States, Empires, and Societies of South America and Oceana

South America: The people of South America also had no written language; as a result, most of what is known about them is based on archaeological evidence and the records of the Spanish Conquistadores. It is known that the Inca of Peru built a large empire over a vast region; the largest that South America had ever seen.

About the year 1100, the Chucuito people dominated the highlands in the vicinity of Lake Titicaca near the border of modern day Peru and Bolivia. They cultivated large amounts of potatoes which constituted the staple of their diet which was supplemented by maize, tomatoes, green vegetables, peppers, chiles, and meat from llamas, alpacas and guinea pigs. Llamas and alpacas also supplied wool, hides, and dung for fuel. They obtained maize and coca leaves by trade from societies in lower valleys. The maize was sued for food and to brew a beer-like beverage; and the coca leaves for stamina and as a stimulant. (Coca leaves when processed produce cocaine.)

The lowlands were dominated by the kingdom of Chimu. They cultivated fields of maize, and sweet potatoes by means of irrigation networks, and from archaeological evidence, enjoyed a wealthy society with clear social distinctions between classes. Its capital, Chanchan, had a population between 50,000 and 100,000 people with large brick buildings which could be used to mobilize large numbers of people and resources for public purposes. Each block within the city belonged to an individual clan that supervised the affairs of its own members and coordinated efforts with other clans.

Eventually, the Chuchito and Chimu fell under domination by the Inca. The word "Inca" properly applies to the ruler of a small valley in the area; but the term has since been used more broadly to indicate the peoples of the area.

The Inca settled in the valley of Lake Titicaca about the mid thirteenth century. Around 1438, the emperor Pachacuiti led a series of military campaigns that expanded Inca authority over much of the area. By the end of the century, the Inca had built an empire extending over 2500 miles including most of present day Peru, and much of Ecuador, Bolivia, and parts of Chile and Argentina. With a population of over 11.5 million, it was the largest Empire ever built in South America.

The Inca did not have the military resources of the Mexica, and could not overwhelm their subjects militarily. They rather encouraged obedience among subject people by taking hostages from their ruling families and forcing them to live at the Inca capital. If subject people were uncooperative, the Inca sent loyal people as colonists and offered them choice land and benefits and also provided them with garrisons to maintain order. If subject people rebelled, Inca armies force them to leave their homes and resettle in distant areas within the Empire.

A large group of bureaucrats administered the Empire. They kept records on a mnemonic device, the quipu, an array of small cords of various colors and lengths suspended from a single large thick cord. Knots in the cord recorded various bits of information. Most recorded statistical information, taxes, labor services owed, etc. Some also recorded historical information.

The Inca capital was Cuzco, whose population exceeded 100,000. It may have been as high as 300,000 on occasion. The elite of society were the Emperor, high nobility, and high priests and hostages of conquered people. Many buildings had gold facings over red stone. An extensive road system enabled the Cuzco authorities to communicate with all parts of the empire and dispatch military forces rapidly if there were trouble. There were two main roads running North and South which together covered a distance of almost 10,000 miles. The roads were paved with stone, shaded by trees, and wide enough to accommodate eight horsemen riding abreast. (The Inca did not have horses; this width of the road was described by Spanish conquistadores.)

The Inca did not generate a large merchant or artisan class, despite their extensive road network. People bartered excess agricultural products and handcrafted goods on a local level. Such long distance trade as did occur was under the control of the central government; individuals were not allowed to become independent merchants.

The primary classes in Inca society were the rulers, aristocrats, priests, and peasant cultivators. The chief ruler was believed to be descended from the sun, which was their primary deity. He owned all land, livestock and property, and ruled absolutely. Their prestige even extended after death. Their mummified remains were regarded as intermediaries with the gods. State policy was often determined in the presence of royal mummies to gain the benefit of their counsel; and remains were often brought out, dressed and adorned with gold ornaments during certain festivals. Food and drink were routinely offered to them.

Aristocrats also led privileged lives. They ate fine foods and wore clothes embroidered by common subjects. They had the right to wear large ear spools which distended their lobes—in fact the Spanish referred to them as "big ears." Priests came from royal and aristocratic families, and led celibate, aesthetic lives. They were important to society because of their education and responsibility for religious observances.

Peasants were mostly cultivators who worked the land and delivered substantial portions of their produce to the aristocrats. Excess production went into public warehouses for times of famine and for the support of widows and orphans who could not cultivate for themselves. They commoners also owed compulsory labor to the state. Men provided heavy labor in maintaining roads and buildings, and women paid textiles, pottery and jewelry. Inca bureaucrats kept track of labor service and tribute owed by means of the quipu.

