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The Cañari (in Kichwa: Kañari) are an indigenous ethnic group traditionally inhabiting the territory of the modern provinces of Azuay and Cañar in Ecuador; the term also refers to an independent pre-Hispanic tribal confederation of the same name, from which the modern people are descended. They are particularly noted for their resistance against the Inca Empire. Eventually conquered by the Inca shortly before the arrival of the Spanish, the Cañari would later ally with the Spanish against the Inca. Today, the population of Cañari, which includes many mestizos, numbers only in the thousands.
Their greatest significance was the defense against numerous Incan armies for many years. Through wars and marriages, the Inca Empire conquered their territory under the lead of Huayna Capac to the north. The Cañaris were loosely assimilated into the vast empire, allowed to manage their own affairs but adopting a new language.
The tribe existed largely around the Tumebamba area. Due in part to Incan influence and mandate, Cañari construction reportedly rivaled that of the Incan capital, Cuzco. Of particular repute was the impressive and beautiful architecture of Tumebamba, which has often been referred to as the "second Cuzco."
During the Inca Civil War between the sons of Huayna Capac, the Cañaris chose to support Huáscar, despite being positioned in the northern area inherited by the son and heir Atahualpa. Initially, Huáscar's generals Atoc and Hango were successful, defeating Atahualpa's army and capturing many of his soldiers, including seizure of the large cities Cajamarca and Tumebamba.
Aided by his father's loyal generals, Atahualpa managed to rout the Huáscaran army in the battles of Mullihambato and Chimborazo. This forced the interlopers back to the south. He captured and executed Huascar's generals and executed the Cañari supporters once he reached Tumebamba.
Túpac Yupanqui conquered the Huancabambas, the most southern of the Cañari allies.
The word Cañari comes from "kan" meaning "snake" and "ara" meaning "macaw". According to some linguists, it means the Cañari believed their ancestors were the snake and the macaw. Another explanation is that they considered these animals sacred, as is demonstrated by stories and designs. Within the great Cañari family, there were groups with their own cultures. One of these was the Peleusis, which was located in the area of the modern city of Azogues and had hegemony over neighbouring tribes.
According to a traditional story, the location of the Pelusis was founded by the caciques Tenemaza and Carchipulla. These surnames still exist in the province.
The Cañari were a group or confederacy of united tribes who formed a people; they inhabited the area from the limits of Azuay to Saraguro, from the Gualaquiza mountains to the Narajal beaches and the coasts of the Jambelí canal. Within the Cañari territory, the most important areas were Cañaribamba, Cojitambo, Chobshi, Shabalula, Molleturo, Coyoctor, Culebrillas, Yacubiñay, Guapondelig and Hatun Cañar. After the Inca Conquest, the newcomers renamed the last two Tumebamba and Ingapirca, respectively. Located in the present-day provinces of Azuay, Cañar, and El Oro in what is modern Ecuador, ruins and archeological remains of Cañari and Inca cultured influence are left in many of those locations.
Túpac Yupanqui renamed Guapondelig as Tumebamba. He had the palace of Pumapungo constructed, from which he governed the northern sector of the Inca empire. Years later, Huayna Cápac returned to the north of the empire to put down the rebellion of the northern tribes,
The largest known ruins of the Cañari-Inca confederation are:
- Ingapirca (Cañar Province)
- Pumapungo (Azuay Province)
- Chobshi (Azuay Province)
- Yacubiñay (El Oro Province)
Of these four, Ingapirca is the best known. Pumapungo is not well known, although it is located in the centre of the city of Cuenca, behind the Museo del Banco Central. Chobshi and Yacubiñay have not been studied intensely or excavated by professional archeologists.
The Cañari people were supposed to have had a matriarchal society. This was one of the principal reasons the Inca were able to use marriage to subjugate them. By marrying a female leader, the Inca gained de facto power over the Cañari.
The Cañari used a lunar calendar and built temples in circular or moon-like shapes. At Ingapirca, examples of round Cañari buildings can be seen juxtaposed against rectangular Inca buildings. The site also has stone "calendars". These devices are stones with holes drilled in them in various positions at various angles. The holes are filled with water to reflect celestial bodies. Each one reflects at different times giving dates.
As many as ten Cañari dialects may have survived into the current century. Any surviving speakers are few and far between, and almost no information seems to be available about the languages or how to speak them. Most indigenous people in Ecuador claim to speak Kichwa or Spanish.
Inca conquest 
Túpac Yupanqui 
The Inca brought numerous armies, battle hardened and well disciplined; and the Huancabambas escaped terrified to the mountains and hills where some died of hunger rather than submit to the invading Incan armies.
