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Place of Rainbows - Manco Capac the First of the Incas

Place of Rainbows

Manco Capac the First of the Incas

The following myth was recorded by Inca Garcilaso de la Vega in Volume 1 of his masterpiece, The Royal Commentaries of the Inca, published in Spain in 1609.

Between the ranges of the towering Cordilleras, which gleam as blindingly as though the Children of the Sun had covered them with gold leaf - just as they covered the tip of that grim red Rock at Titicaca where the Sun once hid - the plateau is very wide and high, the air so rarefied that it seems scarcely breathable. Lake Titicaca ripples on and on, enormous under an equally enormous sky.

Down the mountain flanks flow furious torrents, and impassable quebradas (ravines) rend the porphyry and granite. This land of contrasts seems so close to heaven that it was once thought of as a possession of the sun. Its people were called Children of the Sun, the woolly llamas were his flocks; gold was the sun's tears when he wept.

Some people swear that Manco Capac was the Sun's third son; others say that he had several sisters and brothers, and his human father was already elderly when he was born. This child's first cries caused the old man to look about him for his staff, to support his footsteps to his wife's room where she lay after giving birth. The staff was a plain one of polished wood, but when he reached for it he found the wood grown colder and heavier than usual. It had turned to gold! Surely, with Manco Capac's birth, something wonderful had come into his home. Yet there, in his wife's arms, was an ordinary, brown, weeping baby. Still, the omen of the gold staff made everybody hold the child in awe.

Manco Capac's father was powerful in Peru. He was a hard man who had conquered many tribes. He could not, of course, possess the land (that was the sun's privilege) but he could, and did, exercise control over it. There was no end to what that old man had gathered: the flocks of the sun, the sun's tears, and the people's tears as well. But despite his dominance, there were still some unconquered tribes. Peru was an even wilder, fiercer place then than it was later. In the mountain ranges the quebradas (ravines) cut people off from one another, and much of the high country wasn't yet worked as it could be.

Gradually, through the years, the old man's capacities to grasp and plunder faded. He spent his time dozing and did not relish his potato or maize liquor. He grumbled incessantly about the coldness of the air, the aching in his bones, the food's tastelessness, and the thin fleeces on his flocks. He said his sons and daughters were a poor bunch overall, not a patch on him when he was young. Then he would fall silent and steal sidelong, jealous glances at Manco Capac, and touch the gold staff as though he suspected it of something. From being a harsh, unmanageable tyrant, he became merely a troublesome old man, but his people and children tolerated him now with great good humor. They believed that as men age; they are drawn more within the sun's power and protection, and slowly return to it.

Sometimes Manco Capac would walk down to the shores of Lake Titicaca and look out over the waters that rippled on and on till it seemed they might merge into infinity. He would sigh, and stare at the pile of reddish sandstone rock (where legend said the sun had hidden himself during the flood) and think about his father's weakness and moodiness. At Manco Capac's age such a state was almost unbelievable. He himself was never tired. Sometimes he felt a surge of exhilaration, a sense of his own strength, and would long to rush into dangers, and seek tremendous accomplishment. Then his restlessness would turn into a troubled feeling that some destiny awaited him, one he could never search for while the old man hung on and on, reluctant to depart; but still Manco Capac stayed dutifully at home.

At long last the old man started to die on a day when the sun gilded the distant Cordilleras, and the lake spread serenely like a sheet of light. Manco Capac's favorite sister, Mama Oello Huaca, came to the door of the dwelling and shouted for him. "Manco Capac! Hurry, call the mohane! Our father is very sick"

The mohane was the oracle, or priest; he came hurrying to hang his hammock near the fierce old man, who was now gasping for breath and rolling his eyes from side to side as though he saw enemies surrounding him, and when the exhortations and magic rites began, merely gasped the harder. It was soon clear that the priest, lying in his hammock, could not control this sickness, and at that point Manco Capac and his favorite sister fell upon him, shook him from his hammock, and drove him angrily away.

"Fling those large stones after him!" yelled Manco Capac, flexing his muscles and himself, supporting the inefficient priest's departure by hurling heavy bits of wood. All this time the old man's breath gasped and rattled in his throat; he was very near the end, but Manco Capac knew he mustn't let his father die unaided.

"Close his eyes for him!" he commanded; and then wrapped his father tight as a swaddled child in llama fleeces, seized his nostrils between thumb and finger, and filially achieved his suffocation. Afterwards, the entire family joined in sealing doors and windows, cracks, and crannies, with all the dirty things that they could find. Mama Oello spread dung liberally upon the threshold.

"Does it stink enough?" she asked anxiously. "Will it prevent his prowling spirit from making a return?" And Manco Capac, wrinkling his handsome nostrils in disgust, muttered with conviction, "Not even our dead father's spirit would come near the place again, unless it had to." Then, during several days, they wailed and mourned for him.

