Native American Indians. First People of America. First People of Canada. First People of Turtle Island. Native American Art. Native American Legends. Free Native American Clipart.
First People :: American Indian Legends : I-L

Native American Legends

The festival of the Sun

An Inca Legend

The word Raymi is equivalent to white mans word Easter. Among the four festivals which the Kings celebrated in the city of Cuzco, the most solemn was that in honor of the Sun, during the month of June.

It was called Yntip Raymi, which means the "Solemn Feast of the Sun." They called this feast especially Raymi, and though the word was also used for other festivals, this was the Raymi, and took place in the June solstice.

They celebrated this festival of the Sun in acknowledgment that they held and adored Him as the sole and universal God who, by his light and power, creates and sustains all things on earth; and that He was the natural father of the first Ynca Manco Ccapac and of his wife Mama Ocllo Huaco, and of all their descendants, who were sent to this earth for the benefit of all people. For these reasons, as they themselves say, this was their most solemn feast.

There were present at it all the chief captains not then employed in war, and all the Curacas, lords of vassals, from all parts of the empire, not because they were ordered to be present, but because they rejoiced to take part in the solemnities of so great a festival. For, as the ceremonies included the worship of the Sun God and of the Ynca their king, there was no one who did not desire to take part in it.

When the Curacas were prevented, by old age or sickness, from being present, or by the public service or the long distance, they sent their sons and brothers, accompanied by the noblest of their kindred, to be at the festival in their place. The Ynca was there in person, if not prevented by absence at the wars or while inspecting the provinces.

The opening ceremonies were performed by the king himself as High Priest; for, although there was always a High Priest of the blood royal, who was legitimate uncle or brother of the Ynca, yet the Ynca himself officiated at this great festival, as first-born of the Sun.

The Curacas came in all the splendor they could afford. Some wore dresses adorned with bezants of gold and silver, and with the same fastened as a circlet round their headdresses. Others came in a costume neither more nor less than that in which Hercules is painted, wrapped in the skins of lions, with the heads fixed over their own.

These were the Indians who claimed descent from a lion. Others came attired in the fashion that they paint angels, with great wings of the bird called Cuntur. These wings are black and white, and so long that the Spaniards have often killed birds measuring fourteen feet between the tips of the wings.

These are the Indians who declare that they are descended from a Cuntur. The Yuncas came attired in the most hideous masks that can be imagined, and they appeared at the feasts making all sorts of grimaces, like fools and simpletons; and for this purpose they brought instruments in their hands, such as badly-made flutes and tambourines, and pieces of skin, to assist them in their fooleries.

Other Curacas wore various costumes to distinguish them, and each different tribe came with the arms with which they fought in war. Some had bows and arrows; others lances, darts, javelins, clubs, slings, axes with short handles, and two-handed axes with long handles.

They brought with them paintings of the deeds they had performed in the service of the Sun and of the Yncas, and also great drums and trumpets, with many musicians to play them. In short, they all came in the best attire they could procure, and attended by the grandest and most imposing retinue their means would admit of.

All prepared themselves for the Raymi of the Sun by a rigorous fast; for, in three days they ate nothing but a little unripe maize, and a few herbs called Chucam, with plain water. During this time no fire was lighted throughout the city, and all men abstained from sleeping with their wives.

After the fast, in the evening before the festival, the Ynca sacrificial Priests prepared the sheep and lambs for sacrifice, and got ready the other offerings of food and drink that were to be offered to the Sun. All these offerings had been provided by the people who came to the feast, not only the Curacas and envoys, but also all their relations, vassals, and servants.

The Women of the Sun were engaged, during the night, in preparing an immense quantity of maize pudding called Canca. This was made up into small round cakes, about the size of an apple. It must be understood that the Indians never ate their corn kneaded and made into bread, except at this feast and at another called Situa, and they did not eat this bread during the whole meal, but only two or three mouthfuls of it at the beginning. Their usual food, in place of bread, was maize toasted or boiled in the grain.

The flour for this bread, especially for what was intended for the Ynca and those of the blood royal, was ground by the chosen virgins of the Sun, who cooked all the other food for this feast; that it might appear to be given rather by the Sun to his children than by his sons to him; and it was therefore prepared by the virgins, as women of the Sun.

Another vast assemblage of women ground the corn and cooked the food for the common people. And though the bread was intended for the people, it was yet prepared with care, because this bread was looked upon as sacred, and was only allowed to be eaten once during the year, on occasion of this feast, which was, among the people, the festival of their festivals.

