North America

Central America

South America

1000 B.C.E.





500 B.C.E.



Jaguar god

Great stone heads


Jaguar god




1 C.E.












Classic architecture














Earth sculpture






Astronomy conferences




Weeping sun god








Mud designs






Xolotl, Tezozomoc



Montezuma II, conquest



bridges, roads

Huaina Capac

Atahualpa, conquest

Manco II, Garcilaso


Note--If  "American Indian" is too long to say, the correct short term is "Amerind." It is more accurate than "Indian."


R-2 Olmecs



F-3 Mayas

    446-451, #1 Popul Vuh


M-6 Toltecs

    452-453, #2 Quetzalcoatl


T-7 Aztecs

    453-455, #3 Nezahualcoyotl


W-8 Aztecs cont.

    456-458, #4 Great God, 554-556


R-9 Early Peru



F-10 Incas

    459-462, #5 Ollantay


M-13 Incas cont.

    463-465, #6 Garcilaso, 556-557


T-14 North America

    441-445, #7 North American


            The Mayas called their bible the "Popul Vuh" (POH-pul VOO) or "book of the people".  As rewritten, the first part seems confused with Christian tales.  The second and third sections tell Maya legends.  The fourth part is a dry list of kings.

              One of the Maya sections tells how two young men offended the gods by their excellent ball-playing.  The priests had them killed, and their skulls hung in a tree.  One day a young virgin walked by.  One of the skulls spoke to her and spit in her hand.  She became pregnant and gave birth to twin sons: Hunahpu (hoo-nah-POO) and Xbalanque (shbah-lan-KAY).  She took them to live with their grandmother.  The boys discovered they had magical powers, but they did not yet know who their fathers were or what their destiny was to be. This section begins just after the mischievous boys have turned their older brothers into monkeys who run away.



              Then Hunahpu and Xbalanque began to work, in order to be well thought of by their grandmother and their mother.  The first thing they made was the cornfield.  "We are going to plant the cornfield, grandmother and mother," they said.  "Do not grieve; here we are, your grandchildren, we who shall take the place of our brothers," said Hunahpu and Xbalanque.

            At once they took their axes, their picks, and their wooden hoes and went, each carrying his blowgun on his shoulder.  As they left the house they asked their grandmother to bring them their midday meal.

            "At midday, come and bring our food, grandmother," they said.

"Very well, my grandsons," the old woman replied.

            Soon they came to the field.  And as they plunged the pick into the earth, it worked the earth; it did the work alone.

            In the same way they put the axe in the trunks of the trees and in the branches, and instantly they fell and all the trees and vines were lying on the ground.  The trees fell quickly, with only one stroke of the axe.

            The pick also dug a great deal.  One could not count the thistles and brambles which had been felled with one blow of the pick.  Neither was it possible to tell what it had dug and broken up, in all the large and small woods.

            And having taught an animal called Xmucur (turtledove), they had it climb to the top of a large tree and Hunahpu and Xbalanque said to it: "Watch for our grandmother to come with our food, and as soon as she comes, begin at once to sing, and we shall seize the pick and the axe."

"Very well, " Xmucur answered.

            And they began to shoot with their blowguns; certainly they did none of the work of clearing and cultivating.  A little later, the dove sang, and they ran quickly, grabbing the pick and axe, And one of them covered his head and also deliberately covered his hands with earth and in the same way smeared his face to look like a real laborer, and the other purposely threw splinters of wood over his head as though he really had been cutting the trees.

            Thus their grandmother saw them.  They ate at once, but they had not really done the work of tilling the soil, and without deserving it they were given their midday meal.  After a while, they went home.

            "We are really tired, grandmother," they said upon arriving, stretching their legs and arms before her, but without reason.

            They returned the following day, and upon arriving at the field, they found that all the trees and vines were standing again and that the brambles and thistles had become entangled again.

            "Who has played this trick on us?" they said.  "No doubt all the small and large animals did It, the puma, the jaguar, the deer, the rabbit, the mountain-cat, the coyote, the wild boar, the coati, the small birds, the large birds; they, it was, who did it; in a single night, they did it.

            They began again to prepare the field and to prepare the soil and cut the trees.  They talked over what they would have to do with the trees which they had cut, and the weeds which they had pulled up.

            "Now we shall watch over our cornfield; perhaps we can surprise those who come to do all of this damage," they said, talking it over together.  And later they returned home.

            "What do you think of it, grandmother?  They have made fun of us.  Our field, which we had worked, has been turned into a field of stubble and thick woods.  Thus we found it, when we got there, a little while ago, grandmother," they said to her and to their mother.  "But we shall return there and watch over it, because it is not right that they do such things to us," they said.

            Then they dressed and returned at once to their field of cut trees, and there they hid themselves stealthily, in the darkness.

            Then all the animals gathered again; one of each kind came with the other small and large animals.  It was just midnight when they came, all talking as they came, saying in their own language: "Rise up.. trees!  Rise up, vines!"

            So they spoke when they came and gathered under the trees, under the vines, and they came closer until they appeared before the eyes of Hunahpu and Xbalanque.  The puma and the jaguar were the first and Hunahpu and  Xbalanque wanted to seize them, but the animals did not let them.  Then the deer and the rabbit came close, and the only parts of them which they could seize were the tails, only these, they pulled out.  The tail of the deer remained in their hands, and for this reason the deer and the rabbit have short tails.

