vintageWas Nephi the First Inca King?

George Potter

With the exception of the Lord Jesus Christ, there is no personality in the Book of Mormon who achieved more than the legendary Nephi, son of Lehi. The young prophet preserved the spiritual fate of his family by securing the scriptures recorded on the brass plates. He saved their physical lives by guiding them through the hellish wilderness of Arabia. He transformed their world by constructing a large ship and sailing his extended family across two oceans to the Promised Land.

Despite having his older brothers and the sons of Ishmael constantly threatening his life, he was able to accomplish works in the New World that even exceeded his achievement in getting his family to their new homeland. He was a successful colonizer. He adapted farming techniques that produced abundant crops in a strange land. He bred herds of dometicated animals for meat and wool. He taught his people to build strong buildings, including a temple after the manner of Solomon’s. He taught the people metallurgy, making swords for their defense, and with the sword of Laban in hand, led his people in defending themselves against attacks by the Lamanites. He was the founding father of a nation, the first high priest of the Church of Jesus Christ among the Nephites, and the founder and first author of the golden library, which would eventually become the Book of Mormon. Nephi was beloved by his people, who made him their first king and called themselves after him, the Nephites.

Certainly, the historical impact of such a man as Nephi would not be lost among the memories of the Indian tribes of North and South America. It is only reasonable to believe that in the oral traditions and treasured memories of the Native Americans there must be found a legendary figure who could still be recognized as Nephi. If we can identify who this legendary man was, then we will have discovered the place where the Nephites first lived.

As I shifted my Book of Mormon explorations from the Arabian Peninsula to the New World, I have looked for the legend of Nephi and the historical figure behind the legend.  For example, I studied the legend of the bearded fair-skinned god figure of Mesoamerica and concluded that Quetzalcoatl was neither a god nor Nephi. Instead, he appears to have been either a tenth-century-A.D. wayward Lamanite missionary,  a Viking, or a Russian who sailed off course with his family and found himself in the land of the Toltecs. David Calderwood suggests that Quetzalcoatl was actually two characters—the ancient feathered-snake idol, and a later personage. He cites Doris Heyden in her introduction to Book of the Gods and Rites:

In Durán’s time there was utter confusion about Topiltzin-Quetzalcoatl, the great Toltec priest-king and holy man. The mystery of this man has not been completely clarified in our own times; there are controversial theories about his identity, history, and birth and death dates…. Archaeological discoveries have confirmed that the Toltecs formed a great civilization which reached its peak in central Mexico around the year 1000 A.D. They spoke the Nahuatl language and also introduced metallurgy in the central highlands of Mexico. They left the impressive ruins of Tula.

When the youth became a man, he was made high priest of this cult and adoped the name Quetzalcoatl, their god. He spent most of his life in the city of Tula, or Tollan, where he acquired fame as a holy man. Despite the reverence in which he was held, a conflict between two rival religious sects—one of which urged him to offer human sacrifice—led to a plot against him. Certain sorcerers offered him strong wine, made him drunk and led him to commit incest with his sister. Disgraced, the priest abandoned Tula and went eastward toward present day Veracruz. Before his final departure, however, he left various signs of his passing throughout the countryside and promised to return one day.

So who was Nephi?  I believe the Native Americans of the Andes called him Manco Capac, the first Inca King. Nephi and Manco Capac were unique, even among great kings. The Lord promised Nephi that he would rule over his brothers (1 Nephi 2:22). Manco Capac was selected king of his people by Viracocha, the bearded white god of the Andes.  Sullivan retells Inca lore: “According to a myth recorded by Pachakuti Yamqui, the god Wiraqocha {also spelled Viracocha,}* just before leaving the ‘earth,’ via the river Chacamarca [on waters & ship], met with the father of the yet-unborn Manco Capac and left for the child his ‘staff.’   A leader's staff is a universal sign of one’s right to rule. In the case of Manco Capac, the staff or right was given to him by the white god, by way of Manco’s father.