The necessary preparations having been made, the Ynca came forth at dawn, on the day of the festival, accompanied by all his relations, marching according to their age and dignity. They proceeded to the great square, which was called Huacay-pata. Here they waited for sunrise, all of them being barefooted, and all watching the east with great attention.

As soon as the sun appeared, they all bent down resting on their elbows (which, among these Indians, is the same as going down on the knees), with the arms apart and the hands raised. Thus they worshipped, and kissed the air (which with them is the equivalent to kissing the hand or the dress of a Prince in Spain); and they adored with much fervor and devotion, looking upon the Sun as their god and natural father.

The Curacas, not being of the blood royal, assembled in an adjoining square, called the Casi-pata, where they used the same forms of adoration as the Yncas.

Presently the King rose to his feet, the rest being still prostrate, and took two great cups of gold, called aquila, full of the beverage that they drink. He performed this ceremony as the first-born, in the name of his father, the Sun, and, with the cup in his right hand, invited all his relations to drink. This custom of inviting each other to drink was the usual mode by which superiors showed favor and complacency to inferiors, and by which one friend saluted another.

Having given the invitation to drink, the Ynca emptied the vase in his right hand, which was dedicated to the Sun, into a jar of gold, whence the liquor flowed down a stone conduit of very beautiful masonry from the great square to the temple of the Sun, thus being looked upon as drunk by the deity.

From the vase in his left hand the Ynca himself drank, that being his share, and then divided what remained among the other Yncas, pouring it into smaller cups of gold and silver. Gradually the principal vase, which the Ynca held, was emptied; and the partakers thus received such virtue from it as was imparted by its having been sanctified by the Sun or the Ynca, or rather by both together. Each member of the blood royal drank of this liquor. The Curacas in the other square received drinks of the beverage made by the chosen virgins, but not that which had also been sanctified by the Ynca.

This ceremony having been performed, which was but a foretaste of what would have to be drunk afterwards, all went in procession to the temple of the Sun. All took off their shoes, except the King, at two hundred paces before reaching the doors; but the King remained with his shoes on, until he came to the doors. The Ynca and his relations then entered the temple as legitimate children of the deity, and there worshipped the image of the Sun. But the Curacas, being unworthy of so great an honor, remained outside in a large square before the temple doors.

The Ynca offered to the Sun the golden vases with which he had performed the ceremony, and the other members of his family gave their cups to the Ynca priests, who were set apart for that office; for persons who were not priests, even if they were of the royal blood, were not allowed to perform the priestly office.

Having offered up the cups of the Yncas, the priests came to the doors to receive those of the Curacas, who took their places according to their seniority as vassals, and presented the gold and silver articles which they had brought from their provinces as offerings to the Sun. These offerings were in the form of sheep, lambs, lizards, toads, serpents, foxes, tigers, lions, and many sorts of birds, in short, of all the animals in the provinces, each imitated from nature in gold and silver, though the size of each article was not great.

As soon as the offerings were made, the chiefs returned to their places in procession; and presently the priests came out with many lambs, ewes, and rams of all colors, for the native sheep of that country are of different colors, like the horses in Spain. All this flock was the property of the Sun. They took a black lamb, for among the Indians this color was preferred for the sacrifices, as more sacred.

For they said that a black beast was black all over, while a white one, though its body might be white, always had a black nose, which was a defect, and caused it to be less perfect than a black beast. For this reason also, the Kings generally dressed in black, and their "mouming" was the natural color of the wool, which they call gray.

This first sacrifice of a black lamb was made to prognosticate the omens of the festival. For they almost always sacrificed a lamb before undertaking any act either of peace or war, in order to see, by examining the heart and lungs, whether it was acceptable to the Sun, that is to say, whether it would be successful or the reverse. In order to seek an omen to tell them whether a harvest would be good; for some crops they used a lamb, for others a ram, for others a sterile ewe; but they never killed a fruitful sheep even to eat, until it was past bearing.

They took the lamb or sheep, and placed it with the head towards the east. They did not tie its feet, but three or four Indians held it, and it was cut open on the left side while still alive. They then forced their hands in, and pulled out the heart with the lungs and gullet up to the mouth, and the whole had to be taken out entire, without being cut.