            Neither the mountain-cat, the coyote, the wild boar, nor the coati fell into their hands.  All the animals passed before Hunahpu and Xbalanque, who were furious because they could not catch them.

            But finally, another animal came hopping along, and this one which was the rat, they seized instantly, and wrapped him in a cloth.  Then when they had caught him, they squeezed his head and tried to choke him, and they burned his tail in the fire, and for that reason the rat's tail has no hair.  So, too, the boys, Hunahpu and Xbalanque, tried to poke at his eyes.

            The rat said: "I must not die at your hands.  And neither is it your business to plant the cornfield."

            "What are you telling us now?" the boys asked the rat.

            "Loosen me a little, for I have something which I wish to tell you, and I shall tell you immediately, but first give me something to eat," said the rat.

            "We will give you food afterward, but first speak," they answered.

            "Very well.  Do you know, then, that the property of your parents Hun-Hunahpu and Vacub-Hunahpu, as they were called, those who died in Xibalba, or rather the gear with which they played ball, has remained and is hanging from the roof of the house: the ring, the gloves, and the ball?  Nevertheless, your grandmother does not want to show them to you for it was on account of these things that your parents died."

            "Are you sure of that?" said the boys to the rat.  And they were very happy when they heard about the rubber ball.  And as the rat had now talked, they showed the rat what his food would. be.

            "This shall be, your food: corn, chili-seeds, beans, pataxte, cacao; all this belongs to you, and should there be, anything stored away or forgotten, it shall be yours also.  Eat it," Hunahpu and Xbalanque said to the rat.

             "Wonderful, boys," he said; "but what shall I tell your grandmother if she sees me?"

            "Do not worry, because we are here and shall know what to say to our grandmother.  Let us go!  We shall go quickly to the corner of the house, go at once to where the things hang; we shall be looking at the garret* of the house and, paying attention to our food," they said to the rat.

            And having arranged it thus, during the night after talking together, Hunahpu and Xbalanque arrived at midday.  When they arrived, they brought the rat with them, but they did not show it; one of them went directly into the houses and the other went to the corner and there let the rat climb up quickly.

            Immediately they asked their grandmother for food.  "Grind our food, we wish a chili-sauce, grandmother," they said.  And at once the food was prepared for them and a plate of broth was put before them.

            But this was only to deceive+ their grandmother and their mother.  And having dried up the water which was in the water jar, they said, "We are really dying of thirst; go and bring us a drink," they said to their grandmother.

            "Good," she said and went.  Then they began to eat, but they were not really hungry; it was only a trick.  They saw then reflected in their plate of chili how the rat went rapidly toward the ball which was suspended from the roof of the house.  On seeing this in their chili-sauce, they sent to the river a certain xan, an animal called xan, which is like a mosquito, to puncture the side of their grandmother's water jar, and although she tried to stop the water which ran out, she could not close the hole made in the jar.

            "What is the matter with our grandmother?  Our mouths are dry with thirst, we are dying of thirst," they said to their mother and they sent her out to fetch the water.  Immediately the rat went to cut the cord which held the ball and it fell from the garret of the house together with the ring and the gloves and the leather pads.  The boys seized them and ran quickly to hide them on the road which led to the ball-court.

            After this they went to the river to join their grandmother and their mother, who were busily trying to stop the hole in the water jar.  And arriving with their blowgun, they said when they came to the river: "What are, you doing?  We got tired of waiting and we came," they said.

            "Look at the hole in my jar which I cannot stop," said the grandmother.  Instantly they stopped it, and together they returned, the two walking before their grandmother.

And in this way the ball was found.

(The boys had great fun playing ball, and this angered the gods.  The priests put the boys through many tests and eventually killed them.  But the boys rose from the dead.  They put on a great show killing themselves again and again, and always arising.  They invited the jealous priests to join in their fun, and thus tricked the priests into killing themselves.)





            An even bigger puzzle is the famous Toltec teacher, Quetzalcoatl (ket-zal-KO-atl).  He taught his people the wonders of civilization.  Eventually, he sailed eastward, promising to return when the date came around again in the fifty-two year cycle.  The cycle went around many times.  Then by the rarest chance, Cortez and the Spaniards landed in Mexico at the very date when people hoped for the return of Quetzalcoatl.

            But who was Quetzalcoatl?  The majority of historians say he was a prince--real name Topiltzin (toe-PILT-zin), son of the northern conqueror Mixcoatl (mish-KO-atl) and the southern Princess Chimalma.  He taught his father's warriors the civilized ways of his mother's people.  When the Toltecs wanted human sacrifices for their gods, he taught them of a gentle god named Quetzalcoatl who only wanted beautiful gifts such as butterflies.  The name of the prince and the god got mixed up in later times.  He built the Toltec capital at Tula in central Mexico.  But the warriors threw him out, and he sailed eastward to the Maya capital on the Yucatan Peninsula.

            That is the majority view.  But a few historians believe that Quetzalcoatl was a lost Viking. The legends mention blond hair and a long beard.  Some carvings look like they have beards--yet most American Indians were beardless. These historians think Quetzalcoatl rebuilt his Viking ship and sailed back toward Europe.

