This post will be talking about the impact of El Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, one of the most famous mestizos (those of mixed race between the Spaniards and the Native American people) of Peru.
El Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (1539-1616) is famous because of his works of prose and translation. Because he was fluent in both Spanish and quechua, the native language of the Incas, he was able to provide accurate and unbiased historical accounts of Incan history, customs and daily life without the same bias that the Spaniards had towards the native peoples. His works, especially the works collected in the Comentarios Reales de los Incas, form a largely unbiased cornerstone from which knowledge of the Incas and their Empire is known. All quotations will be coming from Comentarios Reales with my own translation.
El Inca Garcilaso de la Vega was born Gómez Suárez de Figueroa in Cuzco in the then-Spanish Viceroyalty of Peru. His mother, Pala Chimpu Ocllo - Christian baptismal name Isabel Suárez - was part of the Inca royal line, a princess. His father was Sebastián Garcilaso de la Vega y Vargas, a conquistador and soldier castellano (of Castile, Spain). His father later abandons Isabel for a younger Spanish woman. He was raised by his mother, learning the Incan language of quechua and Incan heritage until he was 21, when he journeyed to Spain.
*Side Note: In many of these old texts, they refer to them as Indians, because they first believed that the New World was the East Indies. Because the word “Indian” to refer to a Native American is considered obsolete, imperialist and ethnocentric - since no one calls Asia the East Indies anymore and because the New World wasn’t India, not to mention that the West Indies has many different ethnic groups to call them all “Indians” is wrong and insulting in some cases - I’m going to refer to them as natives or the indigenous people; though in some of the quotes el Inca Garcilaso uses the old term of “indio/india” meaning “Indian”.
He arrived in Spain in 1560 and shortly thereafter his father died in 1561. From there, he was educated formally in Spain and sought the rights of his father. But, because unions between the indigenous people and the Spanish (Europeans, in general) weren’t recognized in Spain, he was rejected. Garcilaso then took on the name El Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, marking himself as Inca and Spaniard and differentiating himself from Garcilaso de la Vega the Spanish poet.
In terms of writing, El Inca Garcilaso usually wrote in prose and though he wrote other well-known novels during the Spanish Golden Age, his most famous work Los Comentarios Reales de los Inca was published in two parts in Lisbon, modern day Portugal. The first part published in 1609 told about the ways and customs of the Incas. The second part was published in 1617 which spoke of the Spanish conquistadores in Peru. The book was later banned by Charles III of Spain when instability threatened the Viceroy, afraid the book would inspire anti-Spanish sentiment.
In terms of style, he was different from many contemporary writers. Writers like Calderon or Cervantes often spoke about the state of affairs in Spain, reflecting irony at Spain’s poverty at the time despite its booming colonies - where Spain’s wealth was funneled into Flanders (modern day Netherlands), Golden Age literature typically mixes nationalism with themes of utopia versus reality. Although some of El Inca Garcilaso’s works do feature this duality between the way things “ought to be” versus “how they really are”, his main mission was to enlighten the Europeans who often saw the natives as barbarians.
He’s considered more of a trusted source because many of those who wrote about the natives in the Latin American colonies were biased. First, most of the truly educated people were either the nobility or the clergy. The nobility had a vested interest in securing their fortune at the expense of the natives, while the clergy saw it as their mission to “convert the heathens”. One of the reasons Inca culture is so well-preserved is because there was more of an effort in preserving the customs and literature, from the stories El Inca Garcilaso relates to the language of quechua still being spoken today. Other native cultures like the Aztecs and the Maya didn’t fare quite so well. The Spanish Inquisition, which made its way to Latin America, demolished what they considered to be idols or things that would promote paganism. Many Mayan writings - which were written on the bark of trees - were burned.
