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Ancestor Worship

Among The Inca

In his early chronicle of Inca customs, Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala pictures a mummy with feathered headdress and fine raiment carried on a litter as illustration of November or aya marcay quilla (Quechua for "the month of the dead"). He describes how during the holiday of the dead the deceased were removed from their crypts, adorned with clothing and feathers, given food—through burnt offerings—and drink, and carried dancing and walking through the streets and plazas, then laid to rest with various offerings. Such activities occurred primarily in the worship of royal mummies, as an extension of the concept of the divine nature of the Inca king. While Inca beliefs included the departure of the soul from the body at death, royal bodies were mummified, served burnt offerings and drinks, and cared for by official attendants. Royal ancestors participated in affairs of state—counseling living rulers and contributing to their decision making, and, either in the guise of their mummified remains or as idols making formal appearances and visitations, receiving obeisance from their living subjects. Such beliefs were common in the Andes, as ancestral idols of subject peoples were held in Cuzco, the Inca capital, as a control mechanism.

Andean and Inca ancestor worship extended beyond that of royalty, and was probably common among all classes in the pre-Columbian era. Padre Bernabé Cobo attests that when the soul departed from the body, members of the deceased's ayllu (a corporate kin group) and family took and cared for the body, providing the veneration and care that was possible according to the family's means and status. The bodies were kept in relatives' houses, tombs, or shrines and were regularly paid tribute through sacrifice and prayer. This nonroyal worship was performed only by those descended in a direct line, and usually only by the children and possibly grandchildren of the deceased. Such worship was held to directly affect descendants' vitality and fortune, while its lack or disrespect to the ancestors could result in ill health or other maladies.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Ambiguity - Ambiguity to Anticolonialism in Middle East - Ottoman Empire And The Mandate SystemAncestor Worship - Ancestors In Africa And Asia, Among The Inca, Ancestral Ambivalence, Bibliography