            This is the legend as the Aztecs sang it centuries later:




            All the glory of the godhead

Had the prophet Quetzalcoatl;

All the honor of the people.

Sanctified his name and holy;

And their prayers they offered to him

In the days of ancient Tula.*

There in grandeur rose his temple;

Reared aloft its mighty ramparts,+

Reaching upward to the heavens.


            Wondrous stout and strong the walls were;

High the skyward-climbing stairway,

With its steps so long and narrow,

With its many steps so narrow

That there scarce was room for setting,

Room for placing of the footsteps.  

            There he# lies full-length extended;

 Lies outstretched and ever mantled,@

With his features closely covered.

Glory he of all the nations;

And his face is like unto a

Mighty echo-sounding fire-flame

That has just been fully muffled;

Pitilessly been extinguished.

See, his beard is very lengthy;

See, exceeding long his beard is;

Yellow as the straw his beard is!...


            Very rich was Quetzalcoatl.

Nothing pleasing to the palate;

Nothing helpful to the body

Ever lacked they there in Tula.

Very large there grew the squashes;

Wondrous big and stout the squashes

So that one could scarcely span* them

With the outstretched arms embracing.

Very long and thick the corn ears

So that in their arms they bore them.

Stoutly grew the amaranth stocks;+

Wondrous tall the amaranth stocks;

And like trees they used to climb them,

Ready colored grew the cotton,

Red and yellow, rose and purple,

Green and bluish, verdigris,#

Black and orange, gray and crimson,

Blushing like the ripening berry.

Ready colored grew the cotton

And no need was there to dye it....


Wealth untold there was in Tula;

Emeralds and gold uncounted;

Treasures unsurpassed they guarded.

And they grew the chocolate berry;@

Grew the flowering cacahaute,

Far o'er all the land extended

Stood the chocolate plantations.


             Wondrous rich were all the Toltecs;

Masters they of wealth uncounted;

Every need was satisfied them;

Nothing lacked they in their households;

Hunger never dwelt among them;

And the small corn never used they

Save* to heat their thermal baths with....


            And you now shall hear the story

Of the downfall of the prophet,

Quetzalcoatl and his Toltecs;

How there came three necromancers;+

Three soothsayers came enchanting;

Came three powerful necromancers...

Bent upon destroying Tula....


            Very troubled was the prophet;

Sore afflicted Quetzalcoatl;...

And his heart was turned to going;

Bent on straightway leaving Tula;

Fleeing from the sore afflictions;

Giving place to other masters...

So he gird# him for the journey

And from Tula straight departed....

Said he to the necromancers:

"None of you can stop my going;

None of all prevent my leaving."

Answered then the necromancers:

"Tell us, master, where you're going,

 Answered forthwith Quetzalcoatl:

"I shall journey to Tlapallan:

For there wondrous news awaits me."

Straightway said the necromancers:

"Tell us, master, what you'll do there?"

Forthwith answered Quetzalcoatl:

"Forth at once from here I'm summoned;

To his house the Sun has called me...."


            Marching, ever onward marching,

Came the prophet to the seashore.

There he built a raft of serpents:

Formed and shaped it like a vessel;@

And therein himself he seated;

Straightway there himself he seated.

Just as in a formal sea boat,

In an ocean-going vessel,*

Proudly there himself he seated.


            Outward, onward, ever moving,

O'er the far-extending waters

Went the serpent-fashioned vessel

Till at last from sight it vanished

O'er the distant-stretching ocean.

To this day 'tis not known

How the prophet Quetzalcoatl

Reached the region of Tlapallan;

Came unto the red dominions

Of the Sun his royal master.

*Toltec capital city

+with high walls

#statue of Quetzalcoatl


*reach around

+a fragrant grain


@used for money


+evil magicians


@clay pot


            Many years later, Empress Xiuhtzal (SHWEE-tzal) ruled the Toltecs.  American Indians sometimes chose a woman as tribal chief, but only Xiutzal ruled a whole civilization.




            For all of their scientific knowledge, the American Indians were very slow to develop weapons of war.  The dreaded leader Xolotl (SHOL-otl), and his barbarian armies swooped down from the north and defeated the Toltecs with a new weapon: the bow and arrow.  Xolotl led many tribes, including the Aztecs.  His relatives became chiefs of the different tribes, and fought over which should lead.

            After a century of tribal wars, the crafty Tezozomoc (tez-zo-ZO-mok) destroyed most of his cousins.  One king, knowing he was about to be murdered, hid his teenage son, Nezahualcoyotl (net-za-wahl-KOY--otl), in the nearby bushes.  By trickery and murder, Tezozomoc ruled most of Mexico for sixty-three years, and finally died at age one hundred.  His empire splintered into three parts; Nezahualcoyotl became the most important of the three kings.

            Nezahualcoyotl (whose name means "hungry coyote") was a great builder.  And he planted vast flower gardens.  He gave his people a set of strict, but orderly, laws.  For instance, he protected trees with a death penalty against cutting one down.  Nezahualcoyotl attracted a large group of poets to his court.  But he is best known for the poems he wrote, himself.  He voiced the mood of an old and decaying civilization.  The Spaniards arrived in Mexico almost fifty years after his death, but wherever they went, they heard people quoting the poems of Nezahualcoyotl.  Sixty of his poems were written down.  Here are two of them:





The fleeting pomps* of the world are like the green willow trees, which, aspiring+ to permanence, are consumed by fire, fall before the ax, are upturned by the wind, or are scarred and saddened by age.

