The Fateful Meeting of Atahualpa & Pizarro (with Prof. Tom Cummins, Harvard)

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The Fateful Meeting of Atahualpa & Pizarro (with Prof. Tom Cummins, Harvard)

I was extraordinarily fortunate to meet the esteemed Dr. Tom Cummins nearly twenty years ago in Cusco, Peru - one of the great world centers, or axis mundi. Tom was one of our brilliant lecturers during the five-week NEH summer study, ‘Andean Worlds’ which was led and managed by the wise, generous support of George Scheper, Laraine Fletcher and David Berry. Traveling around Peru, as well as Bolivia, was a feast in history and culture, land and people – an immersion of beauty and mystery. Despite the challenges of high-mountains and arid deserts, the Inca and other cultures created incredible temples and fortresses, roads, pilgrimages and oracles, agriculture and foods, etc. What’s left of Inca civilization (Tawantinsuyu) - the culmination of thousands of years of Andean organization and ingenuity - is something to behold.

Huaca is the Quechua word for sacred essence, objects and places. Tom explains the concept and gives examples. He says much about balance and harmony, geography and empire. Cusco and the Inca empire itself were divided into four parts. With something like 100 ethnic groups and twelve million people, the empire stretched from Northern Ecuador to Central Chile.

In November 1532 this world, with the Inca at the apex of power, was violently overthrown by Francisco Pizarro and his men. (Gold and silver, removed from temples and treasuries, was sent to Spain.) The conquistadors were assisted by indigenous warriors whose cultures the Inca had absorbed. What happened at the fateful meeting of Atahualpa and Pizarro? How did that happen?

In summary, Tom discusses the empire and spirit of the Inca, and how the latter fought back and nearly defeated the Spanish.

Dr Cummins at Dumbarton Oaks Museum. (Dumbarton Oaks Museum)

Dr Cummins at Dumbarton Oaks Museum. (Dumbarton Oaks Museum)

Dr. Thomas B.F. Cummins (Harvard University/Dumbarton Oaks Museum)

Tom Cummins is Dumbarton Oaks Professor of the History of Pre-Columbian and Colonial Latin American Art at Harvard University and Director of Dumbarton Oaks Museum in Washington, DC. He is a prolific author and speaker, who has taught at many universities (University of Chicago, L’Ecole des Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris, Ponteficia La Universidad Catolica del Peru in Lima, etc.) and received many awards and honors from The Getty Foundation, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Chicago Humanities Institute, etc.

His books include Sacred Matters: Animism and Authority in the Pre-Columbian Americas with Steve Koisiba and John Janusek (Dumbarton Oaks), Toasts with the Inca: Andean Abstraction and Colonial Images on Kero Vessels. An Arbor: University of Michigan Press, and many others.

Coricancha, Cusco, Peru. (Diego Delso/CC BY-SA 4.0)

Coricancha, Cusco, Peru. (Diego Delso/CC BY-SA 4.0)


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