The Aztecs had been led by an chosen leader, Tlatoani. Although the Aztec electoral kingdom by no means was democratic, Aztecs knew that the ruler was a human being. As an important ritual, the Tlatoani and other leaders could dress as gods, representing gods in the rituals, but they never claimed to be divine.
When a Tlatoani died, his successor was chosen among the heirs of the first Tlatoani. In order to be chosen, he, as a military leader, must have earned this high office. Although the Tlatoani was given almost absolute power, he was not above criticism. Best known is the fate of Moctezumas, the 9th Tlatoani: After the arrival of the Spaniards in Tenochtitlán, the city was in turmoil, and when Moctezuma tried to reassure his people he was attacked by some of his own and died as a result of his injuries.
The Incas had been led by two siblings, by three brothers with wives or by four brothers with wives – depending entirely on the myth being told. Common to the myths was that Manco Capác and his wife emerged as divine leaders. This deity-likeness was taken over by his successors after the death of Manco Capác. As leader of the empire after 1438, the next Sapa Inca had to fight for his possessions, but by appointment he had been recognized as a divine bond.
The notion that everything was animated and the ancestral worship was widespread among Indians, and in the Andes faith and exercise of power – more or less voluntarily – coincided: the Incas Sapa Inca was worshipped as common ancestor and as divine ruler.
Thus, there was a fundamental difference between the Aztecs Tlatoanis and the Incas Sapa Incas religious presenting.
The Aztecs 5th Tlatoani had sacrificed human hearts for getting gods help out of a devastating famine, and when the sacrifices triggered a record harvest, the Aztecs sacrificed even more human hearts. However, continued mass sacrifices implied that the Aztecs took prisoners of war; these increasingly frequent sacrifices triggered changes that affected the development of the realm. Wars to obtain more and more victims led to that the realm grew, but the connecting lines became so long that it became increasingly difficult to wage war along the external borders and thus more difficult to obtain human sacrifices. Dissatisfaction among the Aztecs with the Tlatoani was already felt when the Spaniards landed in 1519.
Militarily, the Aztec Empire was strong; after 1427, its strength was based on alliances in the Triple Alliance. In the Aztec area of power, the Tlaxcaltecs lived in an independent state, and the Spaniards allied with them on their march against Tenochtitlán. When the fate-aware Aztecs knew that the god Quetzalcoatl could return that year, and since the Spaniards came from the east where the Aztecs were expecting Quetzalcoatl would come from, they believed that the Spaniards represented the god, and Tlatoani Moctezuma submitted to Cortés. The Aztecs had predicted this their own downfall. According to Tlatoani Moctezuma, it was not tragic, but divine.
After the conquest in 1521 of the capital Tenochtitlán, the Spaniards would exploit the Aztec power structure – warriors and officials – to conquer the rest of the empire. The Spaniards got to feel the loose structure of the empire in form of the urge for independence of several Indian tribes. Conflicts and rebellions flared up, and each time the Spanish rulers struck hard again.
Cortés attempt to exploit the Aztec power structure implied that he kept Cuauhtémoc as Tlatoani; however, during the conquest of present-day Honduras, he let him hang. As new Tlatoani, he installed one of Cuauhtémocs closest, Tlacotzin, a nobleman who, after being tortured by the Spaniards, was given a Spanish uniform, a sword and a horse. But he died the year after the installation. After that, Cortés installed the Aztec Motelchiuhtzin, who was not noble but who had worked his way up in the society as a warrior, so he was given the title of Cuauhtlato, Eagle Warrior. The year before, the Spaniards had tortured him.
In 1528, Hernán Cortés was deprived of his almost absolute power. The administration became more formalized but the new Viceroy Mendoza would also utilize Indian leaders. Motelchiuhtzin was replaced by Pablo Xochiquentzin, who also did not descend from the first Tlatoani, so also he got the title of Cuauhtlato.
Viceroy Mendoza chose leaders among those who were born to have become Tlatoani if the Spaniards had not taken power, and appointed them to Gobernador, governor.
The first was Huanitzin, the grandson of Axayácatl, the 6th Tlatoani, and the 9th Tlatoani Moctezumas nephew. Originally Huanitzin had been chief to the north, but after the Spanish conquest he had been tortured and brought as Cortés hostage to Honduras. He remained Gobernador until 1538.
He was replaced by Tehuetzquititzin, grandson of Tizoc, the 7th Tlatoani and thus also related to his predecessor as Gobernador. Tehuetzquititzin was also given the title as Tlatoani; he spoke Spanish, was baptized and had this office 1541-1554.
As Gobernador he led Aztec and Tlacan warriors to support the Spaniards in the fighting (1540-42) at Mount Mixtón in western Mexico.