The grandeurs of life are like the flowers in color and in fate; the beauty of these remains so long as their chaste# buds gather and store the rich pearls of the dawn and saving it, drop it in liquid dew; but scarcely has the Cause of All directed upon them the full rays of the sun, when their beauty and glory fail, and the brilliant gay colors which decked forth their pride wither and fade.

The delicious realms of flowers count their dynasties by short periods; those which in the morning revel@ proudly in beauty and strength, by evening weep for the sad destruction of their thrones, and for the mishaps which drive them to loss, to poverty, to death and to the grave.

All things of earth have an end, and in the midst of the most      joyous lives, the breath falters. they fall, they sink into the ground.

All the earth is a grave, and naught* escapes it; nothing is so perfect that it does not fall and disappear.

The rivers, brooks, fountains and waters flow on, and never return to their joyous beginnings; they hasten on to the vast realms of Tlaloc,+ and the wider they spread between their marges# the more rapidly do they mold their own sepulchral urns.@

That which was yesterday is not today; and let not that which is today trust to live tomorrow.

The caverns of the earth are filled with pestilentially dust which once was the bones, the flesh, the bodies of great ones who sat upon thrones, deciding causes, ruling assemblies, governing armies, conquering provinces, possessing treasures, tearing down temples, flattering themselves with pride, majesty, fortune, praise and dominion.

These glories have passed like the dark smoke thrown out by the fires of Popocatepetl,* leaving no monuments but the rude skins+ on which they are written.

Ha! ha! Were I to introduce you into the obscure bowels of this temple, and were to ask you which of these bones were those of the powerful Achalchiuhtlanextin,# first chief of the ancient Toltecs; of Necazecmitl, devout worshiper of the gods; if I inquire where is the peerless beauty of the glorious empress Xiuhtzal,@ where the peaceable Topiltzin,* last monarch of the hapless land of Tula; if I ask you where are the sacred ashes of our first father Xolotl; those of the bounteous Nopal+ those of the generous Tlotzin; or even the still warm cinders of my glorious and immortal, though unhappy and luckless father Ixtlilxochitl;# if I continued thus questioning about all our august@ ancestors, what would you reply?

The same that I reply--I know not, I know not; for the first and last are confounded* in the common clay.

What was their fate shall be ours, and of all who follow us.

Unconquered princes, warlike chieftains, let us seek, let us sigh for the heaven, for there all is eternal, and nothing is corruptible,

The darkness of the sepulchre+ is but the strengthening couch  for the glorious sun, and the obscurity of the night but serves to reveal the brilliancy of the stars.

No one has power to alter these heavenly lights, for they serve to display the greatness of their Creator, and as our eyes see them now, so saw them our earliest ancestors, and so shall see them our latest posterity.#


*passing splendors





+rain god


@the big go fastest

*a volcano


#4 Toltec rulers



+4 Aztec rulers










the riches of this world are only lent to us


the things that are so good to enjoy we do not own


the sun pours down gold

fountains pour out green water

colors touch us like fingers

of green quetzal@ wings


none of this can we own for more than a day


none of these beautiful things can we keep for more than an hour


one thing alone we can own forever

the memory of the just

the remembrance of a good act

the good remembrance of a just man


this one thing alone will never be taken away from us


will never die


@a tropical bird


            Not all poetry was so lofty.  An unknown father has left this practical advice for his son:




Do not throw yourself at a woman

as a dog does before the man who will give him food.

Do not behave like a dog

when it eats and drinks anything that is given to it,

by giving yourself to women before your time.


Though you may have an appetite for women,

resist, resist with your heart

until you are a man, perfect and strong,

You see how the maguey cactus, if they open it when it is too small to take the honey from it,

lacks all substance

and yields no honey, but is spoiled.


Before they open it

to extract the honey,

they must allow it to grow and come to perfection,

and then they collect the honey

at a suitable moment.


In the same way should you,

before going to a woman,

grow and become polished

and a perfect* man.

Then you shall be capable of marriage

and shall bring forth tall sons,

strong, agile, and handsome.

*spiritually developed




            One by one, the Aztecs destroyed their neighbors.  During a long drought, King Montezuma I (mon-te-ZOO-ma) seized the lush tropic lands to the south.  Like lightning, his organized soldiers would strike an unsuspecting city.  They brought the prisoners back to sacrifice to their bloodthirsty gods.  They also brought back flowers from every part of Mexico for Montezuma's botanical gardens.

            A few years later, Ahuitzotl (ah-HWEET-zotl) became emperor.  He multiplied the sacrifices on a scale unheard of before.  For the dedication of just one temple, he sacrificed over twenty thousand prisoners in four days. That is why the conquered people hated the Aztecs.

            But the sacrifices meant more than just brutality.  Blood represented the beautiful flower springing up from the body; it was the nectar of the gods.  The mingling of beauty, brutality, and reverence can be felt in the following song.




In the fifth month was the great feast

the feast of Tezcatlipoca


At this feast died the youth the fair

youth the young man without


who for one year had lived as the god


For he who was chosen

from among the most select of captives

from among say the ten most fair of body and good

to look upon

he who was chosen to be the god

was slain on this day


And on this same day a new impersonator of the god

who again would live for one year

was offered to the people...


