| In ancient Mesoamerica, many cultures practiced sacrifice for various reasons. Evidence has shown of this tradition to have existed in the Maya and Aztec, as well as the Moche civilizations. However, Incan sacrifice differs from the practices of many other ancient American peoples. The Aztecs, for instance, astounded and disgusted the Spanish by mass sacrifices of war prisoners For the Incas, to be sacrificed was an awesome honor, and their rituals were done with more humanity than in other civilizations.
Sacrifice generally means a presentation of gifts to a higher deity. For the Incas, many sacrifices were given to the Sun God, Inti, who was most important. These gifts included animals, plants, and material treasure, but also human life. Inca peoples did not sacrifice adults, but children, probably because they believed that adults did not possess the unique quality and purity of children. Child sacrifice was called capacocha. The process of capacocha could begin years before the selected person was killed.
The Incan state held annual rituals where they sacrificed children to the gods in order to promote a healthy harvest and the working of the sun. Children were sometimes brought to ceremonies from their homes, and then returned to be killed. Several theories exist explaining Incan motives for capacocha. One states that the Incans practiced this sacrifice in order to ensure a plentiful harvest, rain, and protection for the people.
Another focuses on the idea that the children of local leaders were chosen because their parents would thus strengthen ties to the emperor. A third perspective is based on sacrifice as response to vital occurrences such as eclipses and deaths of emperors. The child, selected to perfection, may need to escort the emperor to the afterlife. In all cases, the chosen one would be a messenger to the gods for the Inca.
Even though the Sun God was supreme, mountain gods were regarded as very powerful as well. In Quechua, the Incan language, mountain gods were known as Apus.Several mummified bodies reveal deformed skulls due to enormous pressure by binding of the head since birth. One girl's skull was molded into a conical shape that represents the mountain. Other heads show shapes of mountains with multiple peaks that signify the breasts of mountain goddesses.
The process of capacocha was incredibly vital to the Incan culture. To be chosen for sacrifice was an extremely high honor, because of the closeness capacocha brought for the people to their gods. The child was chosen through standards of perfection. He or she would be healthy, strong, beautiful, and pure in order to please the gods. It is thought that at times, local chieftains even offered their children to the emperor for sacrifice. The emperor would decide whether or not to accept it.
When chosen, preparations would begin. One boy, sacrificed at age seven, was fed nothing but corn for the last two years before death, possibly in anticipation of the monumental event. The whole procedure was enveloped in symbolism, most of which the modern world does not completely comprehend. For instance, the corn had its own symbols for which it was fed to the young sacrifice. The rite itself was greatly elaborate.
The child sacrifice would be glorified with a grand and abundant feast, dressed in fine clothes, and adorned with jewels. Many times, he or she would be given plenty of drink to ensure intoxication. Then, the child, along with priests, parents, and other chiefs, would go on a long journey to the summit of a mountain. Some were already numb from the cold or too drunk for consciousness and may have even slept through their deaths. The most common forms of killing were strangulation, a blow to the head, or being buried alive.
Mountains were the prevalent sites of sacrifice, since the Incas believed that there, they were as close as possible to the heavens. When a child was sacrificed, the place of burial was regarded from then on as a "huaca", the sacred home of someone who lives on in the other world. The huaca was filled with supplies of food, coca leaves, male and female gold figurines as well as miniscule statues of llamas. It remained as an eternal holy place.