*(To help clarify the discussion, the author has added his own comments within certain quotations, and these are found within {} markers).

Lehi undoubtedly ordained Nephi to be the patriarch over his posterity (2 Nephi 1:24-28). It would appear that when he ordained Nephi to lead the family, he gave him his patriarchal blessing at the same time. Evidence of this conjecture is found later in the Book of Mormon when Lehi neared death. At that time, Lehi gave Laman, Lemuel, Joseph, and Jacob blessings, but not Nephi (2 Nephi 1:28-29, 2,3). 

The Spanish priest Bernabe Cobo wrongfully associates Manco Capac {Nephi} with the sun. Actually, the original Peruvian icon of the sun represented a god who had the body of a man. However, it is will documented that Viracocha was the god who gave the right of leadership to Manco Capac. Cobo wrote that the Inca god “himself spoke like an older brother to Manco Capac in the following way: 'You and your descendants will subjugate many lands and peoples, and you will be great rulers. Always regard me as your father, and pride yourselves on being my sons, without ever forgetting to venerate me as such.'"

We can learn more about Manco Capac from the priest Cobo, who had only distain for anything Inca including their religion. It seems that the only exception was his admiration for their first king. Although the priest tried to portray Manco Capac as a worshipper of many gods, other chroniclers reported that Manco Capac worshipped only the bearded white god, Viracocha.  Father Cobo describes the noble Inca in these words:

Once the Inca Manco Capac was in command of that small community and republic of barbarians, he treated them in a humane and familiar manner, more like brothers than with the authority of a superior {compare 2 Nephi 1:25,26; 33:1}. He employed all of his ingenuity in striving for the welfare and increase of his subjects {compare 2 Nephi 1:25}. The first thing he did was to divide the population of Cuzco into two groups of Hanan Cuzco and Hurin Cuzco…. He puts matters pertaining to religion in order {compare 2 Nephi 5:10}, designating the gods {Manco Capac only worshipped Viracocha} that they had to worship and teaching them the way that these gods {only Viracocha} were to be venerated and invoked, especially his father…. {Viracocha/Christ}. He built temples (compare 2 Nephi 5:16} and appointed ministers and priest {compare  Jacob 1:18} for the service and rituals of the temples; he established the ceremonies, rituals, and sacrifices with which the gods should be venerated.... {compare  2 Nephi 5:10}.

The king set himself to teach the men all of the tasks that are theirs, such as the work in the fields, how to make ditches from the rivers in order to irrigate, and the proper times for sowing and harvesting their crops. {compare 2 Nephi 5:11}. He instructed them in the use of clothes and footwear of the type they used thereafter and the majority still use today. The Coya, or Queen, took care to teach the women to spin and weave wool and cotton, as well as other tasks and occupations of their profession {compare  Mosiah 10:5}.

With such good works as the Inca performed for his subjects, they came to like him better each day; and in order to enjoy the same benefits, strangers willingly submitted to his rule {compare 2 Nephi 5:18}. Thus he came to rule over the whole Valley of Cuzco and the sierras that surround it, and in this district he founded many towns. Although they were small at first, they grew steadily as time passed {compare 2 Nephi 5:13}. The Inca made useful laws to teach {compare 1 Nephi 2:22} his vassals praiseworthy customs and to increase the size and ensure the success of his state {compare 2 Nephi 5:13,17}.

….since the Incas felt sure that they all descended from Manco Capac {called themselves Nephites}, his body and idol were adored by all of the families and ayllos {family tribes, compare 2 Nephi 5:9}.  

