Wednesday, August 29, 2007

August 29

Francisco de Xeres, secretary to the illiterate conquistador Francisco Pizarro, chronicled an execution that took place in the summer of 1533. The victim was a man named Atahualpa, who was at the time the sovereign ruler of the Incan Empire. Pizarro had taken Atahualpa hostage the previous November after her rejected the Spaniard's demand that he submit to Christianity. By showing his disdain for the so-called requerimiento, Atahualpa had unwittingly violated Spanish law, which he quite reasonably believed did not apply to his own people. After months of captivity, during which time Pizarro and his 168 soldiers extracted staggering ransom from Atahualpa's subjects, the last sovereign Inca was convicted on utterly implausible charges of murder and treason and sentenced to death.

As de Xeres explained, Atahualpa's sentence -- to be burnt alive -- might be altered if he converted.
They brought out Atahualpa to execution; and, when he came into the square, he said he would become a Christian. The Governor was informed, and ordered him to be baptized. The ceremony was performed by the very reverend Father Friar Vicente de Valverde. The Governor then ordered that he should not be burned, but that he should be fastened to a pole in the open space and strangled. This was done, and the body was left until the morning of the next day, when the monks, and the Governor with the other Spaniards, conveyed it into the church, where it was interred with much solemnity, and with all the honors that could be shown it. Such was the end of this man, who had been so cruel. He died with great fortitude, and without showing any feeling . . .
He also died, in the eyes of the Spanish, as "Juan de Atahualpa" -- the Christian name he enjoyed for the last few moments of his life.

Although Atahualpa was most likely garotted in late July 1533, his death has frequently -- and more poetically -- been assigned to August 29, which happens to be the Catholic feast day in honor of John the Baptist.

Meantime, perhaps 90-95 percent of the Incan Empire succumbed to smallpox, a horrific disease to which the Spanish were immune.

Last year's entry: the Rais Massacre

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