Tlaxcaltec warriors who participated in the Spanish conquest of Guatemala wrote in 1547 a complaint to the Spanish King that they were being treated badly by their Spanish captains and their soldiers, who hung and killed many of them.
The Inca Empire had been highly centralized with Sapa Inca as the divine center. The principle of split inheritance, introduced after 1438, meant that Sapa Inca could not exploit his predecessors possessions but had to conquer new land and new people. It triggered the huge growth of the Empire, which led to conflicts and rebellions, for the new subjects saw no benefits, and either they were severely punished or deported. The Empire was further divided by the War of Brothers, but before it was dissoluted the Spaniards came and hew.
Ancestral worship and the notion that everything was animated had made most people dependent, because you could never know! By the end of the 1400s, the Inca Empire was organized extremely hierarchically by the 10th Sapa Inca, so now most people were awaiting an order before undertaking anything. When Inca Huáscar was murdered and Inca Atahualpa executed, the Inca society was almost paralyzed.
Pizarro wanted to utilize the highly hierarchical power structure of the Inca Empire, so a few months after the execution of Atahualpa, first Túpac Huallpa was installed as puppet-Inca. When he died after a few months, Manco Inca was hailed as a new puppet-Inca. Both were sons of Huayna Cápac, and thus Huascars and Atahualpas brothers, but they had not had the same mother.
Large parts of the Inca nobility – and those they had underneath – obeyed Manco Inca, ie. did as the Spaniards ordered him to command. The hatred of Atahualpa and his northern army immediately made the alliance with the Spaniards obvious to many in the Inca Empire.
Manco Inca noticed the rivalry between Francisco Pizarro and Diego Almagro; to a certain extent he leaned on Almagro, even though the word cooperation is on the high side.
In 1536, he was personally provoked by the Pizarro brothers assault on his wife, and then he mobilized for rebellion. He armed hundreds of thousands of warriors while the Spaniards were supported by Mancos Indian enemies. The Spaniards had far sharper weapons and the Indian enemies of the Incas could mobilize many. The Spaniards succeeded in forcing Manco Inca out into the rainforest, first to Vitcos and then to Vilcabamba, where he established his mini-Incastate and was assassinated in 1544.
Manco Incas son Sayri Túpac was in the rainforest proclaimed the 15th Sapa Inca. With help of his advisers, he tried an rapprochement to the Spaniards, stayed in the years 1558-1561 in Cusco, but would not give up his independent mini-Incastate even if the interim Viceroy Gasca offered him land and property. And suddenly Sayri Túpac died.
He was replaced by Titu Cusi, who dictated his manuscript to a Spaniard in the rainforest and who was aware of the Spaniards intentions. Based on a real political recognition, he changed his attitude and negotiated to achieve some form of coexistence. (Hemming 1993:321-325)
On the death of Titu Cusi in 1571, he was succeeded by Túpac Amaru, the last Sapa Inca, who ruled the mini-Incastate in the rain forest until he was captured and executed in Cusco in 1572.
I catch back to puppet-Inca Manco Incas rebellion in 1536.
In response, the Spaniards inserted a new puppet-Inca in Cusco, namely Paullu, who was also son of Huayna Cápac. The paternity and the sacred city were optimum for his legitimacy. Paullu cooperated enthusiastically with the Spaniards, and Perus first bishop, Valverde, enthusiastically wrote about him to the King of Spain.
In 1543, Paullu was christened Cristóbal, left some of the most important ancestor mummies for interment, and he was left with large lands by the Spaniards. Unlike his half-brothers, he died peacefully as the last Sapa Inca in Cusco and was buried in the San Cristóbal Church, which he had let build.
Paullus wife, mother and sister were baptized, liked to dress in silk, and sought out Spanish acquaintances to demonstrate their distance from the Inca faith and armed resistance.
Huayna Cápacs daughters also became part of the power play. As the first, Francisco Pizarro had taken Atahualpas young widow as a mistress, but many more sexual relations arose between Spaniards and Incas. For a time, Spanish upper-class gentlemen had their relations sealed and blessed by and in the church. The result of these conditions were plenty of mestizochildren.
In Tawantinsuyu, Incas had in processions carried ancestral mummies for assemblies; now Christians organized Corpus Cristi celebrations, where figures of the crucified and saints from the citys growing number of churches were carried through the streets. And the more upper-class Incas – preferably traditionally dressed – that could be mobilized for processions, the safer the Spaniards felt.
At local level, former chiefs could be involved in the exercise of power. They could serve as alcalde, mayor, regidor, councilor, or alguacil, policeman.
(pp. 454-459 in volume 2, reproduced without notes and illustrations):
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO AZTECS AND INCAS: MYTHS AND STORIES FROM MEXICO AND PERU. Edited, translated, retold and commented by Mikael Witte. Volume 1 + Volume 2
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