Many of the stories that do exist were translated from the native languages into Latin by the friars and the clergy, which was then translated from Latin into French, Spanish, Portuguese or Dutch and typically translated into other languages like English and German from those. In that sense, it’s not only a biased viewpoint from the 16th and 17th century clergy, but things can be lost in translation without due care, and so more things were probably lost in the translation from Latin to the Romance Languages and then into other languages from that.
El Inca Garcilaso is unique because as a mestizo with both languages, he typically acts as a translator to explain the Inca way of thinking or to try and translate quechua words into Latin and Spanish. He even tries to translate poetry, being careful to make notes on certain words and the words he’s chosen because they might preserve the Inca rhyme scheme but they might skew the meaning.
He states his intention is:
«…que mi intención no es contradecirles, sino servirles de comento y glosa, y de intérprete en muchos vocablos indos…»
"…Since my intention isn’t to contradict them [the Spaniards and their accounts of the Incas which were given to the monarchs of Spain], but to help as commentary and glossary, as an interpreter of many Indian words…"
«…será mejor que se sepa por los propias palabras que los Incas lo cuentan, que no por las de otros extraños»
"…It would be better that they be known by the same words [as when] the Incas tell them, and not by those [words] of foreigners."
«…sin quitar de lo malo ni añadir a lo bueno que tuvieron; que bien sé que la gentilidad es un mar de errores…»
"…without removing from the bad, nor adding to the good that they had; since I know well that gentility [meaning nobility; or being indulgent or flowery with language] is a sea of errors…"
He tries to go out of his way not to criticize the Spaniards, but just to point out that they, as Europeans, didn’t understand the Inca culture. He mentions that the Spaniards commonly misunderstood things because they saw them as pagans, the way that Christians saw non-Christians and that caused misunderstandings in the language. One such story talks about the religious beliefs of the Incas.
The story is commonly titled Rastrearon los Incas al verdadero Dios Nuestro Señor, or, They [understood to be the Spaniards] Dragged the Incas to [convert to] the true God Our Lord.
The story talks about the Peruvian deity known as Pachacamac which means “that which gives life to the universe”. When the Spaniards learned about Pachacamac, they tried to do away with it because they believed that Pachacamac was their version of Zeus or Jupiter, the leader of their pantheon. And the Spaniards pushed more of the Incas (and other native peoples) to convert to Christianity - typically in baptism ceremonies that they didn’t truly understand, spoken in a language they didn’t truly understand.
In essence, El Inca Garcilaso states that the Inca understood Pachacamac to be, not just a deity, but their version of God not just their god of creation. They understood Pachacamac to be the one that gives life to everything; that is in everything and because of Pachacamac everything is. The Spaniards believed Pachacamac to be a god, rather than their God.
He then blames the bias and the language itself:
«¿Cómo se llama Dios en tu lengua?>
"What do you call God in your language?"
Many of his stories are legends of famous kings or the history of the civilization. One story forms the Inca Genesis story, where they say that Adam and Eve-like figures came down from Lake Titicaca, sent by “Our Father the Sun” to teach the people how to be reasonable because before they had acted like animals. The Adam and Eve figures were responsible for teaching them to do agriculture and make homes to live in.
«Quiero que vosotros imitéis este ejemplo como hijos míos, enviados a la tierra sólo para la doctrina y beneficio de esos hombres, que viven como bestias.»
"I want you to imitate this example as my children, sent to the land only for the doctrine [guidance; instruction] and benefit [welfare; literally "doing good"] of these men, that live as beasts."
Others speak of legends of kings with tragedies that mirror Greek tragedy with self-fulfilling prophecies and didactic morals. As the story goes into the second part, which discusses the history of Spain in Peru, a lot of the writing then starts to focus on historical events or correcting things that the Spaniards had written.
Often times, the Spaniard conquistadores like Pizzaro and Cortés would play up their role in the conquest of the native lands. Most of the credit goes to the individual men, although in many cases, the Spaniards fought with the natives for a long time and usually only won by playing dirty or by dumb luck. Cortés had a lot of his success against the Aztecs because they led them to believe they were divine and kidnapped Montezuma, their leader. And then, 90% of the Aztecs died not because of the battles in Tenochtitlan, but because of illness as the native people were introduced to new diseases like smallpox or syphilis.
