Does the Great Civilization of the Inca Empire still exist today?

The Inca Empire was a wonder of its time. The rulers managed to conquer territory from Colombia to Argentina and Chile, encompassing mountain ranges, coasts, jungles and plains of six modern countries.

It produced great achievements, such as the mountaintop city of Machu Picchu, and greatly improved the continent. Inca Trail System. But the Inca Empire did not exist for as long compared to some of the earlier Andean civilizations, such as the Wari or Chimú.

The Inca Empire only lasted from about 1450 until when the Spanish arrived in 1532. While the Wari lasted from about 500 AD. C. until 1000 d. C. The Chimú civilization spread from approximately 900 AD. C. until the Incas conquered them in 1470, and the Tiwanaku civilization lasted even longer.

But do the Incas still exist today? The question is not as simple as it seems, and it depends on how you define the Inca.

cultural appropriation

Part of the colonial invasion of the Americas led to decoupling the achievements of the classical-era Maya, Aztec, or Inca from the modern indigenous peoples directly descended from them.

“There is an expression ‘Inca yes, Indians no'”, Giancarlo Marcone Flores, anthropologist at the University of Engineering and Technology of Peru, tells Discover magazine.

The divide between European descendants and Native Americans has become a bit more complex in some countries than it was in the early years. This includes after the conquest of the Incas in the 16th century and despite the suppression of the 18th century. Rebellion of Tupac Amaru II.

Politicians and institutions sometimes used the glories of the previous empires of the Incas, Aztecs or Mayans to form a new brand of nationalism after the countries gained their independence from Spain. In Peru and Bolivia, this meant that many people, mostly of European descent, took pride in the achievements of the Incas. And they simultaneously ignored the ongoing problems that the legacy of colonialism caused to the descendants of the Incas.

“The way in which we Peruvians built a white Creole nation in a country with a majority indigenous population was not to imagine ourselves neither European nor indigenous,” says Marcone Flores. “So, we claim to be heirs to the Inca Empire, the rightful guardians of this amazing civilization.”

He says that this identity sometimes results in pride in the Inca, while discriminating against modern Quechua speakers. They see what happened in the Spanish invasion as a “reset” of sorts, even though the Europeans incorporated many elements of the Inca Empire into their own governance of the area.

“We study and care for the Incas, but we make the local native populations invisible in this official history,” he says. “In this narrative of the Peruvian nation, the original people become a brutal race as a result of centuries of Spanish domination, epidemics [and] use of the coca leaf”, he continues.

And although things are improving to some extent, many Peruvians still say, “These are not the same people. These are a diluted version.”

Who were the Incas?

However, ignoring the heritage of modern Andean peoples does not mean that the descendants living in ancient Inca capitals, such as Cusco or Cuenca, are Incas today.

The reason is that the Incas were more of a political entity than an ethnic group, says Marcone Flores. The Inca was an amalgamation of several different cultures that came together through treaties or conquests like the Chimú and Chachapoya. Even in the time of the empire, the people who lived in the highlands of Piura, approximately 1,000,000 meters (1,000 kilometers) from the capital in Cusco, would never have been called Incas. Instead, they would call themselves their own indigenous ethnicity, he adds.

Although the Incas lacked writing systems like the ones used by the Aztecs and Mayans, historical documents recorded much of their work and culture. Absent from the Andes and before the arrival of Europeans, the Inca used a communication system that employed a complex series of ropes and knots called quipu that modern scholars have yet to decipher.

The official language of the empire was Quechua. It was a lingua franca that the Inca Empire used for official correspondence after the conquest. The Spanish used it to communicate with the indigenous people.

But even Quechua has several different dialects, including the Quechua that is spoken today in the Quito area. Given that the Inca Empire spoke other languages, including today Aymara, Chachapoya (or Puquina), and Mochica, it is clear that the Incas were never a single heterogeneous culture.

As it was mainly a political structure, Marcone Flores says that the Incas no longer exist today any more than the Wari or Tiwanaku civilizations that preceded them.

“It’s not really the Incas, it’s more like the Andean people,” he says.

ongoing legacy

The Inca Road system and quipu recording devices predate the formation of the empire, but the Incas greatly expanded their use and importance.

Marcone Flores says that nobody started from scratch, even the Spanish invaders used the Inca Trail and built on the foundations of the Inca structures in cities like Cusco.

Regardless, the many systems that the Inca Empire expanded or maintained still exist today. Whether it is the sections of the Inca Trail, which were converted into modern highways, or the rope bridges still in force in some Andean communities.

“The [elements of the Inca Empire] the ones that survive are the ones that continue to have a local meaning,” says Marcone Flores. “It’s about the people who wake up every day and go to plow their land.”

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