It is presumptuous to compare anyone to the enlightened, brilliant, bold, and most of all faithful Nephi. However, in the Peruvian oral traditions of their first king, Manco Capac, we seem to have a serendipitous match. Cobo continues:

The Inca [Manco Capac] took special care to erect a temple.... He selected for this a very spacious and prominent site, and on it he started to build the great temple of Coricancha; it was not such a magnificent edifice as it later became, but of humble and crude workmanship with adobe walls….{compare 2 Nephi 5:16}. Finally, the first Inca established the kingdom by winning the good will of those who approached him {compare 2 Nephi 5:17} and by showing himself to be humane, affable, and very religious and well informed with regard to things pertaining to the divine rituals {compare 2 Nephi 32:9} and understanding the gods {only Viracocha/Christ} especially his father the Sun {Viracocha/Christ} {compare 2 Nephi 31:20-21}, whose worship Manco Capac and his successors established throughout their kingdom {compare 2 Nephi 5:19}.

Having reached old age, when he felt the approach of death, the Inca ordered his most important subjects to gather together before him, and he told them that it was time for him to return to the sky; his father the Sun {icon for Viracocha/Christ} was calling for him to come there. The most important thing that he entrusted to them in that hour, for the love that he had shown to them, was to keep peace and harmony among themselves and to be as obedient and faithful to his eldest son, Cinchi Roca, as they had been to him. Having said this, he died {compare Jacob 1:9}. His subjects were visibly stricken with grief, for they loved him as a father {compare Jacob 1:10}.

The Incas believed that Manco Capac was the son of a curaca (a local official and head of a high-ranking lineage). As we know, Lehi was a man of importance in Jerusalem, otherwise, why would he have been a threat to the elders in Jerusalem. Furthermore, Nephi tells us that he was born of “goodly parents” (1 Nephi 1:1), and indicates that his father had substantial wealth (1 Nephi 3:25). We are told that Lehi, “as he went forth prayed unto the Lord, yea, even with all his heart, in behalf of his people” (bold added, 1 Nephi 1:5). “His people” suggests that Nephi’s father was the head of a lineage or tribe.

The early Spanish chronicler Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa provided another interesting aspect of the life of Manco Capac He fought wars, and the people chose him to lead them —yet two more specific parallels to the life of Nephi (Jacob 1:10, 2 Nephi 5:9). 

Manco Capac was said to have been “a man of good stature, thin, rustic.” Nephi noted that he was a man of "large stature" (1 Nephi 4:31).

When Did Manco Capac Live?

Fabricated genealogies by the fourteenth-century-A.D. Inca Yupanqui claimed that Manco Capac lived only nine generations before him and that he was Manco’s direct descendent. This is impossible. Manco Capac was the founder of the ancient, not the later, Inca civilization. His mummy and a large stone image of him were discovered by the Spanish not in the city of Cuzco, but in the ruins of the nearby Wimpillay. This ancient town was the most important city in the valley during the Inca Late Formative Phase (500 B.C.–200 A.D.). If the Spanish had not burned the preserved mummies of the Inca kings, we might have had Manco Capac's DNA!

Inca Yupanqui's creation of a false genealogy, to show that he was a descendant of the great Manco Capac, is no more surprising than the European monarchs having falsified their genealogies to show that they were descendants of the house of David. Manco Capac was given the staff to rule by god himself, and Inca Yupanqui wanted to show to the people that he had the same right to rule over them by being Manco Capac's direct descendent. Sullivan explains: “Although, for reasons including political expediency, the Incas projected their own ancestry back into the time of the events…” Archaeologists now believe that the first eight generations of Inca kings, date far back into antiquity when the first Incas appeared in Peru. Recent archaeological findings tentatively point to Manco Capac's reign as having been during circa the sixth century B.C. 

The early chronicler Fernando de Montesinos claimed that there were 105 Inca kings, some of which were actually from the Wari people. Until recently scholars ignored Montesinos's account of the Incas because he claimed that the Incas had a written language. Not only do Harvard University archaeologists now believe that the Incas did have a written language, a closer study of the archaeological evidence is discovering that Montesinos's record of the Inca kings is the only record that can be relied upon at any level of confidence. Juha Hiltunen of the Univeristy of Oulu in Finland writes: "The dynastic lists recorded in Montesinos's chronicle can be correlated with the current prehistoric periodization in the Andes with promising results. In this new way of looking into the Andean past, we can consider that the Middle Horizon and Late Intermediate Period Wari-kings may have been recorded into this unique written source, the only one available to us from its time."