He who was thus without flaw

with no defects no

blemishes no moles no

scars or wrinkles on his body


he then was taught to play the flute

taught music and graces

taught to smoke gracefully the pipe

taught to carry gracefully flowers and

enjoy gracefully their scent


also his guardian taught him grace in


that he might talk graciously

converse well

talk agreeably with any he met


with his flute his smoking tube his

flowers he walked the streets

much honored


honored as our lord

treated by all as our lord the great god

entreated with sighs for favors



before him the people bowed and

kissed with reverence the earth


If at any time his body became even a little fat they

gave him brine to drink

so that he became thin

lean and hard and firm


For one year he lived thus

                                    he went about playing music

                                    following whatever way he wished

                                    by day or by night


eight young men were given him as companions

                                    four shorn as slaves

                                    four crowned warriors


and Montezuma himself adorned the young man

                                    arrayed# him as the god

                                    ornamented him

                                    in great pomp with costly

                                    articles in all truth

                                    arrayed like the beloved god himself...



when the feast of the month of Toxcatl

the feast of the great god Tezcatlipoca was

drawing near approaching

him coming toward him...


during this time he began to scatter here

and there

drop and throw aside

the ornaments that adorned him


and at this time his hair

was shorn about his forehead

tufted in a warlock at his forehead and to the long hair

down his back were tied red thongs with single feathers of the quetzal...


            Now with his companions his pages

            he arrived at the temple of Tlacochcalco

            and by himself

            of his own free will

            ascended its steps



                  at the first step he stopped and broke

                  his flute

                  his music stopped


                              at another step he broke and threw down

                              his smoking tube


                                    at each step

                                    he broke and scattered the belongings

                                    left to him



                                          at the summit@ of the steps nothing

                                          was left to him nothing


                                                      and there

                                                      at the summit of the temple steps

                                                      the priests fell upon him


                                                            they threw him on his back upon

                                                            the stone


                                                                        they cut open his breast tore out

                                                      his heart and raised it to the sun

                                                                  in offering

                                                                        later his severed* head was

                                                                        impaled upon the skull rack


Thus he ended his life

in the adornment of death so is betokened+ our life on earth


For whoever rejoices in possessions and


sweet things and riches

ends in nothing and in misery


For says the god himself


"No one takes with him into death

the good things of life."



*(tez-kot-lee-PO-ka)  the war god.



*cut off


              When Ahuitzotl died in a flood, the Aztecs elected his nephew, Montezuma II.  For the first time, the Aztecs were not ruled by a military man.  He felt deeply religious, and worried about the return of Quetzalcoatl–whose date was approaching again.  On that same date, Cortez (kor-TEZ) and the Spaniards appeared.  Montezuma treated them as returning gods, invited them into his palace, and placed his greatest riches before their greedy eyes.  Cortez held Montezuma prisoner.  The emperor died, heartsick, in chains.  His brother became the new ruler, but died of measles later that same year.

              Then Montezuma's nephew, Cuauhtemoc (kwow-TEM-ok), became the last emperor of the Aztecs.  This young man thought that his uncles had been fools to treat the Spaniards with kindness.  He led an attack, and most of the Spaniards drowned while trying to escape with all of the gold they had stolen.  Mexicans consider Cuauhtemoc a national hero.  But Cortez discovered that all of the conquered tribes hated the bloody Aztecs, so the Spanish led a rebellion.  Hundreds of thousands of Indians attacked and destroyed Mexico City.



              But we do know of one instance of a person rebelling against the whole system.  The play Ollantay (oh-YAHN-ta) tells that story. The Incas loved dramas.  Some historians believe this was one of them.  Others say it was just an Inca legend which got rewritten into a Spanish play much later.  Whichever is true, it gives us a glimpse of Inca life.

              In this play, the warrior, Ollantay, fell in love with a daughter of the king, and asked permission to marry her.  Permission was refused, and the girl disappeared.  Ollantay revolted and set himself up as ruler over part of the land.  After ten years of war, the old king dies, and his son comes to the throne.  The scene shifts to a convent where a ten-­year-old girl, Yma Sumac (EE-ma SOO-mak), manages to see her mother for the first time--and finds her chained in the dungeon.  The mother gives the girl a message for the king.  Meanwhile, Ollantay has finally been captured.  The new king pardons him, and even asks him to help govern the empire.  In the midst of celebration, the girl bursts in with her disturbing message.

Clarification:  the Incas called their king The Inca.




YMA SUMAC: My mother . . .

An enemy has chained her.

She will be choked with streams

Flowing with her blood.


THE INCA:            Who is this tyrant?*  Rise!

Ollantay!  See thou to this.


OLLANTAY:  Come, child, let us go.

Who has hurt thy mother?


YMA SUMAC: Thou shalt not go,

The Inca must see.

He it is who knows her,

While you do not.

Inca rise up quickly.

Would you find my mother

Lying dead?  Listen,

And come to her....


THE INCA:            Let us all go together.

When we were full of joy,

This child came to rend+ my heart ....


(They go to the convent, where the king's mother, Caca Mama, is in charge.  She tries to stop them, but the girl throws the dungeon door open, revealing her mother, who has fainted.)


