Abstract of a lecture held in Canning House, London, on October 8th 2014.
What happened to the Incas after the Spanish conquest? Are there any verifiable descendants of the Inca rulers today? The answer most Peruvians I talked to gave to the first question was: ‘they don´t exist anymore’. Little I knew that the real answer was very different.
Between 2009 and 2014 I revised all available parish records in Cusco, the center of the Inca state, for the period 1720-1920, and more than 250 books of notaries including wills and property transactions from the 18th and 19th century (over 100.000 pages).
The information that came out of these records, beyond the genealogical project, became a reflection of what had happened to a once powerful elite through the changes that Peru underwent in the last five centuries.
The origin of the Incas lies probably in Tiahuanaco, the most important religious center in the southern Andes located in present day Bolivia, which collapsed around 1.000 AD. Legends tell of their arrival in Cusco as their chosen land. With ruler Pachacutec (ca. 1.400) the Incas enter the realm of history as he starts the expansion of their kingdom beyond Cusco, which is taken further by his son Tupac Yupanqui and grandson Huayna Capac.
Pachacutec not only starts the conquests. He also reorganizes the capital and the administrative system. The imperial descendants, divided in ten groups or ayllus, are incorporated in a grand calendar that functions in time and space around Cusco.
With the arrival of the Spaniards, the Inca descendants are relocated to new parishes around colonial Cusco, where instead of looking after their ancestral mummies they are assigned a Christian saint to take care of. They adopt the Spanish ways and become not only leaders of their communities but also architects, painters, silversmiths, etc.
During religious celebrations they proudly display their origin, which is also at the root of their downfall. Although they support the Spanish crown in the rebellion of Tupac Amaru II in 1780, their functions cease to be hereditary and they are forbidden to speak Quechua and wear traditional clothes. After the independence of Peru their functions are abolished altogether in 1824.
Memory and Identity
Around 1825 some 60 families are mentioned as being of noble Inca origin. During the 19th century that situation changes as most of them sell their properties and enter a period of economic and social decline. Families die out and simplify their often extensive Inca names or, in some cases, adopt a Spanish surname.
Although Peru and its inhabitants have experienced at least two traumatic changes in their history: the Spanish Conquest and Independence, there is probably more continuity with the pre-Hispanic period than one would think of at first glance.
Catholic celebrations, for instance, have clear pre-Hispanic origins (to the trained eye) and many of the people who take part in them, usually in leading positions, are unaware of their royal bloodlines. Two cases in hand are the families Tisoc and Obando, whose genealogical trees I managed to complete from the 16th century to present day family members.
The Tisoc are descendants of the third Inca ruler, Lloque Yupanqui, and of the last high priest of the Sun. In colonial times they were local rulers in a part of Cusco and the village of San Jerónimo. After Independence they sold most of their properties. Sir Clement Markham visited Cusco in 1853 and mentioned Clemente Tisoc as a royal descendant.
The Obandos descend from Huayna Capac. Their royal family name, up to the 19th century, was Ramos Titu Atauchi and they were then the most prestigious among the main line of descendants. Around 1820 the name ceases to appear in official documents, leading historians to believe they had become extinct. A key moment in my research happened when the parish records of Santa Ana showed that they had in fact taken the Spanish name of Obando.
Beyond the trees
What became clear to me, after successive conversations with the people I met, is that being indigenous during the Republic did not lead to much good. Once prestige was gone, discrimination arrived.
All of them remember their days at school when having an Indian name was a pretext for bullying. Many of the former royal names are associated today, in the capital Lima, with the names of maids, gardeners, servants. It is understandable that at some point their ancestors stopped telling them who they were. And with that came the loss of memory and the loss of identity.
Am glad to say this research and the articles published in the main national newspaper, El Comercio, have had some impact. In early 2014 a few of them founded an association of Inca descendants, as a first step into what they consider the re-appropriation of their dignity and their memory which, in fact, is the dignity and the memory of one whole country.
In the end, I believe this work leaves questions open for the future. Is there a role for these former ruling families in XXI century Peru? Is there a role for the descendants of other kingdoms, like the Chimus, the Cajamarcas, the Chancays and others? Can their potential sense of continuity help heal this still fractured nation?