Monday, August 19, 2013

History mystery: Chanchan, A target of the Inca conquest -2

The Chimu were energetic builders, and established urban centres less grandiose than Chanchan in almost all of the valleys they ruled, including Tucume Viejo in the Leche valley and Pacatnamu in the Jequetepeque. They followed a tradition of urban construction established by earlier Andean civilizations, executing their work with greater skill, and on a larger scale. Only a powerful administration was capable of organizing such large building works. Some information has survived on the nature of Chimu government. The king was supreme, wielding absolute power. Known as the Quie quic, or Great Lord, he was like the Inca sovereign in claiming to be descended from the gods. Below the king were the Chimu chieftains, known as alaec, and the members of the royal family. One myth states that the king and the nobility were descended from two stars, while the common people sprang from two others.

The tale suggests that a strict class system existed, and that there was no possibility of movement between the classes. At the bottom of the social scale were the commoners, who were referred to as paraeng and yana, generally taken to denote vassals and servants. Agriculture was the main source of livelihood, on land owned mainly by the king and nobility. A few animals such as the dog and the Muscovy duck were raised for food. Fishing and hunting also supplemented the diet. The large-scale manufacture of craft goods also supported the economy, and trade was based on barter. The centralized state supervised various public works. For example, a network of roads was built to link the kingdom’s different regions. An irrigation system, begun by the Moche a few centuries earlier, was extended to reach some of the desolate spaces around the valleys, to secure abundant harvests. Like other ancient peoples all over the world, the Chimu watched the movements of the heavenly bodies with fascination. Yet no divinity seems to have been worshipped as a supreme force. Legends refer to a variety of gods – notably the sea, the stars, the sun, and the moon goddess Si. Si was considered more powerful than the sun, because she was visible even during daylight hours. While knowledge of the Chimu’s beliefs remains sketchy, ample material survives to form a picture of their superlative craftsmanship. Their goods included figures identical to those on wall friezes in the capital.

This suggests that a single model was used for multiple copies. Weavers worked on tapestries, embroidery, and ceremonial mantles made with feathers. Chimu potters specialized in a gleaming black ware – vessels cast in moulds and ingeniously embellished with human and animal figures. But it was in goldwork that the Chimu excelled. Chimu goldsmiths mastered the arts of soldering, chasing, and filigree work. Most goldwork was made from hammered sheet metal, although some pieces were cast in moulds. The results were exquisitely shaped golden bowls and goblets, masks, breastplates, and jewellery. The Chimu goldsmiths were famed beyond the frontiers of their own state. When the Incas overran the Chimu kingdom, they took the most skilled craftsmen back with them. In about 1460, the Incas began to penetrate the northern regions of Peru.

 But Minchan-saman could offer only ineffective resistance, and Chimor was defeated and brought within the Inca domain. The Chimu king was treated well, and his son, Chumun-caur, was appointed to govern the defeated kingdom. But between 1485 and 1490, the unity of the kingdom was destroyed – its ruler became merely a provincial chieftain of the Moche valley, with no power over the neighbouring territories. The Incas went on to absorb Chimu achievements into their own empire, which extended beyond modern Peru to much of Ecuador and Bolivia, and parts of Chile and Argentina. Like Chimor, the Inca domain was rigidly centralized, with a system of roads and couriers running between the main centres. But now they carried the orders of the supreme Inca, the Child of the Sun. After the disintegration of the Inca Empire and its subjugation by the Spaniards, Chanchan – which was already partially abandoned – was sacked by the treasure-hungry conquistadores. The city fell into ruin, and the native goldwork was melted down in huge quantities and cast into ingots sold at the metal’s market value. Yet neither time nor conquest has completely obliterated Chimu civilization. The Incas disseminated Chimu culture over an area much larger than the original kingdom, and the Spanish chroniclers preserved their legends. And even in their fallen state, the regal ruins at Chanchan evoke the majesty of the Chimu rulers and the inventive energy of their people.

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