If the last of the 105 ruling Inca kings, Huayna Capac, died in A.D. 1527 from the smallpox plague that was brought to the Americas by  the Spanish, when would the first king have reigned? We can estimate an approximate date for Manco Capac's reign by comparing the average length of the reigns of the British monarchs from A.D. 704 to the present day. Accurate records were maintained during this time span. The Saxon kings who ruled for 362 years reigned for an average of 16.5 years. The English kings and queens that ruled after the Norman invasion have reigned for 941 years with an average tenure of 22.5 years. The combined average reign since A.D. 704 would be 20.8 years. Since the English monarchs included women, who on the average live longer than men, I propose rounding the average length of rule to an even 20 years. By multiplying the 20 years average reign times of 105 Inca kings , the total years from the first to the last Inca ruler would be 2,100. Subtracting 2,100 years from A.D. 1527 tells us that Manco Capac would have taken power sometime around 570 B.C. Thus, if Manco Capac was Nephi, then our best guess as to when he reigned would be during the early sixth century B.C., well within the time frame the Book of Mormon gives for the reign of Nephi.


Why would Nephi' sbody have been mummified?

If Nephi were Manco Capac, it might seem strange to Latter-day Saints that Nephi's body would have been mummified. Rather than odd, it serves as a further witness that the Book of Mormon account is in perfect historical harmony. Nephi was from the house of Joseph (1 Nephi 5:16) and the tribe of his son Manasseh. Unlike the other tribes of Israel, the tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim had roots in the courts of Egypt. When Israel died, Joseph ordered that the Egyptian physicians embalm his father, a mummification process that took forty days (Genesis 50:1-3). Of Joseph’s death, The Torah states, “Joseph died at the age of one hundred and ten years; and he was embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt.” Thus, Joseph was mummified and his body was not buried in the ground, but placed in a sarcophagus.

When the children of Israel left Egypt, they took only the bones of Joseph (Exodus 13:19), but not the remains of the other eleven patriarchs. This implies that Joseph, second in command of all Egypt, was the only son of Israel that was mummified. Did this family tradition get passed down to Lehi’s family? The Lehites considered their native language to be Egyptian (1 Nephi 1:2), and according to Hugh Nibley:

The tribe of Manasseh, which of all the tribes, retained the old desert ways and was most active in the caravan trade. He [Lehi] seems to have had particularly close ties with Sidon (for the name appears repeatedly in the Book of Mormon, both in its Hebrew and Egyptian forms), which at that time was one of the two harbors through which the Israelites carried on an extremely active trade with Egypt and the West. He was proud of his knowledge of Egyptian and insisted on his sons learning it (Mosiah 1:4).

Whether the Lehites mummified their dead or not, the practice existed in Peru well before the sixth century B.C., and it might have Jaredite associations. It would seem natural then than when Nephi died, his own family and the natives over which he ruled would desire to practice the Egyptian and Peruvian tradition of mummifying his body.


Nephi's name

It is important to remember that the Inca royalty had a secret language, which they spoke only among themselves. Among the common people, the Inca elite used the Quechua language. In the Book of Mormon, the Nephites also had a common language, but used a private language which only the people who kept the plates knew—Egyptian (see Mosiah 1:2-4).  Like Joseph of Egypt, Nephi was loved by his people, and when he died they were “desirous to retain in remembrance his name” (Jacob 1:10-11).  For this reason the Nephites called their kings "Nephi" (Jacob 1:11). Lynn and Hope Hilton remind us that in Arabic, Nephi is pronounced "NAFI." The Incas called all their kings the INCA or INKA. Rearrange the letters and you have "NACI" or "NAKI". Could "INCA" have been the encoded Quechua name for NAFI {Nephi}, the name of the kings in the secret language of the Cuzco elite? This rearranging of the letters might appears to be nothing more than a word game, but it should be remembered that the Nephites intentionally “altered” their usage of the characters of the reformed Egyptian language (Mormon 9:32). It would also explain why, according to Hugh Nibley, the Book of Mormon contains Egyptian (possibly private) names (Laman, Lemuel, and Sam) while the Incas might have referred to the same people, the brothers of Manco Capac, by their Quechua names (Cachi, Uchu and Auca).

