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Ethnohistory

The Southeastern Inka Frontier and the Guarani Invasions

The Southeastern Inka frontier was the scenario of highly unstable and conflictive relations that the empire maintained with the Guararn-Chiri- guano tribes from the eastern tropical lowlands and the dry Chaco. Expanding over an almost subcontinental scale, these tribal organizations conquered a number of native tropical groups. Hence, the Guarani (a branch of the Tupi-Guaram speakers) became a real menace to the Inka’s hegemonic interests. In this chapter, existing ethnohistoric literature for the Southeastern Inka frontier is provided in order to understand the ways in which the distinct populations are portrayed in the narratives and the state efforts in their incorporation.

The Guarani-Chiriguanos in the Southern Andean Foothills

The Chiriguanos were an important segment of the Guarani that dwelled along the Southern Cordillera and adjoining regions. They denominated themselves as “ava” (humans). The name Chiriguano was a derogatory term used by the Inka and altiplanic populations to refer to this group. In fact, Chiriguano can be roughly translated as “dead by being frozen,” in reference to the Inka punishment of leaving men to die in the high peaks of the snowcapped highland mountains. Despite their continuous efforts, these accounts stress that the Inka were never able to subdue the Chiriguanos dwelling beyond the frontier. Over time, the inability to conquer the Guarani population translated into deep resentment. As a result, Guaram-Chiriguanos are often depicted in the Colonial narratives as inhuman cannibals, wild savages, and ferocious beasts (Langer

2010) (Figure 1.1). Therefore, their conquest was ideologically justified by the Inka as a civilizing task and a divine mandate from their solar deity. As history shows, these arguments are often common in the expansion of earlier and more recent empires. In the Chiriguano case, these claims served to mask the Inka motivations for ensuring access to fertile land, labor, and the control of important frontier exchange networks.

Despite such explicit interests, the Inka efforts to conquer the Guarani- Chiriguanos utterly failed. Available accounts offer vivid details of the harsh, steamy, and unfamiliar jungle of the Guarani-Chiriguanos, and how the unruly behavior of these tribes forced the Inka military troops to retreat. In fact, many Inka captains begged the ruler, Tupac Inka Yu- panqui, to abort the expansionist campaigns, arguing that the region was not productive enough but, rather, extremely dangerous. As they viewed it, the tropical mountains were filled with morasses, swamps, wild dark forests, and ferocious beasts like gigantic snakes (Cabello de Balboa 1951 [1586]; Cobo 1993 [1582-1587]:443). Added to the escalating frustration was the Inkas’ inability to confront the Chiriguano hordes in open battle as they had always done with other polities. Tropical Chiriguano tribes attacked intermittently in the form of quick guerrilla strikes, to later simply vanish in the dark forest.

Bold Guaram-Chiriguano advances were particularly violent during the reign of Tupac Inka Yupanqui. Many of the frontier fortifications were completely razed and ransacked, and their inhabitants slaughtered or taken captive. The Cuzcotuyo fortification, one of the two installations that are the focus of this research, was among those that were severely devastated (Sarmiento de Gamboa 1907 [1572] :159). Consequently, the ruler Huayna Capac (Tupac Inka Yupanqui’s son) confronted the colossal challenge of deepening the war against the intruders. As part of his war strategy, the destroyed forts were rebuilt and new fortifications added to enhance the frontier’s defense. Huayna Capac also mobilized thousands of mitmaqkuna soldiers to defend the southeastern frontiers along current Bolivia and Argentina. Archaeologically, a number of defensive installations are still visible, attesting to those efforts.

 
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