Commentary, Customs

The Game of the Inca’s Gods, Pishca

A Huaca like Those the Inca Consulted (Photo: Wayra)

They had the universe in their eyes. Every night they were lighted by the moon and stars who guided them from the sky. This is probably how the love for starry skies began, in nights of ethereal gazing amidst gentle, melodious movements. Maybe through this love people developed their first science, astronomy.

In time, this love was passed on the upcoming generations. They were conscious of establishing themselves in a space of the sky, like stars in time. Thus social cohesion grew. They learned from their surroundings and created great things, such as the Inca monuments.

This answers many questions posed by those who admire their structures. They wonder from a great distance how the Incas could have managed such greatness. Knowledge of the skies as the mother of learning taught them to discover and to see beyond what their eyes could manage, and to feel. In this way their complex world came about. Today it is difficult for us to grasp.

Magic also was born as an answer to everything beyond their understanding. That is probably why they read their fate in entrails and in coca leaves. These were forms of consulting the will of their deities. And, they continue to be so even today.

However, luck and causality are stuff of every day and as a result another means of grasping fate developed in Tawantinsuyo, the Empire of the Incas, that of consulting the will of the huacas, the landscape gods, as well as the villcas, the holy ones.  ‘

Incas Celebrating and Worshiping
Incas Celebrating and Worshiping

As one means of doing so, our ancestors developed a game, or at least the Spaniards called it a game. I am referring to pichca. The chronicler Martín de Murua relates that it was a common practice. “With a single die, called pichca, that had five points on one side, one on another, two on another, three, and four respectively.  The point with the cross is worth five and the base twenty. That is how they play even today. Both Indian men and women use it even if they are just playing for guinea pigs. They do not play for silver.” (Murúa, 1946[1590]:223).

The great Garcilaso also mentions two games of the Inca period, although in a more general fashion. He says they called either chunca.  Guaman Poma, another chronicler, states pichca was a means of entertainment among people during the harvest month. Father Cobo makes ample references to the game and how, the first point of the game became called guayro. Cobo says this happened when the favorite woman of Inca Yupanqui (the son of Pachacutec the great) asked the Inca to toss the dice in her name.

The Inca was playing with the lord of Yucay and needed just one point to win. He threw out the pichca (dice) and obtained the missing point. He won. Because this woman was his favorite the Inca designated the first point, the one that he had been missing, as Guayro which was the name of her people.

It seems that this game, if indeed we can call it such, was very popular up and down the territory of Tawantinsuyo. And so it was, until the Spanish invasion.

The pichca is a form of die that is a cut off pyramid. The incas would toss it by their huacas after asking them a question in order to know their thoughts to make a decision. Maybe that is why Murua claims that they played for guinea pigs. These were offerings to the huacas after all.

Atahualpa Imprisoned by the Spanish
Atahualpa Imprisoned by the Spanish

Many years later, pichca or pisca, as it is also written, was described as a game practiced during the Pacaricuc. These were the five nights after the death of someone. (Arriaga, 1968[1621]:216). The last evidence known of this game was found in San Luís, Argentina at the beginning of the XX Century. Maybe it is still played somewhere in our world, just not in our immediate context.

Maybe pichca was a game of chance or a means of consulting the cosmic forces that sometimes just do not fit into our contemporary understanding of things. But the Incas were very good in the reasoning of any game, such as chess that the Spanish brought. They even played it while the Emperor Atahualpa was imprisoned by the Spanish in the city of Cajamarca. We know that while Hernando de Soto played with Riquelme the Inca told him he should make a move that was different than the one he planned. Hernando listened to the Inca and won the match. Maybe that is why the Inca was condemned to death. He showed the capacity to learn a great game of strategy that he had not even been taught. At least that is the tale told in the Tradiciones Peruanas (Peruvian Traditions) of Ricardo Palma.

COBO, Bernabe, 1968[1653]-Historia del Nuevo Mundo, 555p.; Madrid: Ediciones Atlas, Biblioteca de Autores Españoles, XCII (II)

GARCILASO DE LA VEGA, Inca, 1985[1609]-Comentarios Reales de los Incas (2 tomos), 588p.; Caracas: Biblioteca Ayacucho.

MURÚA, Martin de, 1946[1590]-Historia del origen y genealogía real de los Reyes Incas del Perú, 444p.; Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas.

PALMA, Ricardo. Tradiciones Peruanas.

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