“Colonization is a story that Empires and colonizers and colonized tell themselves”- Professor O’Toole
Empires throughout history have used various methods of conquest and imperialism to influence, assimilate, and maintain hegemonic control.
But perhaps the most surreptitious of these methods is that of re-education: rewriting the history. The systems of colonial expansion overlap with those of linguistic imperialism, working to integrate groups, erase certain histories, and influence learning, even in a post-colonial setting. With nearly all written accounts of the Inca empire composed by outsiders, the story of the Inca empire was written by its conquerors.
An integral part of the ideology of colonial expansion is the “justification”. Authors like Max Weber insisted that: “Neither scientific, artistic, governmental, nor economic evolution has led to the modes of rationalization proper to the Occident”. Following this mode of thought, if the Inca society and religion were inferior, the Spanish could implement a system that simultaneously promoted Spanish religion and culture and discredited Inca society and religion. Spanish conquest, however, sparked the Valladolid debate, where scholars and clergy argued whether the indigenous populations of the Americas were capable of converting to Christianity and ruling themselves. Juan Gines de Sepulveda, the primary proponent for Spanish rule in the Americas, argued that the Spanish had four main justifications for war against the Indians. Firstly, the natives’ natural state of being left them incapable of self-rule, which made it the responsibility of the Spaniards to act as masters and guide them. Additionally, Spaniards were duty-bound to prevent the cannibalistic practices of the natives as it was a crime against nature. Such was also the case concerning the human sacrifices that the natives made. Lastly, and perhaps the most important justification for Spanish presence in the Americas: it was important to convert the natives to Christianity. Even supporters of the Indians firmly believed that Christianity was the superior and “true” religion. Their argument was based in the ideology that the natives could convert to Christianity without force, and then rule themselves. But only Christians were capable of ruling themselves.
Colonialists all over the world seized this justification for their rule, and took advantage of the power that education has in shaping the psychology of individuals. Sir Charles E. Trevelyan, reveals the power of intellectual control in the words, “the natives will not rise against us, because we shall stoop to raise them”. If the colonizers could “stoop” and westernize the Indians, he argued, the colonizers would never be overthrown.
As Pizarro and other Spanish conquistadors conquered South America, and subdued the native populations, they enforced a forceful conversion to Christianity, against the wishes of the Catholic Church. The conquistadors claimed to have educated the uncivilized natives in the ways of the “one true religion.” Following the collapse of the Inca Empire, local populations began relocate and as colonization began to increase, Spanish missionary work was able to spread unimpeded. Within a single generation, the entire continent fell under Christian influence.
In modern times, the predominant religion in South America remains Catholicism, a lingering remnant of in- depth Spanish indoctrination. The polytheistic beliefs of the Inca have nearly disappeared from the face of the earth. As Inca religion disappeared, so did its language: Quechua. Once spoken across the continent, Quechua was seen as not as civilized as Spanish, the language of the Spanish empire. As such, those who spoke Quechua were seen as second-class citizens and were frequently discriminated against. Such views on Quechua and its speakers have persisted throughout the centuries, with the few modern speakers of Quechua becoming victims of political conflicts and ethnic persuasion. During the Peruvian Civil War in 1980s, war parties made up of almost exclusively whites and mestizos targeted Quechuas, with the death toll reaching nearly 70,000. In addition to the targeting during the Peruvian Civil War, Quechuas were almost exclusively targeted by the forced sterilization policy of Alberto Fujimori, with more than 200,000 Quechua women were forcibly sterilized.
Almost nothing was left of the Inca civilizations after the conquest by the Spanish, as culture was not as significant as gold to the new conquerors. The unique indigenous road and communications systems were essentially lost. The only things that persisted of the original culture are the very few artifacts that remained and the minute cultural aspects, such as language, that was left behind by the small percentage of Incas who persisted. The ultimate goal of the Spanish, regardless of the public justification for their invasion, does not appear to be sharing learning or resources, but rather shaping indigenous thinking to appreciate and respect Spanish language, culture, and religion.
Although later waves of progress and reform have worked to take apart this system in the post-colonial era, its aftereffects still affect modern Peruvian education. And that is the true strength of imperialism, capable of altering even the most basic understanding of historical identity, language and religion.