The major Inca deity was the sun, which they worshiped as the god Inti. The moon, stars, planets, rain, and other forces of nature were also considered divine. Some Inca, including the Emperor Pachacuti, worshiped the god Viracocha, the creator of the world and humanity; but the cult of the sun was the primary religion of the area. Cuzco had four thousand priests, attendants and virgins who served Inti; and pilgrims from all parts of the Empire came to its temples to worship. All religious cults practiced sacrifices of agricultural produce or animals such as llamas or guinea pigs, but not humans. In addition to ritual and sacrifice, Inca religion had a strong moral concept. They believed that sin was a violation of the established social or natural order; and that individuals would receive reward or punishment after death based on the quality of their earthly lives. Sin would bring disaster both for individuals and for the community in which they lived. They observed rituals of confession and penance by which priests absolved individuals of sin and returned them to the good graces of the gods.

The Societies of Oceania

Oceania consists of Australia, Hawaii, and the various islands of Polynesia. The people of these areas did not interact frequently with people of other societies. There were changes over time, however. By the sixteenth century, people living on the eastern and western edges of the Pacific Ocean had occasional dealings with American and Asian peoples, sometimes with significant consequences.

Australia: The aboriginal people of Australia, who migrated there across a land bridge in earlier times, did not develop agriculture. The people of New Guinea herded swine and cultivated root crops and the people of the islands between Australia and New Guinea (an area known as the Torres Strait) also practiced agriculture. However, the people of Australia remained nomadic foragers until the migration of Europeans in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They did maintain trade relationships with neighboring people, and regularly exchanged food and other small items with them. Goods normally traveled from one community to another rather than along trade routes. Among the items most popular for trade were pearly oyster shells, along with stone axe heads, spears, boomerangs, furs, and skins. They also traded for the flowers of the bird-of-paradise plant, stone clubs, and iron axes; which the aboriginal people had no means of producing themselves.

Despite their frequent migrations and encounters with other peoples in nearby societies, the cultural traditions of Australian aboriginal people did not diffuse much beyond the areas occupied by individual societies. Cultural and religious traditions focused on local matters and survival. Many of their religious observances were designed to ensure continuing supplies of water, plant and animal life, etc. Such practices did not appeal to the people from other areas.

The Pacific Islands: Humans migrated to New Zealand roughly 500 C.E.; this was the last large habitable portion of the earth to be settled by humans. In the central and western Pacific, people of the islands maintained relatively close trading relations with the people of adjacent islands. Some peoples even intermarried, creating close social and political relationships. These trading relationships helped the ruling elite maintain harmonious relationships with each other. In the Eastern Pacific, the distance between island precluded regular trade; however intermittent contact was maintained my mariners who traveled great distances across open sea. Easter Island was first settled about 300 C.E.; and there is some evidence that between 400 and 700 C.E., mariners ventured as far as the western coast of South America, from whence they learned of the cultivation of sweet potatoes. This crop spread quickly through the eastern Islands, particularly in New Zealand which has a temperate climate where tropical crops will not grow.

Hawaii also had little contact with other islanders after its settlement; however during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, a series of voyages linked Hawaii with Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands. From the Tahitians, the Hawaiians adopted new styles of fish hooks and various words from their language.

Pacific islanders built productive agricultural and fishing societies. Among other crops cultivated were taro, yams, sweet potatoes, bananas, bread fruit and coconuts. They also maintained pigs and dogs. The people of Hawaii built netted fishponds into the ocean which allowed tiny fish (fry) to swim in, but did not allow larger fish to swim out. The result was a plentiful diet of fish. Successful agriculture led to rapid population growth in all the major Pacific island groups. By the time Europeans arrived in Hawaii, the population probably exceeded 500,000.

Population growth led to degradation of the environment and strife on islands with limited resources. Easter Island in particular suffered from over population. By 1500, the island was seriously overpopulated; as a result of which the inhabitants divided into hostile camps and fought ferociously with one another. At times, lack of sufficient food led them to resort to cannibalism.

In other areas, unprecedented social organization resulted because of population density, especially on the larger islands. Workers became more specialized, some cultivating certain crops, others fishing and producing axes, still others building canoes. Distinct social classes also emerged. Tahiti and Hawaii had sharp distinctions within their societies of high chiefs, lesser chiefs, and commoners. Hawaii also recognized distinct classes of priests and skilled artisans.

Ruling chiefs in island societies oversaw public affairs over all or parts of an island, and sometimes several islands situated close together. In Tonga and Hawaii, high chiefs often instigated campaigns to bring other islands under their control, although they often were unable to do so because of geographical and logistical difficulties. The high chiefs often allocated lands to families, mobilized labor for construction projects and organized military forces. In Hawaii, the high chiefs, known as ali i nui ate the best fish, and other foods that were kapu (taboo) for commoners. They also had the right to wear cloaks adorned with bird feathers. The commoners were forbidden from approaching or even casting a shadow on the ali i nui.

High chiefs worked closely with priests who were intermediaries between humans and the gods. Common gods throughout the islands were gods of war and of agriculture; but each area had localized deities for their particular region. The most distinct architecture in early Pacific societies was the marae, (in Hawaiian heiau) which were ceremonial temple structures.

Although the people of the Pacific Islands did not enjoy access to the technology developed by continental people until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Still, they managed to exploit their environment, establish productive agricultural economies, and develop well organized societies.