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Latin America Team Dispatch

Lifestyles of the Poor and Famous

The people on the left represent the Inca.  Notice their strong-looking military.
Monica mentioned in her article, "Coricancha: The Temple in the Center of the Inca Universe," the spectacular gold-laden temple, "House of the Sun." Can you imaging returning to your house after school and finding it completely covered in gold? You'd think your parents either won the lottery, or went loco! The truth is, Pachacuti, the Inca emperor who built the "House of the Sun," wasn't your average Joe, either. Most of the Inca citizens owed taxes--rather than basked in gold--to local governors, which they paid by service in the army, on public works, or in farm work (which would be a tough draw for someone as loaded as Bill Gates). In fact, there is evidence that the people we call Inca today believed that only the descendants of the twelve individuals who are said to have ruled from Cuzco (that'd be like saying Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton are the only Americans!). As you can see, Inca society was extremely stratified. Only a lucky few got to exercise their authority--often very harshly and with repressive controls--on the rest of the society.

Check out this informative website: jorge/incas/incas.htm
Not every Inca knew a life filled with gold, as is this figure of a god.
Most people were farmers. The economy was based on agriculture, with a focus on maize (remember the golden ears of maize in Pachacuti's temple?). The also grew squash, tomatoes, white and sweet potatoes, peanuts, chili peppers, coca, cassava and cotton. They could've started an organic veggie market! They also raised ducks, llamas, alpacas, guinea pigs, and dogs. That's right: Squeeky and Fido for dinner! Just about everyone produced their own food and clothes.

The Inca were remarkable for their large network of roads throughout the empire. One road ran along the coast for 2,250 miles, and another went along the Andes for about the same distance. Unfortunately, only the government and military were allowed to cruise the highways (which would make for a very boring Saturday night on Main Street). There was, however, an excellent relay system for carrying messages in the form of knotted cords. If your lived about 150 miles away, you could still get your message in a day (our motto, not theirs).

Once of the instruments used for sacrifices.
The Inca worshipped nature gods, and included fetishism, and animism. Inti, the sun god, was the leader of the pack, with Viracocha, a culture hero and god of creation, and Apu, the rain god, followed close behind. The Inca religion was very much a part of every day life, and was integrated into the state. That means that worship of the sun god was required of the emperor's subjects. Inca rituals included sacrifice of humans and animals. Here's an intimidating detail: children were feasted before sacrificed so that they wouldn't come to the gods crying and hungry! (I bet Thanksgiving dinner is sounding a little less appetizing right now).

Today, the Inca's descendents are the Quechua-speaking peasants of the Andes (about forty-five percent of Peru's population). They integrate many traditions of the past (minus human sacrifice!) with modern technology. For more insight into how today's Andean communities work, check out Abeja's article, "All in the Family," ( While the golden splendor of Pachacuti's temple for Inti was definitely not the typical hang-out for an Inca peasant, their real wealth still shines within the faces of today's Andean peasants. Their ability to cooperate, and learn from each other proved far more valuable in the long run than all of the precious stones, and gardens and chambers of gold of the Inca lords.

The Team

Shawn - Losing 137 Species a Day (and Counting)
Kevin - Visiting a Canyon...No Longer a Void in my Life
Monica - Coricancha: The Temple in the Center of the Inca Universe
Monica - Viva la Lucha de los Trabajadres y del Pueblo!
Making a Difference - Save the Rainforest from Your Own Backyard!
Meet the Team | Team Archive
The Team
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