Finally, in remembrance of the great Nephi, Jacob wrote that “Whoso should reign in his stead were called by the people, second Nephi, third Nephi, and so forth.” (Jacob 1:11) Montesinos wrote that Manco Capac reigned 21 years; his son Cayo Manco Capac followed him, who was followed by his son, Sinchi Ayar Manco.

Nephi’s three journeys in the Promised Land

I will continue my comparison of the two men with the Nephites disembarking on the shores of the Promised Land. It seems clear that Nephi realized that the beachhead where his family landed was not the land “choice above all other lands” that he had been promised. However, his first order of business after disembarking in the Promised Land was to restock the family's food supply (1 Nephi 18:23-25). Thus, Nephi wrote that they pitched their tents, planted seeds, and harvested in abundance. With a plentiful harvest, the family now had the provisions they needed to search for more fertile lands.

Nephi wrote that they journeyed in the wilderness, apparently surveying the resources in the lands they passed through. The Book of Mormon states that under Nephi's leadership the entire family made several "journeyings" (1 Nephi 19:1). Thus, the role played by Nephi in the early colonization of the Promised Land should not be underestimated. In this light, we can compare Nephi to the legendary founder of the Inca people, the great Manco Capac, and see if these two great men were one in the same. If Nephi were the first Inca king, then it follows that Peru would be the land of the first Nephites.

When Nephi used the word “journey” he referred to a migration of the family from one place to another, e.g., the Lord commands Lehi that they should leave the valley of Lemuel and journey with his family in the wilderness (1 Nephi 16:9). After using the plural term "journeyings" (1 Nephi 19:1), Nephi again used the word “journey” at the time he separated from Laman and Lemuel (2 Nephi 5:7). Thus, it appears that Nephi led at least three journeys or migrations in the Promised Land before settling in the city of Nephi. What parallels are there between Nephi’s journeys with the oral traditions of the migrations led by the founder of the Inca people, Manco Capac?

Gary Urton of Harvard University writes of Manco Capac's last migration, “The principal figure was Manco Capac, who was destined to become the founder-king of the empire. The Incas set off with people who lived around Tambo T’ogo [allied tribes of Pacariqtambo] in search of fertile land on which to build their capital. Following a long period of wandering, they finally arrived at a hill overlooking a valley of Cusco. {Cuzco is the oldest continuously occupied city in the Americas and is Arthur Kocherhans' and my candidate for the city of Nephi. } Recognizing by miraculous signs that this was the home they had long sought, the Incas descended from the mountain and took possession of the valley from the local inhabitants.”


First Journey – from the Pacific beachhead to Lake Titicaca

The Peruvians called the first Incas, or four white brothers, Viracochas, which some historians believe meant “foam of the Sea.” This odd meaning was possibly derived from the fact that the four brothers came to Peru upon the sea, like the sea foam that is carried on waves to the shore. The four Inca brothers did not stay long at the Pacific shoreline. Instead, they migrated to an island in Lake Titicaca.

By the time the Nephites landed in the Promised Land, Lehi was old and had already assigned Nephi to the leadership of the family (Mosiah 10:13). However, the four married sons of Lehi would have constituted the elders of the Lehite tribe. Of course, Lehi had two other sons, Jacob and Joseph, but having been born in the wilderness, they would have been young boys no older than Nephi's own children. The Book of Mormon does not disclose where Nephi led the family when they left the seashore and headed into the wilderness. However, Nephi hints that he had moved into the towering Andes Mountains, for on occasions he was “carried away upon exceedingly high mountains” (2 Nephi 4:25).

