Did any European witness an Inca religious festival?

  • Define "European". Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 22:05
  • 28
    @StephanBijzitter from Europe?
    – Tim
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 22:36
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    – MCW
    Commented Jun 27, 2020 at 14:34
  • No. The Inca Empire was facing four catastrophes in the short period where they first encountered Europeans and when they were conquered. (1) the death of their sovereign. (2) Fratricidal six year civil war. (3) Pandemic which killed 65-90% of their population. (4) The Spanish Invasion. The least of these being the spanish invasion consisting of 168 men. European exposure to the Incas was just extremely limited chronologically and in the number of Europeans, along with the fact that the Inca Empire was literally on it's knees before it's conquest in 1532.
    – user27618
    Commented Jun 27, 2020 at 19:59

4 Answers 4


Garcilaso de la Vega, a Spanish-Peruvian chronicler in the Viceroyalty of Peru(then Spanish-held) recounted several aspects of Incan life and tradition. His most famous works include Historia de la Florida and Comentarios Reales de los Incas the second of which is of presumably more interest to you as it details some of his experiences in Cuzco as a child.

I looked online and found this excerpt from the first part of the Comentarios which details the "Festival of the Sun".


Cristóbal de Molina, a young Spanish priest, witnesses in 1535 the Inca celebration of the maize harvest:

On a platform Indians were throwing meats into a great fire. At another place the Inca ordered llamas to be thrown for the poorer Indians to grab, and this caused great sport. Over 200 hundred girls came out of Cuzco, each with a large new pot of maize beer. They also offered to the sun many bales of a herb that the Indians chew and call coca, whose leaf is like myrtle.

There were many other ceremonies and sacrifices until, as the sun was disappearing from sight, they made a great act of reverence, raising their hands and worshipping it in the deepest humility. On the ninth day, when the festival was over, they brought out hand ploughs. The Inca took a plough and began to break the earth, and the rest of the lords did the same. Following their lead the entire kingdom did likewise. No Indian would have dared to break the earth until the Inca had done so, and none believed that the earth could produce unless the Inca broke it first.


Or, you can purchase an entire book about this : Account of the Fables and Rites of the Incas

  • 1
    More details here: utpress.utexas.edu/books/molacc Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 10:25
  • ? A "major" Incan festival in 1535, Two years AFTER the fall of the Inca Empire in 1533?
    – user27618
    Commented Jun 27, 2020 at 18:50
  • Cristobal de Molina was 3 years old in 1535 and living in Spain. He is believed to have first landed in the America's in 1556. And Chronicalled interviews conducted by the Bishop of Cuzco, in 1583, fifty years after the spanish conquered the Incas. They were not "witnesses" to any religious festivals decades into Spanish rule of Paru, rather they just interviewed Incan survivors and documented their memories.
    – user27618
    Commented Jun 27, 2020 at 20:01

Pizarro himself may have witnessed a minor religious festival in 1529, on his first trip to Peru; however, this is disputed.

  • 1
    Anyone have a source on this?
    – Brian Z
    Commented Jun 27, 2020 at 14:00

Did any European ever witness a major Inca religious festival?

Short Answer:
No. The Incan empire had been decapitated, engaged in a 6 year fratricidal civil war for supremacy, as well hit with a devastating pandemic (which killed as many as 65-90%) of it's population before the first Europeans met (briefly) with Inas on dry land. It is highly unlikely that whatever religious festivals were seen by Europeans could be considered "major" by Inca standards. The mighty Inca civilization was on its knees when Pizarro landed for conquest(1530). The largest empire in pre-columbia America could not even defend itself against 168 spanish soldiers much less, conduct a major festival by their own standards. Pizarro after committing his 168 man force to defeating the Incas in Sept of 1532, only took about 30 days to defeat the empire. Pizarro captured the remaining Incan Sovereign Atawallpa by mid Nov, so the window for witnessing an Inca festivals was short, the numbers of Europeans involved was extremely small, the period where Europeans were fraternizing with Incas was even smaller, and the ability to conduct a "major" festival during this period would have been out of the question.

Detailed Answer:
The Sovereign(King) of the Incas Huayna Capac, died of European diseases (measles or smallpox) in 1524, along with his brother and eldest son and heir. 4 years before the first Europeans (Pizaro) encounter the first Inca city. This preceding epidemic killed as many as 65-90% of the Incas in places ( including evidently the Inca capital ) as well as touching off a six year Inca civil war for supremacy between Capacs two sons Atawallpa Inka and Waskar Inka. The European diseases spreading to the Inca's through central America where Cortez had conquered the Aztecs a decade earlier (1519-1521).

The first Europeans met Incas in early 1527 when Spaniards associated with an early Pizarro expedition encountered an Inca raft with 20 inca crew. Impressed with the rich contents of the raft, Pizarro tracked down the Incan city of Tumbes 1528 after wintering off shore on an island. Pizzaro with only 13 men, Famous Thirteen, under his command sends a two man landing party to investigate and report back on the city's wealth. It is this encounter and stories of this city's riches which Pizarro presents to the King of Spain to justify a mission of conquest which sets off from Spain in Jan 1530. Under his new expedition, Pizarro spends two years marching along the coast of Ecuador before founding the first Spanish Settlement at San Miguel and then marching inland to contact and engage the Incas, Sept of 1532.

History of the Incas
in September 1532, he(Pizzaro) marches out to attack the vast empire of the Incas. His army by now consists of 62 horsemen and 106 foot soldiers.

By Nov of 1532 Pizaro's forces had captured, the remaining Incan Sovereign Atahualpa, who was subsequently strangled to death in July 1533 after the Incas fulfilled Pizarro's ransom demands, (filling a room full of gold for Pizarro 3 times, same as the Aztecs did under Cortez (1x) with similar results). Which Marks the end of the Inca civilization.

So given the civil unrest, pandemic and extremely short time period where Europeans were in proximity to Incas, witnessing any religious festival seems slim while, a major religious festival by Inca standards, would have been impossible.


Comment on other Answer

From: George A. Solodun

Cristóbal de Molina, a young Spanish priest, witnesses in 1535 the Inca celebration of the maize harvest:

Cristobal de Molina was 3 years old in 1535 and living in Spain. He is believed to have first landed in the America's in 1556. And Chronicalled interviews conducted by the Bishop of Cuzco, in 1583, fifty years after the spanish conquered the Incas.

Cristobal de Molina
(Monlina) accompanied the Bishop of Cuzco , Sebastián de Lartaun , to the III Council of Lima developed in the viceregal capital in 1583 . By order of said bishop, he wrote List of the Fables and Rites of the Incas

  • Interesting. There were apparently two of them. One (El chileno) was on the expedition in 1535, the other ("el Cusqueño") wrote the later book.
    – justCal
    Commented Jun 28, 2020 at 14:20
  • The Incan empire fell in 1533 with the death of their sovereign Atahualpa.
    – user27618
    Commented Jun 29, 2020 at 0:20
  • 1
    I wasn't debating your conclusion (a +1 from me),I agree the book appears to be based on interviews, not direct observation. It is just curious that following the links from your source reveals two very similar individuals.
    – justCal
    Commented Jun 29, 2020 at 0:49

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