THE INCA:  What rock-hewn cave is this?

Who is this woman?

            What means all this?

What tyrant has thus chained her?

Where was the heart of The Inca?

Come here, Caca Mama!

What comes?  Is it a rock#

Hast thou turned her to a ghost,

That poor woman?


CACA MAMA:  Thy father ordered it,

            He willed it for her disobedience.


THE INCA:            Begone!  Begone! Caca Mama,

            Turn out this jaguar,

            This puma, this serpent;

            Never let me see her more.

            Let that wretch escape,

            Break down that wall,

            Turn over that stony rock,

            Dismiss that traitress,

            Do not make her stumble.

            This is the secret place;

            A woman living as a bat,

            The child has brought it to light.


(The girl sprinkles water on the fainted woman.)


WOMAN:            Where am I?  Who are these?

            Yma Sumac! my child!

            Come to me, my dove!

            Whence@ come these men?

            Who are all these I see?

            What vision is before my eyes?

            A man wearing the crown!

            What can it mean?

            I see lights darting;

            My life is overturned.


YMA SUMAC: Fear not, my mother,

The sole Inca has come to thee.

The great Yupanqui* is here.

Speak,--do not sleep.+


THE INCA:            My heart is torn

At sight of such misery..

Rest, woman.  Then tell me

Who art thou?  Say, child,

What is the name of thy mother? . . .


YMA SUMAC:  Cusi Coyllur is her name.



THE INCA:            You seem to be mistaken in

            That name.  She# is gone

            Where she has happiness.@


OLLANTAY:  O great Inca Yupanqui,

            That Princess is my wife.


(He kneels at The Inca's feet.)


 THE INCA:    It all seems a dream,

This newly found joy,

This woman is Cusi Coyllur!

Here at my right hand,

Cusi Coyllur, my sister!

Cusi Coyllur, my dove!

Come here, and embrace me.

See now thou art delivered,

Thou hast found thy brother,

My bosom will be thy home,

Thy resting-place shall be secure,

Thy life shall be joyful.


(He hugs her and seats her beside him.)


CUSI COY.: Oh my brother! now thou knowest

            The torments I suffered

            For so many years.

            Thou hast set me free;

It is thou that hast loosened me,

            Thou hast dug me out . . .


THE INCA:            If this woman* was thy mother

            Yet she ought to die.

            Thy face is withered,

            Thy beauty is gone for ever,

            Thy chin is turned black,

            Thy nose is like a cold potato,

            Thy looks are as death,

            Thy neck is withered.


OLLANTAY:  Cusi Coyllur, I lost thee,

Thou wast first hidden from me,

            But now thou art brought to life,

            And thy father could do this!

He should have killed us both!

I would not be left alone,

My whole heart is torn.

Cusi Coyllur, where is thy joy? 

            Where are thine eyes like stars? 

            Where is all thy beauty?

Art thou an accursed daughter?


CUSI COY.:            Alas! Ollantay, for tan years

            A prison has separated us;

            But now we are joined again,

            And there is life!  As many years

            Of joy you will count

            As the great Inca shall live. 

            With this new life

            You will count more years. . . .


THE INCA:            Ollantay, here is thy wife,

            Here, too, is thy daughter,

            In a new union;

            Count it so, from this day. . . .

            Do not be afflicted,

            Live happily with thy joy;

            Now thy wife is in thy hand,

            And thy life is full of joy.

*the imprisoner


#"Caca" means "rock"

@from where

*the king's name


#the missing princess

@to death

*Caca Mama







            The Incas ruled Peru.  Emperor Huaina Capac (WHY-na KAH-pak) also conquered the kingdom of Ecuador.  The Ecuadorian king died in battle, but Huaina Capac fell in love with his proud fierce daughter, Princess Pacchas.  They had a son named Atahualpa (ah-ta-WALL-pa).  Huaina Capac already had sons by his dull religious sister-wife back in Peru.  But Atahualpa grew to be as spirited as his mother, and his father loved him dearly.  Huaina Capac spent most of his time in Ecuador.

            The Incas worshiped the sun by blowing kisses to it, and offering butterflies and flowers.  Through the influence of Princess Pacchas, Huaina Capac began to doubt that the sun ruled the universe--that some greater force regulated the sun's steady movement.  The Peruvian priests tried to hush up these doubts, but the people became afraid.  They felt their beliefs falling apart at the very core.  Atahualpa had little use for his father's ideas of religion, or for sun-worship.

            Huaina Capac realized that he had overextended his empire--that even he, the great conqueror, could barely govern it.  He knew that his simple legitimate son could never hold it all together.  So he left Peru to his legitimate son, and Ecuador to Atahualpa.

            The description of Huaina Capac's death comes from the official Inca history by Garcilaso de la Vega (gar-see-LAH-so).  The historian's mother was Huaina Capac's niece; his father was one of the Spanish conquistadors.  Garcilaso eventually became a Christian priest at Cordova, Spain, where he wrote down the history he had been taught as a boy.



            One day, as Huaina Capac was coming out of a lake in which he had just bathed, near Quito, he was suddenly seized with a sensation of chill, which was followed by one of intense heat.  His condition grew worse and worse and, after a few days, he realized that the predictions concerning his death were about to come true. . .