Eventually the Nephites settled in the land of Nephi, a large area where many cities existed and over which wars were conducted and long missions served. The place where the Nephites finally settled does not appear to have been an island. However, Jacob made an interesting insertion on the golden plates. He wrote that they had lived upon an “Isle of the Sea” (2 Nephi 10:20). Here again, is another possible parallel between the history recorded in the Book of Mormon and the oral traditions of Manco Capac. McIntyre notes that "According to a legend still learned by Andean school children, the first Inca, Manco Capac, wandered northward from Titicaca. Reaching Cuzco, he founded a dynasty whose armies and disciplined society would spawn one of the world's great empires." In other words, before settling in Cuzco, Manco Capac had lived at Lake Titicaca; and according to the legends of the Incas, Manco Capac and his people lived on an island.

The Incas thought of Lake Titicaca as a concha or “sea.” The giant body of water has an area of 3,200 square mile and is nearly 1,000 feet deep. Lake Titicaca has scores of islands, but one, the Island of the Sun, is very special. It was the home of Manco Capac before he migrated to the north. Following only the central temple in Cuzco, the Island of the Sun was the second most sacred site for the Incas. University of California at Los Angeles archaeologist, Charles Stanish writes of the Island of the Sun:

Cobo also describes a large architectural complex that is today called the Chincana, and notes the presence of a small set of buildings now called Mama Ojlia {Manco Capac's wife} and a set of natural marks on the bedrock which were believed to be the footsteps of mythical Inca, Manco Capac {Nephi}. On the other hand, some features that Cobo mentions, like a round altar stone in front of the rock, no longer exist….

The far-side of the [Sacred] rock descends much of the distance down to the lake. Cobo calls this broad descending side, 'the convex side of the stone,' and says it was covered in cumbi, a finely woven cloth. He stated that the plaza side of the rock was covered with sheets of gold and that an altar was located in the prominent concavity near its center.

Cobo's description invokes two intriguing thoughts…"Do Nephi’s footprints still exist?" and "Is there archaeological evidence that a person like Nephi lived on the Island of the Sun?"

We know that both Nephi and Manco Capac were great teachers and were leaders who were loved by their people because of the knowledge they shared with them. The Island of the Sun is located on the southeast end of Lake Titicaca. Archaeologists have discovered that there was a marked change in the level of civilization in this area starting approximately 500 B.C., and classified the period as Tiwanaku IV.

Nephi’s settling his colony on the isle of the Sun would also explain why the chronicler Cieza de León reported the legend that bearded white men lived on an island in Lake Titicaca.

Initially settling on an island probably made a great deal of sense to Nephi. The island is fertile, has springs of sweet water, and most important, it would have been a natural fortification against any tribe trying to eliminate the newcomers. This first migration of the Nephites might have taken place within months, one growing season, from the time Lehi's family reached the Promised Land. The family would have still been a small group of virtual strangers, not yet knowing how to speak the native languages and still trying to bridge friendships and alliance with the indigenous people. It would have been a high-risk environment, and being surrounded by water on an island with steep cliffs would have provided a safe refuge.

If the Nephites lived on an “isle in the sea” (2 Nephi 10:20) in Lake Titicaca before they founded the city of Nephi (2 Nephi 5), then there appears to be a chronological conflict in the Book of Mormon. However, a closer look at The Second Book of Nephi shows that the book is composed of four parts. The first four chapters are Lehi’s prophesies and blessings. Chapter 5 is Nephi's entire history of his kingship, from the time he separates from his brothers until forty years had passed away from the time they left Jerusalem (2 Nephi 5:34).  Chapters 6-24 are Jacob’s lectures on faith, including his insertion of the words of Isaiah. Finally, Chapters 25-33 are Nephi’s parting message to his people.