The triumph over the Paltas was even more complete because they surrendered themselves and were incorporated into the Inca "empire". Notwithstanding such docility, Túpac Yupanqui took some thousands of them and sent them far from their territories to the remote provinces of Collao, and settled the land of the Paltas with mitimaes from other provinces. The fortresses, which had been prepared the highlands of Saraguro, did not help them at all because the presence of Inca troops in the valley made them know that all resistance would be useless.
Having vanquished and subjugated the Paltas, Túpac Yupanqui continued the conquest of the Cañari. The Cañari were numerous and had been for much time before silently preparing for the defense of their lands and their independence: they had celebrated a union of all the leaders and elected Dumma as chief and had, moreover, a considerable army. Túpac Yupanqui thought that he should not lose time or give the Cañari space to fortify more: he thus rushed his troops and attacked the enemies, expecting to defeat them by surprise; but he was mistaken because the Cañari were aware of the attack and had occupied all the difficult passes. The battle was, thus, intense and the Inca retreated hastily toward Saraguro, seeing that the defeat of tribes as astute as they were bellicose was not so easy as he had imagined.
The defeat of the Inca inspired new bravery in the Cañari and, combining valor with strategy, they communicated secretly with the Paltas, inciting them to rebel against the Inca: such a risky enterprise unnerved the Paltas and, after consulting with their wisemen what to do, they resolved to tell Túpac Yupanqui of the Cañari plans. The proud Túpac Yupanqui was offended and resolved not to return to Cuzco without first subjugating the Cañari. He sent for reinforcements from all of the Inca "empire"; and while they were arriving, he constructed a fortification along the border between the Paltas and the Cañari.
Knowing of these Inca preparations and seeing the works or preparations for war that had begun, morale began to weaken, and the strength with which the first assault was resisted was exchanged with discouragement. They began to look for a peaceful solution and, at last, sent messengers to the Inca, charged with offering to submit to his "empire". The Cañari were famous for being fickle. As such, the Inca did not believe them at first, only after taking measures for his security and demanding, as one of those measures, that Dumma and other leaders send their own children as hostages, did he believe it. Túpac Yupanqui, thus assured, began to travel toward the province of Azuay; but before entering it personally, he sent his most trusted official to arrange for dignified accommodations and to determine the resolve of the Cañari and discover any plans for treachery.
The Cañari received the envoy of the Inca with grand celebration, and in a very short time constructed a palace that would house their new lord; and when he appeared, finally, on their land, they came out to encounter him, giving public and solemn manifestations of sincere respect and of celebration. The Cañaris were loosely assimilated into the vast empire, allowed to manage their own affairs but adopting a new language.
Túpac Yupanqui stayed a long time in the province of Azuay, taking away a considerable number of its native inhabitants and moving them to Cuzco; he constructed bridges on the rivers and ordered the construction of various buildings, as many religious as non-religious, wanting to earnn the affection of the Cañari and have them as subjects. Túpac Yupanqui beautified the city of Tumibamba where his son Huayna Capac was born.
He gave the order to construct two fortresses: one in Achupallas, and another in Pumallacta. He built in the roughest location of the mountain chain a residence for the convenience of his army and subjugation, without any difficulty, of the Quillacos, who lived in the valley of Guasunos and Alausí. So ended the conquest of the Cañari and the incorporation of their territory in the Inca "empire".
Huáscar and Atahuallpa 
During the civil war between Huáscar and Atahuallpa, the sons of Huayna Cápac, the Cañari chose to support Huáscar, despite being positioned in the northern area inherited by the son and heir Atahuallpa. Initially, Huáscar's generals Atoc and Hango were successful, defeating Atahuallpa's army and capturing many of his soldiers, including seizure of the large cities Cajamarca and Tumebamba.
Aided by his father's loyal generals, Atahuallpa managed to rout the Huáscaran army in the battles of Mullihambato and Chimborazo. This forced the interlopers back to the south. He captured and executed Huáscar's generals and executed the Cañari supporters once he reached Tumebamba. The Cañari were punished heavily, leaving only 12 thousand of their original population of 50 thousand.
Spanish conquest 
When Francisco Pizarro arrived at Tumbes, he received news that the Cañari were against the government of Atahuallpa. The Cañari hoped the Spanish people would liberate them from the Incas, and Pizarro included the Cañari among his troops to face Atahuallpa and Inca resistance.
In 1583, Cañari and Spanish soldiers defeated the Inca in the battle of Sacsayhuamán.