Soon after these solemnities, the six brothers and sisters of Manco Capac decided he must succeed their father to the leadership; although the youngest son, he held a special place because of the omen at his birth. Their people were summoned for a celebration, and came flocking with their families and woolly llamas, each bearing heavy packs of produce: maize, flower and chicha for the sacrifices, and coca too. What an assembly there was at the red rock of Titicaca, the paccarisca (the sun's holy hiding place)! They called on the maize-mother spirit, and the potato-mother, chanting "Saramama! Acsumama!" They burned some llamas, and paraded round them, chanting and pulling off the fleece; and the first priestesses of Peru wore gold discs of the sunflower upon their breasts.

Then Manco Capac spoke: "My people! You know this is almost the time of Aymuray Quilla (the harvest moon). You have brought many offerings to the house of my dead father, and we thank you. After harvest, bring everything you can for I and Mama Oello, and my other sisters and brothers, must now go travelling, to learn what we may have to conquer still, and what it could cost us in our people's wealth."

He spoke at a good time: his people were happy and relaxed on maize liquor and coca; and with a great shout, they stoically promised him almost all they had before it could be taken.

When all this was being gathered in, Manco Capac's sisters were busily preparing fresh garments for their brothers, and splendidly embroidering their caps and cloaks. New arms were being made as well (shining javelins, and tomahawks). When everything was ready, Mama Oello, urged on by the others, took their dead father's staff and placed it between Manco Capac's hands.

"Behold, my brother - your tapac-yauri! (Scepter of the kings!). Be more cunning than the monkey or the fox, stronger and fiercer than jaguar or bear, and noble of spirit like the condor. May you see your enemies in the darkness, as an owl does! May you rule over us with the wisdom of Thonapa, whose wisdom was truly greater than the serpent's."

Then she handed him the two gold cups that their father had always sworn were once Thonapa's: that hero who had come from heaven and preached to the people from the Rock of Titicaca - and she said: "Do not, our brother, we beg you, disappear from us as Thonapa did, when he reached the sea!"

Tears sprang from Manco Capac's eyes - tears which shone as though they were tears of the sun. "How could I leave you, Mama Oello? But I must seek what I must seek. The staff turned gold when I was born, and now you give it to me as a scepter. But it's the sun alone who shall choose if his energy and life will pour into me so that I shall reign!" Then the six brothers and sisters gave a tremendous shout of, "Brother, we will never leave you! Let us go together."

They travelled across the plateau towards the mountains, where peak upon peak rose jaggedly into the sky and glittered in crowns of ice. Up there the snows had never melted, even beneath the fierceness of an equatorial sun. There were cold colors in the crevasses and on slabs of porphyry and granite. It was a long while before the travelers toiled up to a high ledge. Here they slept, huddled beneath llama fleeces; and in the morning they woke and saw ahead of them an even higher peak and the sun rising behind it, so that he seemed to leap into the sky straight from the cone itself. They watched him, openmouthed.

Manco Capac, even stronger and more muscular than his older brothers, hurried to begin the last climb, not noticing how quickly the others fell behind him. At last, he hauled himself on to a ledge so near the summit that he felt almost as airborne as a condor. Infinitely far below him now were the mossy slopes and short yellow grasses at this gigantic mountain's base. The air was even thinner here, and brutally cold. He hugged himself tightly in his woolen cape and stared into the blue. After a while, the dazzle seemed like millions of little silver arrows shot straight into his eyes. Then suddenly the sky was full of color. Rainbows appeared, seven of them; hooped across space in fantastic arcs of color. One hung above his head like an enormous circle suspended from the sun.

Manco Capac was filled with a sense of dedication and good fortune. Impulsively, as his brothers and sisters came toiling up towards him, his happiness burst from him in a song of joy; the strong tenor notes rose and rebounded from peak to peak, echoing till it sounded as though many singers answered him while some sang in unison. When he fell silent, the echoes continued and at last fell to a distant murmur, like people whispering to one another. Manco Capac turned toward his companions. His face was illuminated; the five stared at him in awe. Five? One brother was missing. But he had been so zealous a companion on the arduous climbs of that long journey! Manco Capac stared at his bewilderment.

"He's the most skilled climber of us all! Surely no harm has come to him, and he is only hiding to tease us." He glanced downward and scanned the mountain: there was no sign of the missing youth, and no cheerful voice hailed them from below. "But he must be here with us when we make an offering to the sun in this place which is surely another paccarisca! Which of you will fetch him for me?"

His younger sister said that she would go; she put her arms round Manco Capac and kissed him warmly. He noticed that her dark cheeks had grown even more sunburned during the climb. Her bronze-colored hair had escaped from her little woolen cap and fell on to her shoulders in long braids.

They watched her as she went smiling down the mountainside, leaping from rock to rock and singing to herself some words of Manco Capac's song. They waited, sitting in a silent group. They waited and waited, and as the time of her absence lengthened, and the sun moved across the sky, Manco Capac felt a rising darkness in his spirit, and a sense of urgency.

"I did wrong to send her" (his voice was rough with anxiety)" although she is trained to endurance like the rest of us. Some strange accident must have engulfed them both! We will go down ourselves. Let us spread out across the mountainside to find them."

He was filled with apprehension as he leaped or climbed from ledge to rock or dodged a wide crevasse. His shadow bobbed beside him like a distorted companion: its blue shape flickered across ice and snow; now elongated, now squat and misshapen as a dwarf. Still high above the snowline, he looked round him desperately. What had become of his beloved younger sister and his devoted brother? Still a long way below rolled the immense plateau with the far glitter of Lake Titicaca. Nowhere was any sign of human life.

