The Chincha culture consisted of an Native American (Indian) people living near the Pacific Ocean in south central Peru. The Chincha and their culture flourished in the Late Intermediate Period (900CE-1450CE) of pre-Columbian Peru. They became part of the Inca Empire around 1480. They were prominent as sea-going traders and lived in a large and fertile oasis valley. La Centinela is an archaeological ruin associated with the Chincha. It is located near the present-day city of Chincha Alta.
The Chincha disappeared as a people a few decades after the Spanish conquest of Peru, which began in 1532. They died in large numbers from European diseases and the political chaos which accompanied and followed the Spanish invasion.
Setting and antecedents
Chincha is one the largest valleys on Pacific Ocean coast of Peru. The valley is about 220 kilometres (140 mi) south of Lima, Peru. The surrounding desert is virtually rainless but the Chincha River flowing down from the Andes waters an extensive valley in the shape of a triangle about 25 kilometres (16 mi) north to south along the coast and extending about 20 kilometres (12 mi) inland. 22,000 hectares (54,000 acres) of land is cultivated in the present day valley and the cultivated land in pre-Columbian times may not have been much less. The Pisco River valley is located 25 kilometres (16 mi) south and is of similar size.
Human beings have lived along the Peruvian coast for at least 10,000 years. The earliest settlers were probably fishermen, exploiting the rich maritime resources of the Humboldt Current. Irrigation agriculture in river valleys developed later. The first settled communities known in the Chincha valley date from about 800 BCE and belong to the Paracas culture. Later, from 100 BCE to 800 CE the Chincha valley was influenced by the Ica-Nazca culture. The Chincha valley was also influenced, and possibly under the control of the Wari empire, from about 500 CE to 1000 CE.
The Chincha ruin of La Centinela was one of the first archaeological sites in Peru to be investigated by archaeologists. The site covers more than 75 hectares (190 acres) and consists of two large pyramids, La Centinela and Tambo de Mora, constructed of adobe and serving as the habitations of the leaders of the Chincha people. The surrounding residential area housed artisans of silver, textiles, wood, and ceramics, although, like most pre-Columbian archaeological sites, the main purpose of La Centinela was probably ceremonial rather than residential or commercial.
A network of roads radiated out from La Centinela, running in straight lines, as was the Andean custom. The roads are still visible. The roads extended east and south of la Centinela and led to outlying ceremonial centers and also facilitated the transportation of goods to the Paracas valley to the south and toward the highlands of the Andes which rise about 20 kilometres (12 mi) inland from La Centinela.
According to an early Spanish chronicle, the population of Chincha consisted of 30,000 heads of households, among which were 12,000 agriculturalists, 10,000 fishermen, and 6,000 traders. The numbers suggest a total population of more than 100,000 people under Chincha control, likely in a larger area than the Chincha valley itself. The larger than normal number of fishermen and traders in the population illustrates the commercial nature of the Chincha state and the importance of the sea to their economy.
Chincha and the Incas
Several 16th century Spaniards recorded Chincha history from Indian informants. Although those chronicles are often contradictory, the broad outlines of Chincha history can be discerned. Pedro Cieza de León described Chincha as a "great province, esteemed in ancient times...splendid and grand...so famous throughout Peru as to be feared by many natives." The Chinchas were expanding up and down the coast of Peru and into the Andes highlands at about the same time the Incas were creating their empire in the 14th and 15th centuries.
The Chincha controlled a rich and prominent oracle named Chinchaycamac, probably near La Centinela, which garnered contributions from the Chincha people and others, indicating surpluses of wealth.
The Chincas were most famous for maritime commerce. Pedro Pizarro said that the ruler of Chincha controlled 100,000 sea-going rafts, undoubtedly an exaggeration, but illustrating the importance of Chincha and trade. Voyages via balsa raft up and down the Pacific coast from southern Colombia to northern Chile, possibly as far as Mexico, were a long-standing practice, the trade largely being in luxury items such as worked gold and silver and ritually-important Spondylus and Strombus seashells. Some authorities have asserted that the Chincha gained influence and control over much of this maritime trade only late in the fifteenth century. The Incas captured and dismantled the economy of the Chimu in northern Peru about 1470 and gave control of the trade to the Chincha, whose location near the Inca homeland in the highlands made Chincha a convenient entrepot. The source of both the balsa logs for rafts and the Spondylus and Strombus seashells was in Ecuador, 1,400 kilometres (870 mi) to the north, thus strengthening the view that the Chincha had an extensive reach to their trading activities.
The first attempt of the Incas to incorporate Chincha into their growing empire was probably in the 1440s in an expedition, which apparently failed, under the emperor Pachacuti (ruled 1438-71). The next emperor, Topa Inca Yupanqui (ruled 1471-93) brought Chincha into the empire, but the rulers of Chincha retained much of their political and economic autonomy and their traditional leadership. The Chincha king was required to spend several months each year attending the court of the Inca emperor, although he was given the honors of the highest Inca nobles. A Chincha king was killed in the battle of Cajamarca in 1532 in which the emperor Atahualpa was captured by the Spaniards.
The Spanish first appeared in the Chincha valley in 1534 and a Dominican Roman Catholic mission was founded by 1542. With the arrival of the Spaniards, the population of Chincha declined precipitously, mostly due to European diseases and political turmoil. Demographers have estimated a 99 percent decline in population in the first 85 years of Spanish rule. Chincha never regained its earlier prominence.
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