In other words, the only historical events Nephi recorded on the small plates were: 1)  a short note that they arrived in the land of Promise, planted crops, and journeyed in the wilderness (1 Nephi 18:22-25); 2) that he was commanded to make plates on which he wrote that they had “journeyings in the wilderness (1 Nephi 19:1); and 3) his condensed history which is found in Chapter 5. The details of their journeyings in the Promised Land before settling in the land of Nephi would have been recorded by Nephi on his Large Plates, which was his secular history of his people. When Nephi gave the Small Plates to Jacob, he instructs him that he “should not touch, save it were lightly, concerning the history of this people, which are called the people of Nephi.” For he said that the history of his people should be engraven upon his other plates. (Jacob 2-3). Even so, in the Second Book of Nephi Jacob appears to have inserted a small historical reminder to his family that they had once lived on an isle in the sea. Jacob was not giving a history lesson, rather he was emphasizing a spiritual point he was trying to convey. In the sermon, he recounts events that had previously happened to the family including the time they crossed the sea and the time, probably years before settling in the city of Nephi, when they lived on an isle of the sea (2 Jacob 10:19-20).


Second journey from Lake Titicaca to Pacariqtambo

It seems likely that while living on their isle in the sea, Nephi and his brothers made alliances with the local tribes. Yet for some reason, Nephi continued his “journeyings.” There must have been a good reason why Nephi decided to leave the isle of the sea. Using the journeys of Manco Capac as a type, two possible reasons come to mind. First, the legendary first Inca king traveled north in search of fertile land. The isle of the Sun is fertile but is not large enough to provide enough food for a permanent settlement. Second, Sarmiento reports that Manco Capac’s violent brother, Cachi {Laman} “committed great cruelties and was oppressive both among the natives of the places they passed, and among his own people. The other brothers were afraid that the conduct of Ayar Cachi would cause their companies to disband and desert, and that they would be left alone.” In other words, as fast as Manco Capac {Nephi} was building alliances with native tribes, his wicked brother was alienating the natives. If Cachi were Laman, then it seems that Laman committed some vile acts against the native people at Lake Titicaca, i.e., kidnapping their daughters or perhaps killing someone. To keep the peace, Manco Capac needed to move on. 

The Inca legends provide a destination for this second migration. According to tradition, the four Inca brothers did not conqueror the indigenous people of the Cuzco Valley by themselves. They first formed an alliance with the Tambo Indians who live in the mountains thirty miles west of Cuzco. Urton records:

After the ancestors [Manco Capac and his brothers], emerged from Tambos Toco, they allied themselves and prepared to go with them in search of fertile land; upon finding good land, they vowed to conquer the people who lived there. Sarmiento describes this turn of events as follows:

‘And agreeing among themselves on this (plan of conquest), the eight ancestors [the 4 brothers and their wives] began to stir up the people who lived in that part of the mountains, setting as the prize that they [the Inca ancestors] would make the people rich and that they would give them lands and estates which they conquered and subjugated. From an interest in this (proposition), there were formed ten groups or ayllus, which means, among these barbarians, a lineage or faction.'

The ten ayllus [families/tribes] of Tambo Indians founded at Tambo Toco were destined to become the principle groupings of commoners in Inca Cusco. They were complemented in the social organization of the capital by the ten royal ayllus [tribes] kings. Shortly after their creation and emergence from Tambo Toco [caves], the eight ancestors set off with their entourage—the ten ayllus of Tambo Indians—walking northward in the direction of Cusco valley. Along the way, the ancestors {Nephites} tested the earth by plunging a golden bar {Nephi's staff}, which they had brought with them from Tambo Toco, into the soil. They were searching for fertile land that would be suitable to call home.

According to Michael Mosley, Peruvian “Ayllus {tribes} were often named after their founders {Nephi/Manco Capac}, who were heroic figures, if not mythical ones, and could turn into stone or some special object. They secured lands for their people {land of Nephi}, established codes of behavior, and were models for proper life {teaching of Christ}.”