Again, he scanned the mountain. Quite close to where he stood reared up an enormous stone. There was something ominous about it, and even Manco Capac trembled. As he approached it cautiously, he found himself aware of an inhuman presence, remote and sad. Was this some Huaca (a sacred object to his people)? Then, in this lonely place, its power must be terrible indeed! It was said that men and spirits who had been disobedient to the true creative power were turned to stone, and their influences darkly permeated those Huacas where they were eternally confined. But Manco Capac was naturally brave, and today was further strengthened by the vision of the rainbows and, in the slaty shadows of the rock, he had glimpsed two stricken forms.

"Brother! Dearest sister" he called softly, and hurried toward them and that worrying, looming shape.

"Dear Manco Capac!" His sister's voice was a weak and sorrowful thread of sound. "You've come too late this Huaca holds us. Keep away! Now you cannot help us, it will only draw and hold you too."

"By the sun's might, I think he will free you!" said Manco Capac between his teeth; and still walked on. "Oh, keep away!" she begged him, weeping. "Our brother was lying nearly dead. I ran to him, and was quickly overcome by a fierce, invisible presence. It holds us strongly, and we will not escape."

The young man's head was cradled in his sister's lap. His eyes rolled upward, and he was plainly dying. The Huaca was powerful indeed and as she spoke the girl's head bowed, and she fainted. She had looked so young and joyful as she ran down the mountainside; now she might have been an old woman with crooked shoulders. Sweat poured off her forehead. Her braids had come unfastened, and her hair hung in a messy state over her shoulders. She fell, gasping, across her dying brother.

"Do not come too close!" were her last words. Then she was silent, her white face as blue shadowed as the crevasses far above. Rage rose in Manco Capac. To see his sister and brother lost to him by such a cruel enchantment! His trembling left him, and he strode right to the grim stone and bashed it, using the golden staff. It rang and vibrated in his hand, but neither bent nor broke. The dying man gasped and moaned. Above, there was a sound of wings, as a large condor swooped low as though to watch.

A voice spoke. It came from the stone's heart - a rolling, grinding, grey sort of voice, with granite in it.

"First and greatest of the Children of the Sun! Even my power fails before you."

"Then release my sister and my brother," cried Manco Capac, raising the staff to strike again.

"They can never be released. Their sins have brought them here. Their sins will bind them. They have fated themselves to stay bound with me in this low, dark state, unillumined in spirit by the sun."

"How is it possible? They were such innocents" murmured Manco Capac, a sob in his voice. "How could I leave them here to such sorrowful loneliness and a dreadful future?"

"You have no choice - you are as bound to your condition as they to theirs! As soon as the tapac-yauri touched my side, I knew myself incapable to hold you here. But these whom you call innocents, had disobeyed the true creative power! I cannot touch you, nor can you reach them" The stone sighed, as though it desired emptily and hungrily to engulf Manco Capac as well as the disobedient pair already in its grip. "Now go - first of the Incas! Have you not seen and understood the rainbow sign?"

Although himself invulnerable to the dark spirit in the stone, Manco Capac stood shivering with horror. He was in pain for this dying pair, whom he had dearly loved. If only the gold staff in his hand could help him release them! But against the Life-Givers decree it could have no strength. He looked up, for pity, to the sun, which blazed high above the peaks. The light was merciless.

He leaned to kiss his brother and sister that were now both unconscious in the stone's shade, the girl's hand resting on her brother's shoulder. Then Manco Capac sorrowfully, and slowly, walked away.

Some little distance up the mountain, he found Mama Oello and the other three huddled in an anxious group. Since they had seen and found nobody, they had feared his death as well. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he told them briefly what had happened. Then he commanded them to go farther down the mountain and wait for him near the plateau. And then, all alone, he climbed back towards the summit.

Once more on the high ledge, he looked about him. It seemed a long while since he had sung his song of praise and joy. The immense mountain ranges stretched away on either hand, row upon row of silent peaks capped with continual, glittering snows. Manco Capac covered his eyes against the intensity of light. Down below there were dark shadows, mysteries, but he had escaped them! He had come into the light, and the Life-Giver had laid a duty on him - to lead his people in the pathways of the sun, whatever black punishment his own brother and sister must endure. He must try to expunge his sorrow from his mind.

He was standing where, that morning, he had seen the rainbows, and he thought of them as delicate, exquisite creatures of the sun, gentle and healing, and imagined a place of worship for them. Perhaps, at that moment, he even visualized the dazzling Temple of Coricancha (the Place of Gold), that the Incas would build at Cuzco where the face of the sun with his gold rays would appear on one huge disk of gold within his temple, while a silver disk would bear the features of the second deity, the moon. The stars should have a chapel there, thunder and lightning should have another; and the rainbow a third. Yes, the rainbow should never be forgotten either by him or by his people.

Then the first of the Incas, Manco Capac, clambered down the mountainside towards the plateau, and with his four young followers went to take up his task.

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