The Incan Empire in Ecuador | Galapagos Unbound

Conquest and Conflict 

The Inca originated in a small portion of Peru, but with their dynamic, culturally advanced society they rapidly advanced their territory. Ultimately, the Inca were able to form an extensive empire within a century that not only dominated present-day Peru but continued into Bolivia and central Chile. While the Inca constructed large cities that stabilized power, part of their efficiency and effectiveness as a continental power came from their ability to communicate across their vast empire. With their stone-paved highways that stretched over thousands of kilometers, chains of messengers were able to pass along missives and reports that were often encoded in a system of knots on a rope. No doubt many status updates were sent along these highways as the Inca faced the difficult invasion of Ecuador.

The Incan empire commenced their expansion into the north of South America in the early 15th century from their stronghold in Cuzco, Peru. At this time, Pachacuti was the ruler of the Incan empire and his son Túpac Yupanqui, or Topa Inca Yupanqui, led the invasion; however, Pachacuti ceded military military command to his son around 1463 and, ultimately, his empire in 1471.

Coming as they were from the south, the Inca first met the Cañari, who put up a fierce resistance to conquest and were able to deflect Túpac Yupanqui for several years. Although Túpac Yupanqui has become renowned in history as a brilliant military strategist who successfully extended the Incan empire, he struggled in his conquest of Ecuador. As he continued to invade the north, he attempted to consolidate power through marriage. Most notably, he wed a Cañari princess and fathered a son. This son, Huayna Capac, was raised in Ecuador. Moreover, as he succeeded his father to the Incan throne he succeeded where his father had not and furthered the subjugation of Ecuador’s indigenous peoples.


Conquering Remaining Ecuador 

Huayna Capac ruled from 1493 to 1525, and during his years as military commander and ruler he conquered the remaining resistance in Ecuador—notably the Kingdom of Quito which was a confederation of Caranqui, Cayambe, Otovalos, Cochasquis, and Pasto sociolinguistic groups. This confederation withstood Incan efforts of conquest for over 17 years before falling to Huayana Capac. Legend says that when the Caranqui were finally defeated, the Inca slaughtered all Caranqui men ages 12 and over and disposed of the bodies by throwing them into a lake near Otavalo. Today, the lake is named Laguna Yahuarcocha, Lake of Blood, because the massacred bodies reportedly turned the lake red.

Although defeated, the indigenous cultures of Ecuador remained restive. Huayana Capac devoted much of his reign in continuing attempts to suppress rebellions and consolidate power. During this period, the Incas had spotty influence on the indigenous cultures, but the most significant change that took place was the introduction and indoctrination of Quechua, the Inca’s language, which remains widely spoken in Ecuador today.


Beginnings of a Divided Empire 

Much like his father, Huayana Capac strengthened ties throughout his empire through marriage to women of various tribes. Although some reports state that Huayana Capac fathered hundreds of children, only two are of historical note: Atahualpa, who had Caranqui lineage and grew up in the Quito region, and Huáscar, who grew up in Incan capital Cuzco. Upon his death, Huayana Capac made the strategically flawed decision to leave his empire to both of these sons. Although perhaps this might have been a seemingly fair verdict, it nevertheless divided the Incan empire.

This division of power eventually erupted into civil war that focused the Inca internally and weakened them as an empire. Although Atahualpa eventually defeated his brother, the war-exhausted and embittered empire was ripe for conquest when Spain’s ambassador Francisco Pizarro arrived in Ecuador in 1532.  Pizarro, along with his crew piloted by Bartolomé Ruiz de Andrade, were the first Spaniards in Ecuador. Initially, the Spaniards encroached upon territory further north in the present-day Esmeraldas province. However, after hearing tales of Hernando Cortez’s recent seizure of Aztec wealth and property, Pizarro set his sights on the Incas.