#11 from The Incas
(Pedro de Cieza de León, 1553)

The Burial of Wives

Of how the Indians of these valleys and others of
these kingdoms believe that the soul departs from
the body and does not die, and why they ordered
their wives interred in their tombs.

In the course of this history I have often alluded to the fact that in the greater part of this kingdom of Peru it is a very widespread custom generally observed by all the Indians to bury with the bodies of the dead all those possessions they most prized, and certain of their most beautiful and best-loved women. . . .

. . .These Indians, blinded by the words and figments of the devil, believing these fictions, gave more thought to adorning their graves or tombs than to any other thing. And when the chief died, they put with him his treasures, living women and boys, and other persons who were good friends of his when he was alive. Thus, as can be seen from what I have said, it was the general belief among all these Yunga Indians, and also the mountaineers of this kingdom of Peru, that the souls of the dead did not die, but lived forever, and came together with one another in the other world, where, as I said before, they believe that they take their pleasure and eat and drink, which is their chief delight. And firmly believing this, they buried with the dead their best-loved wives, and their closest vassals and servants, and their most prized possessions and arms and feathers, and other ornaments of their person. And many of their kinfolk, for whom there was no room in the tomb, dug holes in the fields and lands of the dead lord, or in those spots where he was most wont to sport and pleasure himself, and laid themselves in them, thinking that his soul would pass by those spots and take them along to serve him. There were even women who, to have more of a claim on him and so he would value their services more, fearing there would not be room for them in the tomb, hanged themselves by their own hair and killed themselves in this way. We all believe all these things to be true because the tombs of the dead make it manifest, and because in many places they still hold and follow this cursed custom.

[#11] “The Burial of Wives,” Pedro de Cieza de León, The Incas, trans. Harriet de Onis, ed. Victor Wolfgang von Hagen (Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1959, txt. pp. 308-310);


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