The Boyhood of Atahualpa

At age three, Prince Atahualpa of Peru went through the ceremony of Rutu Chicoy, his first haircut, which showed that he was now weaned and ready for his education.

The training of a royal prince began in earnest almost as soon as the Rutu Chicoy celebrations were over, when Atahualpa was handed over to an amauta (teacher). The aumatas were the “wise men” of the royal court whose task it was to teach royal princes the history of the Inca tribe.

Reading the quipus, the Knotted-string Records

First of all, though, Atahualpa, learned Quechua, the official language of Tahuantinsuyu, the Inca Empire of Peru which he would one day rule. He was taught the many rituals and beliefs that made up the religion of the Sun God, Inti. Only nobles and princes received this education, just as only they were taught how to “read” the quipus, the knotted-string records.

The young Atahualpa probably learned how to do quick calculations on the quipus and learned, too, which colored wools knotted into a quipu indicated important words like Inca or gold or Sun. Atahualpa’s studies included geography, as it was seen from the lofty Andes Mountains, and he learned astronomy as well. Astronomy had a particular importance, for study of the movements of heavenly bodies was necessary to regulate Inca religious life.

An Education only for Royals and `Nobles

The secrets of astronomy were revealed only to nobles of royal blood, like Atahualpa, for it was their task to be leaders. So only they were taught the knowledge required to carry out the religious ceremonies that were part of a leader’s duties.

Likewise, only Inca nobles attended the military schools, where they learned not simply the art of fighting, but also military tactics and how to direct and control large forces of men – the knowledge they would need as generals in the Inca army.

Above all, princes and nobles had to be tough and heroic and a great deal of military training was concerned with teaching them how to control fear or nervousness when facing dangerous situations.

Graduating as Warriors and Commanders

Graduation day in the military schools arrived when the students were sixteen years old. However, before they could claim to be fully fledged military leaders, they had to undergo severe month-long tests of endurance and courage. These included boxing, wrestling, combat with weapons and running. The graduation test for running took Atahualpa over a distance of ten miles across rocks, streams, sheer mountain slopes, thick forests and bush country.

He also had to fast and live only on water and herbs for six days at a stretch. At night, Atahualpa had to sleep on the ground, just as he would one day have to do when on campaign. He wore no sandals, even during the running tests, and dressed in plain garments, often with no extra shawls or coverings to protect him against the freezing cold of the mountain night.

At night, Atahualpa did sentry duty, an eerie, frightening experience among the great black hulks of the Andes mountains rising on all sides and the calls of night birds echoing between the rock faces. Another test to teach Atahualpa to conquer fear was to make him stand without flinching while a lance was whipped back and forth a few inches from his face.

The Children of the Sun

At the end of the month, Atahualpa and the other young nobles who had passed the demanding tests certainly deserved to be deemed “children of the Sun”, as the Sapa Inca named them when he presented them with the marks of their success.

The Sapa Inca pierced their ears with a golden needle and the holes were kept open, so that later on, long pendants or ear-rings, the symbol of the Inca nobility, could be hung there.

After having their ears pierced, the young nobles kissed the Inca’s hand. Then, they put on special golden sandals and the Sapa Inca kissed each of them on their shoulders. After this, the nobles received a sash to show that they had now attained full military capability. They were garlanded with red and yellow flowers and their hair was decorated with green leaves.

The Marks of a Royal Prince

Atahualpa was given special head-gear to show that he was of royal blood. This consisted of a yellow fringe of wool with tassels which he wore around his forehead. Atahualpa also received a special battleaxe and the sacred black and white feathers of the corequenque bird.

At the end of this ceremony there was, naturally enough, a great celebration with much singing and dancing and recital of music and poetry. But before long, the newly graduated nobles were sent to war under the command of one of the Sapa Inca’s generals. Atahualpa, once more specially marked out as a royal prince, was given the task of carrying the banner of the rainbow, the mark of the royal family of Tahuantinsuhyu to which he belonged.

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