If the lungs were palpitating, or had not ceased to live as they call it, the augury was looked upon as most fortunate. If this omen appeared, they took no note of others that might appear of an opposite character. For they said that the excellence of this lucky omen would overcome the evil of all contrary signs. They then took the entrails, blew air into them, and fastened up the mouth, or held it tight with their hands. Presently they began to watch the ways by which the air entered and distended the veins and arteries. If they were very full of air, it was looked upon as a good omen.

They had other ways of seeking auguries of which I took no note, but I remember having seen these two methods practiced on two occasions when I was a child. I went into a yard on one occasion, where some old unbaptized Indians were performing a sacrifice, not of the Raymi, for that festival had been abolished before I was born, but for some special purpose, in order to watch the omens. With this object they sacrificed lambs and sheep, as on the feast of Raymi, for their special sacrifices were performed in imitation of those at the great festivals.

It was considered a very bad omen if the beast rose on its feet while they were opening its side, in spite of those who held it; or if the entrails broke and did not come out whole. It was also an evil sign if the lungs or heart were torn or bruised in being pulled out; and there were other signs which, as I have said, I neither inquired about nor took note of. I remember this because I heard the Indians, who made the sacrifice, asking each other concerning the bad or evil omens, and they did not mind me because I was but a child.

To return to the solemnities of the Raymi. If the sacrifice of the lamb did not furnish good auguries, they made another sacrifice of a sheep, and if this was also unpropitious they offered up another. But, even if the third sacrifice was unlucky, they did not desist from celebrating the festival, though they did so with inward sorrow and misgiving, believing that their father, the Sun, was enraged against them for some fault or negligence that they must have unintentionally committed against his service.

They feared that cruel wars, failure of crops, diseases in their flocks, and other misfortunes might befall them. But when the omens were propitious, their joy was very great with which they celebrated the festival, as they looked forward to future good fortune.

After the sacrifice of the lamb, they brought a great quantity of lambs and sheep for a general sacrifice, and they did not cut these open while they were alive, but beheaded them first. The blood and hearts of all these, as well as of the first lamb, were preserved and offered to the Sun, and the bodies were burnt until they were converted to ashes.

It was necessary that the fire for the sacrifice should be new, and given by the hand of the Sun, as they expressed it. For this purpose they took a large bracelet, called chipana (like those they usually wear on the left thumb). This was held by the high priest. It was larger than usual, and had on it a highly polished concave plate, about the diameter of an orange. They put this towards the Sun, at an angle, so that the reflected rays might concentrate on one point, where they had placed a little cotton well pulled out, for they did not know how to make tinder; but the cotton was soon lighted in the natural way.

With this fire, thus obtained from the hands of the Sun, they consumed the sacrifice, and roasted all the meat on that day. Portions of the fire were then conveyed to the temple of the Sun, and to the convent of virgins, where they were kept in all the year, and it was an evil omen if they were allowed to go out. If on the eve of the festival, which was the time when they made the preparations for the sacrifice, there was no sun wherewith to light the new fire, they obtained it by means of two thin cylindrical sticks, about the girth of a man's finger, which they rubbed together.

They give the name of Vyaca both to the sticks and to the act of obtaining fire from them, the same word serving both for a noun and a verb. The Indians use these sticks instead of flint and steel, and they travel with them, so as to have the means of making a fire at their sleeping places, when in an uninhabited region. I have often seen this when I have made a journey with the Indians, and the shepherds make use of sticks for the same purpose.

They looked upon it as a bad omen to light the fire for the festival in this way, saying that, as the Sun refused to kindle the flame with his own hand, he must be angry with them. All the meat for the feast was roasted in public, in the two squares, and it was distributed amongst all those who were present at the feast, whether Yncas, Curacas, or common people. And each received a piece of the bread called Canca with the meat.

This was the first dish in their grand and solemn banquet. Afterwards they received a great quantity of eatables, which were eaten without drinking; for it was the universal custom of the Indians of Peru not to drink while they were eating.

From what has been related, the assertion made by some Spaniards may have arisen that the Yncas and their vassals communicated like Christians. We have described the custom of the Indians, and each reader can make out the similitude as he pleases.

After the eating was over, they brought liquor in great quantity, for this was one of the most prevalent vices among the Indians. But at the present day, through the mercy of God and the good example which has been set them in this particular by the Spaniards, no Indian can get drunk without being despised and reviled by his fellows. If the Spaniards had set a like example as regards other vices, they would have been apostolic preachers of the gospel.

The Ynca, seated in his golden chair, which was placed on a platform of the same metal, sent to the members of the tribes called Hanan Cuzco and Hurin Cuzco, desiring them to drink, in his name, with the most distinguished Indians belonging to other nations.