            The king, therefore, summoned his sons, his relatives and all the governors and captains who could reach the palace in time, and he spoke to them as follows:

            "Know ye," he said, "that the moment has come when I must go and rest beside our father the Sun.  Already, a long time ago, he made it known to me that he would call me from a lake or from a river.  The indisposition with which I was seized upon leaving the water is therefore a sign which I cannot mistake.  When I am dead, cut my body open; take my heart and my entrails and bury them in the city of Quito* that I have so dearly cherished; and take my body to Cuzco+ to lie beside those of my forefathers.  I commend to you my beloved son, Atahualpa.  May he reign in my stead over the kingdom of Quito and over all the lands that he succeeds in conquering; and you, captains of my army, you shall serve him with the love and loyalty that you owe to your king; obey him in all things, because all that he will ask of you, it is I who shall have revealed it to him, on orders from our father the Sun."

            These were the last words that Huaina Capac addressed to his sons and relatives.  He then had all his other captains and curacas# summoned, all those who were not of royal blood.  After making the same recommendations to them, he concluded as follows:

            "Our father the Sun disclosed to us a long time ago that we should be twelve Incas,@ his own sons, to reign on this earth; and that then, new, hitherto unknown people would arrive; that they would obtain victory and subject all of our kingdoms to their Empire, as well as many other lands.  I think that the people* who came recently by sea to our own shores are the ones referred to.  They are strong, powerful men, who will outstrip you in everything.  The reign of the twelve+ Incas ends with me.  I can therefore certify to you that these people will return shortly after I shall have left you, and that they will accomplish what our father the Sun predicted they would: they will conquer our empire, and they will become its only lords.  I order you to obey and serve them, as one should serve those who are superior in every way; because their law will be better than ours, and their weapons will be more powerful and invincible than yours.  Dwell in peace; my father the Sun is calling me, I shall go now to rest at his side."

*capital of Ecuador

+capital of Peru




+thirteen.  They tried to forget about one.

             Atahualpa's jealous brother would not accept this division.  He ordered Atahualpa to come bow down before him as ruler over the greater half.  Atahualpa suspected an assassination trap.  So he sent huge convoys of gift-bearers ahead of him, with orders to march slowly until he caught up.  Thus he entered Cuzco at the head of a large army.  By his cleverness, Atahualpa finally won the civil war which lasted six dreadful years.

            When the Spaniards arrived, they found a weak empire haunted by religious doubts and exhausted from civil war.  The Spanish leader was Pizarro (pee-THAH-ro), an aging pigfarmer-turned-adventurer.  Many Indians thought Huaina Capac's gods had come.  Seeing the bits in the horses' mouths, they mistakenly assumed that the animals ate iron.  Pizarro quickly slipped on his silver bridle and insisted his horse ate only silver.

            Atahualpa had doubts about these visitors, but he did agree to meet with them for a discussion of religion.  The Christian priest threatened and screamed about the Trinity, the Pope, Adam, Pharaoh, Jesus, and the king of Spain.  Atahualpa logically and carefully sorted out these arguments, and concluded that these visitors were no gods--and that their beliefs were vicious.  The insulted priest gave the order to fire, and 160 hidden Spanish gunners murdered three thousand unarmed Indian leaders.  Here is how Garcilaso continues his history:


            King Atahualpa understood from the priest's peroration that the Pope had ordered, and that the Emperor desired him to give up his kingdoms willy-nilly: that he would be compelled to do so by fire, sword, and bloodshed; and that, like Pharaoh, he would be exterminated with all his army.  From this he concluded that these guests whom he and his people called Viracochas, considering them as gods, had been transformed into mortal enemies of his people and of his line, since they had nothing but these cruel, pitiless things to say to him.  And he felt so sad and so distressed that he could not refrain from uttering out loud the word "Atac!" which means, alas!  Finally, rising above his sorrow, and restraining as best he could the passions that racked his soul, he, in turn, took the floor and spoke as follows: "Despite the fact that you have refused me all the other things I asked of your emissaries, it would at least have given me great pleasure if you had consented to speak to me through a more learned, more accurate, more experi­enced interpreter than the one you have; because you must know the incomparable value that words take on for anyone who wants to learn about the customs and the civil and political life of another people; indeed, you might be endowed with the greatest virtues, and it would be difficult for me to appreciate this through what I can see and understand, so long as you do not express yourselves.  And how much more pressing still this necessity becomes when the encounter takes place between persons who come from regions that are so remote from one another as ours are.  In reality, if such persons attempt to speak and negotiate through the intermediary of interpreters who know neither language, then they might as well choose a four-footed go-between, among their own cattle! I say this, man of God, be­cause I surmise that your words are quite different from those spoken by this Indian; indeed the very reason for our meeting is evidence of this fact.  We are here to discuss peace, friendship, and permanent brotherhood, even an alliance between our two bloods, as was stated by your first emissaries when they came to call on me.  And these words have a different sound from those your interpreter has just spoken; for he only speaks of war and death, of fire and sword, of banishment and destruction, of extinction of the royal blood of the Incas, of alienation of my kingdom, and, whether I will or no, of my vassalage to someone whom I do not even know.  From all of this, I can only conclude two things: either your prince and you yourselves are but tyrants who go about ravaging and destroying everything they encounter in the world, appropriating by force kingdoms to which they have no right, killing, robbing, despoiling those who owe them nothing and have done them no harm; or else you are the ministers of God, whom we call Pachacamac, and He has designated you to punish and destroy us.  If this be so, my vassals and I accept death and whatever else you may choose to do with us, not at all through fear inspired by your weapons or your threats, but in order that the last wishes of my father, Huaina Capac, may be fulfilled; for he com­manded us, on his deathbed, to serve and honor the bearded men, like yourselves, who would come to this land after he had left it.  For many years he had known that these men were cruising in their ships along the coast of our Empire; and he told us that their laws and their customs, their science, and their bravery were greater than our own.  This is why we called you Viracochas, meaning by this that you were the mes­sengers of the great god Viracocha: his will and his indignation could not be other than just, and who could resist the power of his arms?  But he is also full of pity and mercy, and therefore you, who are his messengers and ministers, you who are not human, but divine, you cannot allow a repetition of the crimes, the robberies, and all the other cruelty that was perpetrated in Tumbez and in the other regions you came through.

