By N. H. Gill
Long before the Spanish conquest, an invading army of soldiers fighting for the Inca state conquered what is today northern Ecuador. In the aftermath of this war, which wiped out much of the local population, the Incas forcibly resettled many survivors as agricultural colonists, known as mitimaes, to work the coca and corn fields of the Incan elite across the Andes.
T. Aquiles Pérez’s “Cartilla de divulgación” provides one of the few references to the locations of Cayambe mitma colonies in the aftermath of the Incan conquest at the turn of the sixteenth century. The Cayambe were relocated as punishment for their tenacious defense of their territory in a war with the Inca that lasted almost two decades and, according to oral histories collected by early Spanish chroniclers, the battles killed tens of thousands and ended with the massacre at what is now known as Yaguarcocha, of the Lake of Blood, near the modern city of Ibarra. According to Pérez, “cuando los vencidos demostraron su espíritu belicoso, a los sobrantes empujaban fuera de su suelo natal hacia lugares lejanos, en donde residirían para siempre, hasta el fin de su vida y la de sus descendientes” (Pérez, 1985:3).
However, the Incas were conscious of the effects of altitude change on human bodies as well as the health risks associated with living at lower elevations in the tropical Andes. According to the author known as Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, the son of a sixteenth-century conquistador and an indigenous noblewoman, “los indios de la sierra, como son de tierra fría, o templada, no pueden vivir en tanta calor, que luego enferman y mueren. Por lo cual…tenían los Incas dada orden que cuando así se trasplantasen indios de una provincia a otra…siempre se cotejasen las regiones que fuesen de un mismo temple de tierra” (Garcilaso de la Vega,  2007: 248).
Besides Cusco, the imperial seat of the Inca state, known as Tawantinsuyu, the average elevation of the Cayambe mitma sites was about 2,300 meters above sea level (7,550 ft.), lower than the city of Cayambe at 2,800m, but within the elevation profile of the wider region encompassing the watershed of the Guayllabamba River.
Besides Pérez, the Peruvian historian, Waldemar Espinoza, is one of the only other authors to have written about the “mitimaes cayampis.” In an essay published in 1973, Espinoza analyzed a sixteenth-century lawsuit filed by a group of ethnic Cayambesliving in Matibamba, Peru near what was then colonial Huamanga. In a dispute over three plots of land, a local community leader, Don Carlos Páucar, claimed the Cayambes were originally relocated as a mitma by Huayna Capac to produce coca for the state (Espinoza,  1999:87-88). Espinoza estimated around four thousand men and women were moved as “desterrados politicos” in punishment for their resistance and to exploit their labor (65-66). In another study, he also claimed that when Tupac Inca returned to Cuzco after the initial assault against the Cayambes, he brought with him “una gran cantidad de muchachas sacadas de dichas etnias, primordialmente del ayllu de Cochisquí,” a Cayambe community known today as the site of a series of pyramids and raised-mound structures, representing the country’s largest pre-Colombian ruins (Espinoza, 1988: 273-74).
Aquiles Perez, T. “Cartilla de divulgación ecuatoriana No. 18. La minúscula nación de Nasacota Puento resiste la invasión de la gigantesca de Huaina Capac.,” 1978.
Espinoza Soriano, Waldemar. “Don Carlos Páucar, Principal Del Pueblo de Pacas,” in Etnohistoria Ecuatoriana: Estudios y Documentos. Quito: Ediciones Abya-Yala, 1999.
Espinoza Soriano, Waldemar. Los Cayambes y Carangues: Siglos XV-XVI : El Testimonio de La Etnohistoria. Vol. 1. Colección Curiñán. Quito: Instituto Otavaleño de Antropología, 1988.
Garcilaso de la Vega, Inca. Comentarios Reales de Los Incas. Lima: Universidad Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, , 2007.