Native Andeans

Indians, or the native inhabitants of the Andes are the most well known of all ethnic groups.  It is important to note that "Indian" and "Native" are extremely general terms that are used because it would be impossible to talk about every family group of people that lived in the Andes before the arrival of the Spanish.  In most Andean countries, Indians make up the biggest disadvantaged ethnic group.  The Inca Empire is starting place of most people's knowledge about the time before European invasion.  Like any Empire, the Incas conquered and took over indigenous peoples they encountered, destroying local cultures and ancient history altogether.  Historians and anthropologists have a hard time piecing together pre-Incan history, but more is being learned.

The Incas

What scholars have of the Inca civilization is from Spanish records or the History of the Inca as told by themselves.  This is not always as good as it seems for scholars however.  The Inca wrote their history to glorify their own empire leaving out the stories and cultures of the people they conquered.  One Inca myth states that a few of their barbaric neighbors resisted incorporation into the empire (Berghe 31).  This myth seems simple enough.  The Incas were a powerful culture.  But, historians digging for the truth have made theories that contradict this myth.  Extensive archaeological research has found evidence of many other advanced civilizations around the Andean area (Berghe 31).  The Incas established an ayllus system based on a patriarchal group of of people related to the Inca emperor, who in turn ruled their own local communities.  The society that emerged out of Inca domination was very organized with an emphasis on efficiency.  Different conquered groups of Indians were moved around within the empire to make better use of their economic skills.  For example, a tribe skilled at weaving fabrics and making clothes would be moved closely to lands inhabitable for animals , whose hair is used to make wool.  This makes cultural identity a very local identity for these people.  These traditions of Native Andeans persist today.

The Coming of the Spanish

The Spanish arrival in the Ands is also very well known to most people.  What child doesn't learn about the conquistadors and Francisco Pizarro.  What people may not know is that many Indians learned how to survive with their life and culture almost unchanged.  They had been conquered and conquered again by the Inca, And now by the Spanish.  The local people adapted with some ease, as well as conflict to the culture of the Spanish colony.  Many Native Andeans worked with the local courts set up by the Spanish government.  Native people would take land disputes and complaints to the courts and win many times.  Religion definitely followed this example of integration.  Religious customs of the Inca and subsequent groups of Indians were combined with Spanish Catholicism.  For example, many local villages have their own traditional practices.  There are also Spanish priests that give traditional Catholic Baptisms and mass.  Many of these priests realize that they cannot attack local religion head on (Berghe 154).  Even though the priests exist side by side native religion, cultural conflicts do happen.  Even today, cases of priests who have tried to forbid certain practices they saw as pagan or immoral and who have been forced to leave towns are not uncommon (Berghe 154).

For more information on native transgression and uprising in the Andes, go to the current topics section of this web site.