El Inca Garcilaso first stops the accounts that favor Pizzaro as the conqueror of Peru. The “official” story, meaning the one the nobles wrote to the monarchs in Spain, says that Pizzaro arrived in Peru in 1515. The actual account as given by El Inca Garcilaso first states that the land was given the name Peru by the Spaniards and that the Incas weren’t conquered yet. In fact, Pizzaro was technically in Panama at the time and was serving as a magistrate and didn’t arrive in Peru until 1530.
He then talks about the many “bad omens” that were said to be occurring in the Empire including finding dead Peruvian eagles which had become diseased. The Spanish account of the conquest makes the Conquest and the subjugation of the people happen almost at the same time. But El Inca Garcilaso states that even before the reign of Atalhualpa, many indigenous people were baptized and given Christian names by the Spaniards.
Later, much of El Inca Garcilaso talks more about the slave trade and the exact level of Spanish control and exploitation by the Viceroyalty and the Spanish Crown. There’s mention of how slave traders could potentially answer to the royals for escaped slaves - in this particular case it’s Maximiliano I de Austria or, Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, the Hapsburg Archduke of Austria.
He also later makes mention of Spain’s complicated way of raking its people across the coals in terms of taxation.
For Spanish traders in the Spanish colonies, a ship carrying slaves from the Viceroyalty of Peru would have to travel to Spain first - to pay a tax in Spain - then go to another colony like the Viceroyalty of New Spain (present-day Mexico), for something like chocolate and then go back to Spain - to pay another tax - in order to go back and sell cacao in Peru. And this is how it worked with many trade items like spices, potatoes, bananas, pineapples and other tropical delicacies as well as the exportation of enslaved humans and exotic animals like jaguars and panthers.
Another historical note is that El Inca Garcilaso says that the Incas had their own “mail” system, where runners would go up and down a type of highway to report the news.
El Inca Garcilaso is also famous for talking about the types of poetry and the arts that existed in the Inca Empire. It was believed and perpetuated by the Spaniards that the native people were lawless barbarian pagans with no semblance of modern culture. In actuality, their writings were fairly similar to the Ancient Greek and Roman style.
For instance, the Incas has poets and playwrights. The playwrights were known as the amautas who were philosophers and advisers where they wrote Comedy and Tragedy just like the Ancient Greeks. The actors would play the role they usually played in everyday life, so a peasant would play a peasant etc. and these plays were performed before the king at solemn occasions.
Poets were known as the haravec or “inventors” and would write many things, ranging from amorous poetry or those discussing mythology. One such myth has a sister who is carrying a large pitcher of water. Her brother breaks the pitcher and because of him there is thunder and lightning. Because of her water pitcher there is rain. The poetics match the Spanish style of redondilla which means “little square” where people would say very little in short or extended poems but each line might be between one and three words. The themes also follow similar attitudes about men and women - where women are seen as soft and given elements like rain or duty - but men are considered loud and violent and given thunder and the actions of breaking things.
He also describes their system of laws and ethics and everyday life and things that seemed foreign to the Spaniards and the Europeans - like eating various grains, corn, potatoes and guinea pigs.
The Inca were also very versed in natural science according to El Inca Garcilaso where everything conformed to a natural law and the understanding of these laws helped with natural science. So, understanding how rainfall worked and how everything affected agriculture helped them understand agricultural sciences. The development of knotted string known as the quipu system helped the Incas learn mathematics and helped them store and count their crops and commodities like potatoes, corn and wool from llamas.
It also tends to evoke a somber mood because many of the other indigenous cultures didn’t have someone to correct the Spaniard bias or supply history, linguistics and cultural notes. So, while the Inca language way of life is dutifully recorded, other indigenous cultures may remain lost to the world.