            "In addition to this, your herald spoke to me of five well-known men, whom I should know about.  The first is the god three and one which make four [the trinity], whom you call the creator of the universe; no doubt he is the same as the one we call Pachacamac and Viracocha.  The second is the one whom you say is the father of the human species, upon whom all other men have laid their sins [Adam].  You call the third one Jesus Christ, who did not burden his fellow men with his sins, as all other men did, but who was killed.  The fourth, you call the Pope, and the fifth, Charles [king of Spain].  Without taking the others into consideration, you call this latter the all-powerful sovereign of the universe and say that he is above everybody else.  But then, if this Charles is the prince and lord of the entire world, how is it that the Pope should have had to grant him permission to make war upon me and usurp my kingdoms? And if this was necessary, this means that the Pope is a greater, more powerful lord than he is, and therefore the prince of the entire universe.  I am surprised that I should have to pay tribute to Charles and not to the others; you give no reason for this, and I myself do not see any that would oblige me to do so.  Because, if I were obliged, quite frankly, to pay service and tribute to someone, it seems to me that it would rather be to God who, as you say, created us all, and to that first man who was the father of all other men, and to Jesus Christ, who never burdened others with his sins, and, lastly, to the Pope, who can dispose of my person and of my kingdom, to assign them to others.  But if you say that I owe noth­ing to any one of these three, it seems to me that I owe even less to Charles, who was never lord of this land, and has never even seen it....

            "Lastly, to come back to that eminent man, Jesus Christ, who refused to burden others with his sins, I should like to know how he died: was it from sickness, or at the hands of his enemies?  And was he set among the gods before or after his death?  I should like to know whether or not you consider as gods these five men whom you hold up to me, and whom you so venerate.  For if this be the case, then you have more gods than we have, for we worship no god other than Pachacamac, who is our su­preme God, after whom we worship the Sun, whose bride and sister is the Moon.

            "This then is why I should appreciate it exceedingly if a better interpreter would kindly explain these things to me, in order that I might understand them, and conform to your will."

            But the Spaniards, who had grown impatient during this long speech, suddenly sprang from their hiding places and attacked the Indians in order to rob them of their handsome gold jewels encrusted with precious stones which they were wearing for this solemn occasion.







On the trail marked with pollen may I walk

With grasshoppers about my feet may I walk

With dew about my feet may I walk

With beauty before me may I walk

With beauty behind me may I walk

With beauty above me may I walk

With beauty under me may I walk

With beauty all around me may I walk

In my old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk,

In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk.

It is finished in beauty.





O our Mother the Earth, O our Father the Sky,

Your children are we, and with tired backs

We bring you the gifts you love.

Then weave for us a garment of brightness;

May the warp* be the white light of morning,                                    * lengthwise threads

May the weft+ be the red light of evening,                                       + cross threads

May the fringes be the failing rain,

May the border be the standing rainbow.

Thus weave for us a garment of brightness,

That we may walk fittingly where birds sing,

That we may walk fittingly where grass is green,

O our Mother the Earth, O our Father the Sky.





            My young men shall never work.  Men who work cannot dream, and wisdom comes in dreams.

            You ask me to plow the ground.  Shall I take a knife and tear my mother's breast?  Then when I die she will not take me to her bosom to rest.

            You ask me to dig for stone.  Shall I dig under her skin for bones?  Then when I die I cannot enter her body to be born again.

            You ask me to cut grass and make hay and sell it, and be rich like white men.  But how dare I cut off my mother's hair?

            It is a bad law, and my people cannot obey it.  I want my people to stay with me here.  All the dead men will come to life again.  We must wait here in the house of our fathers and be ready to meet them in the body of our mother.




            I am tired of fighting.  Our chiefs are killed.  Looking Glass is dead.  Toohulhulsote is dead.  The old men are all dead.  It is the young men who say no and yes.  He who led the young men is dead.  It is cold and we have no blankets.  The little children are freezing to death.  My people, some of them, have run away to the hills and have no blankets, no food.  No one knows where they are--perhaps they are freezing to death.  I want to have time to look for my children and see how many of them I can find.  Maybe I shall find them among the dead  Hear me, my chiefs, I am tired.  My heart is sad and sick.  From where the sun now stands I will fight I no more forever.





I shall vanish and be no more,

But the land over which I now roam

Shall remain

And change not.



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