"Ancient Peru's Food Storage Culture," by George Potter  

While on my mission in Peru and Bolivia, I became intrigued by how some of the cultural traits of ancient Peru had a remarkable similarity with modern Mormon culture. For example, Peruvians had the ancient world's foremost preparedness program. Not only did they carefully preserve huge grain stashes, they also stored supplies of clothing and other essential items. They even named their land after their storage program. Sullivan writes:

Pirua, {Peru} and its Aymara variant pirua, refers to a kind of building, a round storehouse for grain. These structures relied for their stability, as did the Ages of the World, on four sturdy pillars, around which were worked wattle and daub into a round shape....The pirua was the ancient granary of the peasantry. Arriaga and Acosta both noted the ceremonies of the peasantry concerned with guarding their crops in the pirua.[i]

  

Inca Store Houses 

The Incas believed that their fair-skinned god Viracocha {Christ} had "given them food and the way to preserve it."[ii] Can you think of any other religion where food preservation is a part of the official curriculum? Besides being prepared for the hereafter, the Peruvians had a long history of being prepared for the here and now, and for uncertainties such as famines. Mann writes: "The Spanish invaders were stunned to find warehouses overflowing with untouched cloth and supplies. But to the Inka the brimming coffers signified prestige and plenty; it was all part of the plan." Most important, Tawantinsuys [Four Quarters-the Inca name for their empire] "managed to eradicate hunger," the Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa noted. Though no fan of the Inka, he noted "only a very small number of empires throughout the whole world have succeeded in achieving this feat."[iii]  

 

Betanzos recorded: "These storehouses were so well supplied with all of the things necessary for their lives and needs that in them there was even footwear for rams made of cabuya, which is used like hemp in Spain. There were not only storehouses for garments and wool and the other necessities, but there were also large corrals of livestock along with this. The corrals, just like the storehouses, were well supplied for these provisions and benefactions."[iv]  

 

Perhaps the Peruvians learned to keep large stores of provision because of the long sieges put on the Nephites by the Gadianton robbers. "But behold, this was an advantage to the Nephites; for it was impossible for the robbers to lay siege sufficiently long to have any effect upon the Nephites, because of their much provisions which they had laid up in store" (3 Nephi 4:18). The First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has advised: "We encourage Church members worldwide to prepare for adversity in life by having a basic supply of food and water and some money in savings.... We encourage you to store as much as circumstances allow. May the Lord bless you in your home storage efforts."[v] The L.D.S. Church strongly advises its members to maintain where possible a one-year supply of food, medical supplies, and other basic needs such as clothing and hygiene materials. While today's Mormons stuff storage items into every feasible cranny of their homes, the Latter-day Saints are no match for the Incas who at times accumulated sufficient supplies for ten years.[vi] The Inca capital had dozens of storages houses, but these were insignificant when compared to the thousands of units that were located in the largest provincial centers.[vii]

 

The manner in which the Incas stored their reserves was ingenious, and it should be remembered that the Incas believed that Viracocha {Christ} had taught them how to preserve their food. Cobo wrote:

 

Ordinarily these storehouses or warehouses were built outside of town on a high, cool, and windy place near the royal road....The Indians put these storehouses in high places so that what was stored in them would be kept from getting wet and humid and from spoiling in any way; and by dividing the buhios [huts with thatched roofs] in the aforementioned way, the Indians tried to prevent damage from fires so that if one of them caught on fire, since the fire could not be put out, no more would be lost than the contents of the house that was burning, and the fire would not spread to the rest.[viii]

 

To keep insects away from their stores of grains and vegetables, the Incas lined the bottom of their granaries with a variety of mint called Muña (Mynthustachis Mollys).

 

The Inca storage system acted somewhat along the lines of a welfare distribution system. The stores were assigned to three different groups of people: the community, the religious functionaries, and the royals. The last share, that of the Incas, was also used as an empire-wide storehouse, Cobo expanded:

 

From these same storehouses he [the Inca] ordered alms to be given to the poor and needy, and after the province was supplied with the necessary provisions, he had them supply the needs of other surrounding provinces; and thus foods were carried from one province to another, and not infrequently, foods were transported from the storehouse of the coastal plains to the sierra and vice versa. All this was done with so much care, order, and speed that nowhere was anything lacking nor was anyone in dire straits, even though there were lean years; for the provision went from person to person where they were needed, and what was left over or not necessary was kept in the storehouse for times of need. These storehouses were always very well supplied because ordinarily there was food gathered from ten or twelve years back.[xi]

 

Cieza de León gave this account of the amazing storage program of the Incas:

 

As this kingdom was so vast, as I have repeatedly mentioned, in each of the many provinces there were many storehouses filled with supplies and other needful things; thus, in times of war, wherever the armies went they drew upon the contents of these storehouses, without ever touching the supplies of their confederates or laying a finger on what they had in their settlements. And when there was no war, all this stock of supplies and food was divided up among the poor and the widows. These poor were the aged, or the lame, crippled, or paralyzed, or those afflicted with some other diseases; if they were in good health, they received nothing. Then the storehouses were filled up once more with the tributes paid the Inca. If there came a lean year, the storehouses were opened and the provinces were lent what they needed in the way of supplies; then, in a year of abundance, they paid back all they had received.[x]



[i] [1] William Sullivan, The Secret of the Incas, Myth, Astronomy, and the War Against Time, New York:Three Rivers Press, 1995, 125.  

 

[ii] Pedro de Gambao Sarmiento, History of the Incas, Written circa AD 1570. Translated by Clements, Markham, Cambridge: The Haklugy Society 1907, Sarmiento, 27

 

[iii] Chalres Mann, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. New York, Vintage Books, 2006. 81.

 

[iv] Juan Betanzos,de. Narrative of the Incas. Translated and edited by Roland Hamilton and Dana Buchanan from the Palma de Mallorca manuscript. Austin: University of Texas Press, 99.

 

[v] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "All Is Safely Gathered In, Family Home Storage" 2007  

 

[vi] Polo De Ondegardo, "Report by Polo De Ondegardo, Manuscript in the National Library at Madrid," 4, on parchment B. See http:sacred-text.com/nam/inca/rly/rly4.htm, accessed Aug. 30, 2006, 3.  


[vii] Brian Bauer, Ancient Cuzco, Heartland of the Inca, Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004, 98.

 

[viii] Bernabe Cobo, History of the Inca Empire, Translated by Roland Hamilton. Austin, University of Texas Press, 1996, 218-219.

 

[ix] Cobo, 221.

 

[x]David Calderwood, Voices from the Dust, Austin, TX, Historical Publications, Inc, 2005,259.