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Inca Atahualpa
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The Inca Atahualpa and the problem with his ear

He was one of the possible successors of Huayna Cápac, the last great Inca conqueror. Huayna Cápac took Atahualpa from age 13 to accompany him in his conquests to the north of present-day Ecuador. During this time, the young Atahualpa left Cusco and began some war campaigns that unfortunately did not turn out as he thought. It is said that Atahualpa had great intelligence and ability to learn, even playing several games against the Spanish, which always highlighted his mental acuity.

Inca Atahualpa

Representation of the Inca Atahualpa

Statue of Atahualpa in the Royal Palace of Madrid:
At present, it is possible to appreciate this monument integrates a series of statues that recognize all the kings of the Hispanic Monarchy. Another statue that can be seen is the figure of Moctezuma, the last emperor of the Mexican lands.

Who was Atahualpa?

Atahualpa was the son of Huayna Cápac and Nina Coyuchi. The year of his birth is a mystery, but according to someway, it is presumed to be in the year 1500 AD. Much has been said about the place of his birth, saying that he was not born in Cusco and would have his birth in Quito. However, this was due more to a conspiracy that originated in Cusco after the death of his father and intended to delegitimize the possible assignment of him as sovereign or king of all Tawantinsuyo. We will see this later. For the moment, we must focus on his initial life.

As a son of the Hanan dynasties, he had to perform the Huarachicuy. This military ceremony consisted of a series of challenges and physical demands. This ceremony was for young people so that will consider themselves adults and wear the gold earrings that were characteristic of the military elite. It is said that he had skills for war and commanding armies, he was a very intelligent man, with great lucid reasoning and who imposed a lot of authority. Surely this contributed to the fact that after performing the Huarachicuy, he accompanied his father to repel rebellions in the north of Tawantinsuyo.

In this sense, he spent much of his life with his father and his brother Ninan Coyuchi. He living in fights and at the same time in Quito. Thanks to this way of life, he earned the respect of great commanders who faithfully served his parents, we are referring to Quizquiz and Chalcuchímac. He came to win some battles, however, in others, he was defeated. After this defeat in Colombian lands known as Tomebamba. He decided not to return to Cusco because he felt great shame after his defeat. However, in the sibling conflict, the aforementioned generals swore allegiance to him. These were the army and military forces in full activity, who also advised him to disobey the orders of his brother Huáscar.

What happened to Atahualpa’s ear?

As we mentioned, Atahualpa received his education in Cusco, making the famous Huarachicuy, after which he was taken by his father. During this course, he probably learned all of his father’s wisdom from him, which is why he had an imposing presence. However, according to some historians, something that would mark his entire life is the lack of one of his ears. This event would be important because for some it would directly prevent his succession as Inca and for others, it would cause shame.

There are two versions of how he lost his ear, probably leaving only a small stump of skin in the area. One of the first theories is that his ear was probably cut off after being captured in one of the battles he fought against his brother Huáscar. To this is added one of the legends that made him a deity. It is said that, during this capture, thanks to the god Inti, he managed to escape by turning into a snake. However, some narrate that he managed to escape thanks to the fact that he received the help of a woman who helped him by giving him a bar.

Other versions that are handled about the case of Atahualpa’s ear are that he lost it after invading an Acllahuasi, after struggling with one of the maidens of the Sun, he was persecuted by one of the mamaconas, women in charge of educating the young women. According to the story, the older woman was in charge of tearing off his ear as a form of punishment. Not much is known about this topic and only a few anecdotes were told about it.

Who was the royal descendant of Huayna Cápac?

Regarding the handling of information on this important detail, there are different versions. One of the most reliable is the one written by Juan de Betanzos. It is narrated that Huayna Cápac died because of smallpox. Throughout his life, he was constantly consulted to leave the name of his successor, at which time he chose Atahualpa. However, everything was made more confusing by the malaise and hallucinations typical of smallpox. He gave new names, even choosing Ninan Coyuchi, but this was only a baby, in a new consultation Atahualpa was appointed, but Atahualpa decided to reject the position, some mention that the lack of his ear prevented him from wearing the mascaypacha at the beginning. Consequently, he granted the mascaypacha to Huáscar.

In this way, it can be understood that Atahualpa was the main option of his father to be the new Inca. However, all the information can be misrepresented to who best accommodates the actions according to the different versions. The important thing in this detail is that the arrival of the Spanish coincided with the breakdown of an empire, a civil war, diseases, and internal problems of loyalty. It is well known that many chiefs decided to support the Spanish forces without hesitation to overthrow and destroy the Incas or rulers of Tawantinsuyo.

Atahualpa was very intelligent, , it is said that he joked with the Spanish and also won some chess games. Another thing he learned was basic Spanish, but he was able to communicate some of his ideas. Finally, he earned the respect of all his captors for his bearing, intelligence, and great figure that he imposed with his mere presence.

The capture of Atahualpa

After winning the fratricidal battle against his younger brother Huáscar, Atahualpa went to Cusco to be crowned or put on the mascaypacha. During this journey the report of the bearded men reached him. After a series of dialogues, a meeting was coordinated in the Plaza de Cajamarca. In this encounter, Atahualpa planned to subdue and humiliate them, but he was surprised by the technology of cannons and harquebuses. The sound that these products plus their destructive capacity made Atahualpa’s unarmed soldiers flee in terror.

In Atahualpa’s army, he mixed with dancers and musicians since he wanted to make a show of this capture. It is said that the vast majority of people died of suffocation trying to escape from the canyons. Another important factor was that Rumi Ñawi, who was with the main army, did not enter the plaza and ended up withdrawing his entire army toward Quito. In this way, Atahualpa blamed his capture on this war general who practically abandoned him or decided not to enter the battle for fear that the Inca would be assassinated.

Death of Atahualpa and end of Tawantinsuyo

Atahualpa, being a prisoner of the bearded men, never felt afraid. It is narrated that he continued to have all his privileges, such as the fact that he could continue living with his concubines and that people continue to worship him. Although it is manifested, there were cases in which the curacas or chiefs of tribes, were going to leave a tribute and gifts to Pizarro

Atahualpa’s death was controversial because he agreed with Pizarro to pay him a quarter in gold and two in silver in exchange for his release. After receiving all this gold and silver and after a long conversation between those involved in the capture of the Inca, it was agreed that the best thing to do was to assassinate him. This idea was arrived at because the presence of Diego de Almagro together with his soldiers, did not make any profit from all the treasure collected.

Atahualpa’s death took place in the same square in Cajamarca, after almost 8 months of captivity. In order not to die burned, he decided to be baptized receiving the name of Francisco. This is sure because his godfather was Francisco Pizarro, of whom it is said in some chronicles that he was a great friend. With the death of this last Inca, barely 33 or 35 years old, the end of the empire was consolidated because it fell into a disorganization that was impossible to repair.


By Ticket Machu Picchu – Last updated, March 3, 2023