Power Religion | Food | The Hunter-Gatherer Eucharist [1]

250Px-Inca-Spanish ConfrontationIt’s been out for about a decade now, but I finally got round to reading Jared Diamonds’ book Guns, Germs and Steel. I think it’s excellent.

The basic thesis, for those who haven’t read it, is that humanity, having developed out of the same group of lucky apes a long time back, has obviously developed in radically different ways in different areas, and, rather than attributing the fact that it was Europe that conquered Africa and the Americas (rather than the other way round) to innate racial differences, it is the environments that these peoples evolved in that led to the Europe being so ‘successful’ and powerful.

I’m not going to blog through the book, but one aspect of it – the link between the evolution of farming, food technology and power that Diamond establishes – has prompted in me a series of posts about this and the link to power religion, and the eucharist in particular. We’ll see how we go.

There is an extraordinary passage in the book detailing the meeting of the Spanish explorer Pizarro and the Inca Emperor Atahuallpa on 15th November 1532. Pizarro had with him perhaps 160 Spanish soldiers, and a priest. He was, of course, in the area on a mission from The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (King Charles I of Spain) and thus God’s missionary to this new world. Atahuallpa was secure in his position as undisputed monarch of the largest and most advanced state in this new world, and had perhaps 80,000 soldiers with him, all of whom were prepared to die for their God-King.

The accounts of the meeting were written down by the Spanish, and are thought to be pretty accurate. Inviting Atahuallpa to their camp, Friar Vicente de Valverde went forward and demanded that ‘Atahuallpa subject himself to the law of our Lord Jesus Christ and to the service of His Majesty the King of Spain.’ The text goes on:

‘Advancing with a cross in one hand and the Bible in the other, and going among the Indian troops to the place where Atahuallpa was, the Friar thus addressed him: “I am a Priest of God, and I teach Christians the things of God, and in like manner I come to teach you. What I teach is that which God says to us in this book.” Atahuallpa asked for the Book, and the Friar gave it to him closed. Atahuallpa did not know how to open the Book, and the Friar was extending his arm to do so, when Attahuallpa, in great anger, gave him a blow on the arm. […] Then he opened it himself, and, without any astonishment at the letters and paper he threw it away.’

The Friar is incensed by this, and urges to Pizarro to attack, which he does. And those 160 soldiers, with their domesticated horse-steeds, and their guns, slay around 20,000 indians before sunset (see picture above), capturing Atahuallpa and murdering him after breaking a promise to free him.

How the hell did it come to this? I’ll try to get to that in the next post.


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2 responses to “Power Religion | Food | The Hunter-Gatherer Eucharist [1]”

  1. Wow Kester, what a fascinating series you’re posting here. I’m intrigued, and will be interacting in-depth on the ‘morrow.

  2. This was a very interesting post, thank you. There is a little known fictionalized account of the conquest of the Incas called ‘Das Gold von Caxamalca’ (the Gold from Caxamalca) by a German author named Jakob Wassermamn. The encounter you describe between Attahuallpa and the priest is pretty much the same in book, although in Wassermann’s version Pizarro uses the priest to lure the Incas into an ambush so that their king can be taken prisoner in exchange for gold.