energize the body and focus the mind for work; it retains deep symbolic significance
in native religious practices and has many medicinal uses. As in Inca times, sharing coca
leaf signifies amity and a cooperative spirit. Guaman Poma’s drawing of a country farmer
courteously sharing his coca—“Take this coca, My Sister”—could (with a change in
costume) just as well depict contemporary practice.

Further Reading
Allen, Catherine J. The Hold Life Has: Coca and Cultural Identity in an Andean Community. Washington,
DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2002.

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Betanzos, Juan de. Narrative of the Incas. Translated by Roland Hamilton and Dana Buchanan. Austin:
University of Texas Press, 1996 [1551–1557].
Cobo, Bernabé. Inca Religion and Customs.Translated and edited by Roland Hamilton. Austin: University
of Texas Press, 1990 [1653].
Guaman Poma de Ayala, Felipe. Nueva corónica y buen gobierno. Complete digital facsimile edition of
the manuscript, with a corrected online version of Guaman Poma 1980. Scholarly editor Rolena
Adorno. Copenhagen: Royal Library of Denmark, 2001 [1615]. http://www.kb.dk/elib/mss/poma.
Pacini, Deborah, and Christine Franquemont, eds. Coca and Cocaine: Effects on People and Policy in Latin
America. Cambridge, MA: Cultural Survival, 1986.
Ramírez, Susan Elizabeth. To Feed and Be Fed:The Cosmological Basis of Authority and Identity in the Andes.
Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005.
Rostworowski de Diez Canseco, María. History of the Inca Realm. Translated by Harry B. Iceland. Cam-
bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
Salomon, Frank, and George L. Urioste, trans. and eds. The Huarochirí Manuscript: A Testament of Ancient
and Colonial Andean Religion. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991.
Steele, Paul R. Handbook of Inca Mythology. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2004

■ C AT H E R I N E J . A L L E N

The largest of all the suyu divisions, Collasuyu extended southward from Cuzco, em-
bracing the southern highlands, Lake Titicaca, the temperate and tropical regions to the
east of the lake, and down into what is today Chile as far south as Santiago and west into
northwestern Argentina. Collasuyu, along with Cuntisuyu, formed the hurin, or lower,
half of Tahuantinsuyu, the Inca Empire. The city of Cuzco was also divided into four
suyus, and the main plaza served as the axis of these territorial divisions as well as the
nexus of the four roads leading to the territorial divisions. Collasuyu was also one of the
four divisions of the valley’s ceque system, the system of imaginary lines that radiated out
from the Coricancha, the Sun temple. The huacas, or shrines, located along the 328 or
so ceques were ranked accordingly.
The region of Lake Titicaca was one of the earliest targets of Inca expansion far be-
yond the Cuzco heartland; indeed, excavations of an Inca house south of Lake Titicaca
revealed pottery predating the mid-fifteenth century (see Chronology, Inca). No doubt,
the area’s enormous herds of wild and domesticated camelids made it especially attractive
to a people keen on procuring fiber to weave cloth, regarded by Andean peoples as one of
the most valuable of commodities (see Weaving and Textiles). No doubt too the Incas
focused on the region’s religious shrines, in particular the Island of the Sun in Lake
Titicaca, where a sacred rock marked the Sun’s birthplace and featured in an Inca origin
myth that claimed the founding Incas emerged from the lake. On the mainland at Co-
pacabana as well as on the Island of the Sun and the neighboring Island of the Moon, the
Incas built temples, shrines, roads and facilities for pilgrims—one of the most elaborate
building schemes and reorganization of sacred space ever undertaken in Tahuantinsuyu. A
long distance ceque linked the lake to Cuzco and, via another ceque, to the Pacific Ocean.
The ceque mirrored the path of the sun as it emerged from the lake and set into the sea.
To the east of Lake Titicaca the temperate valleys of the Andean foothills are par-
ticularly well suited to maize production. This region was the target of an ambitious

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