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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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.
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