First, they invited the captains who had shown valor in war, who, even when they were not lords of vassals, were for their bravery preferred to Curacas. But if a Curaca, besides being a lord of vassals, was also a captain in the wars, they did him honor both on the one account and on the other.

Next the Ynca ordered the Curacas living in the vicinity of Cuzco, to be invited to drink, being those whose ancestors the first Ynca Manco Ccapac had reduced to his service. These chiefs, owing to the great privilege of bearing the name of Ynca, which that Prince had granted them, were looked upon as nobles of the highest rank next to the Yncas of the blood royal, and before all the chiefs of other tribes. For those kings never thought of diminishing in the smallest degree any privilege or favor that their ancestors had granted to any of their vassals, but on the contrary confirmed and increased them.

In these drinking bouts that the Indians had with each other, it must be understood that they all held their cups touching each other, two and two, and whether large or small, they were always of the same size and shape, and of the same metal, whether gold, silver or wood. This custom was enforced that each might drink the same quantity. He who gave an invitation to drink carried the two cups in his hands, and if the invited person was of lower rank he was given the cup in the left hand, if of equal or higher rank, the cup in the right; and with more or less ceremony according to the position in life of one and the other.

Then they both drank together, and, the person inviting to drink, having received back his cup, returned to his place. On these occasions the first invitation was from a superior to his inferior, in token of favor and kindness. Afterwards the inferior invited his superior, as an acknowledgment of his vassalage and duty.

In observing this custom, the Ynca first sent an invitation to his vassals, in each nation preferring the captains before those who were not warriors. The Ynca who took the invitation said to the invited person:-"The sole Ynca sends me to invite you to drink, and I come to drink with you in his name." The captain or Curaca then took the cup with much reverence, raised his eyes to the Sun, as though he would give thanks for so undeserved a favor conferred by his son, and having drunk, he returned the cup to the Ynca without another word, only making signs of adoration with his hands and kissing the air with his lips.

And it must be understood that the Ynca did not send invitations to drink to all the Curacas (though he did so to all captains) but only to a select number, who were most worthy and who were most devoted to the public good. For this was the mark at which they all shot, as well the Ynca as the Curacas and the ministers of peace and war. The rest of the Curacas were invited to drink by the same Yncas who brought the cups, but in their own names and not in that of the Ynca, which satisfied them, because the invitation came from one who was a child of the Sun, like their king.

After the first invitation to drink, the captains and Curacas of all the nations returned the challenges in the order that they had received them, some to the Ynca himself, and the others to his relations, according as the first invitation had been received. The Ynca was approached without a word, and merely with the signs of adoration I have already described.

He received them with much condescension, and took the cups they presented, but as he could not, nor was it lawful for him to drink of them all, he merely put them to his lips, drinking a little from all of them, from some more, from others less, according to the favor he wished to show to their owners, which was regulated by their rank and merit. And he ordered the attendants, who were all Yncas by privilege, to drink for him with those captains and Curacas; who having done so, returned the cups.

The Curacas held these cups in great veneration as sacred things, because the sole Ynca had touched them with his hands and lips. They never drank out of them again, nor touched them, but looked upon them as idols fit to be worshipped, in memory of their having been touched by the Ynca. Certainly nothing can show more than this how great was the love and veneration, both internal and outward, that these Indians felt for their kings.

The invitation and the return challenge to drink having been observed, all returned to their places. Presently the dances and songs began, in different fashions, and with the several insignia, masks, and dresses used by each nation. While the singing and dancing continued they did not leave off drinking, the Yncas and Curacas inviting each other, according to their special friendships, or to the nearness of their places of residence.

The celebration of the feast of Raymi lasted for nine days, during which time there was abundance of eating and drinking, and such rejoicing as each person could show. But the sacrifices for observing omens were only made on the first day. As soon as the nine days were over the Curacas returned to their lands with the permission of the King, very joyful and contented at having celebrated the principal feast of their god the Sun.

When the King was occupied in war or in visiting his dominions, he celebrated the feast in the place where he happened to be, but not with so much solemnity as when he was at Cuzco; while the Ynca governor, the High Priest, and others of the blood royal who remained behind, took care to celebrate it in the capital. On those occasions the Curacas assembled in the provinces, each one going to the feast which was held nearest to the place of his abode.

Native American Legends
Back to Top

Other Native American Legends

American Indian Jewelry | Seed Bead Earrings