It appears that when Manco Capac left Lake Titicaca in search of fertile lands, he had eyed the fertile Cuzco Valley, but did not yet have the necessary forces to seize the valley. Instead, he and his family camped at Pacariqtambo cave in the homeland of the Tambo Indians. It was there that Manco Capac forged an historic alliance between his family and the ten tribes of the Tambo Indians. The Tambo tribes agreed to become subservient to Manco's leadership, and together they plotted to conquer the people in the Cuzco Valley.

I conjecture then, that Nephi’s second journey was from the Island of the Sun on Lake Titicaca to the cave at Pacariqtambo, and here the stage was set for the final march to the land of Nephi. The only problem still facing Nephi was a rising rebellion within his own family.


Third journey from Pacariqtambo Cave to Cuzco Valley

 “And it came to pass that the Lord did warn me, that I, Nephi, should depart from them and flee into the wilderness, and all those who would go with me….  “we did take our tents and whatsoever things were possible for us, and did journey for the space of many days and did pitch our tents.” (2 Nephi 5:7)

Three questions need to be answered with respect to Nephi's third journey:

The Book of Mormon tells us that Nephi was fleeing from his elder brothers who sought to kill him (2 Nephi 5:1-2). This group would have been headed by Laman and included Lemuel, the sons of Ishmael, and any native people who affiliated themselves with Laman.

As for ”all those who would go with” Nephi, they could have been the ten tribes of the Tambo, the allies of Manco Capac. Nephi's record suggests that when he separated from his elder brothers, he took with him more than just his immediate family. Nephi listed the principle members of his original party and then adds "all those who would go with me” were those who believed in the warnings, and the revelations of God; wherefore, they did hearken unto my words" (2 Nephi 5:6). Of course, those that hearkened to his words could have been the members of his own family whom he had already listed, but such an unnecessary redundancy inscribed on golden plates seems unlikely. The implication is that there were non-family members who followed Nephi. These would have been people to whom Nephi taught the revelations of God, and who hearkened to his words. In turn, this would imply that Nephi was teaching the revelations of the God to native people, i.e., the Tambo Indians. Since Nephi served a successful mission while in the Arabian desert (D&C 33:8), teaching a limited version of the gospel to natives in the Promised Land is exactly what one would expect of this faithful man.

One of the revelations Nephi would have shared with the Tambo Indians was the Dream of the Tree of Life. When the Spanish arrived, they found that the Incas had fitted the entrance of the Pacariqtambo cave of the Tambo tribes with golden doors and had placed a golden tree at the cave.

We are now ready to try to answer the final question, “Where did they go?” If our Manco Capac analogy holds, then Nephi led his people to the Cuzco Valley where Manco Capac founded the city of Cuzco, our candidate for the city of Nephi.  According to Sarmiento, the four brothers searched for eight years for fertile land before settling in Cuzco. If Nephi's journeyings in the Promised Land took eight years, then we can add this to the eight years Lehi’s family journeyed in Arabia. (1 Nephi 17:4). We must also add the two to four years that it would have taken to build a ship and sail it to the New World. In total, Nephi possibly led his family without a permanent home for nearly twenty years!

By this time, the crude Laman must have completely poisoned to Nephi's leadership, and was preparing to murder his brother (2 Nephi 5:3-5). However, in Manco Capac's case, we see that it was his violent elder brother’s own behavior that was hampering the family's effort to secure a peaceful homeland. As a result, during this third leg of Manco Capac's search for fertile land, he decided that it was time to separate from his evil-tempered brother. The Incas considered the separation of the brothers as one of the most significant events in their entire history. This breech finally divided the family into two warring nations. Urton provides a digest of what happened:

The ancestors {Manco Capac and his three brothers} and their entourage then came to a place called Hysquisrro. It was here that a momentous event occurred that resulted in the separation of one of the ancestors {Laman} from the group.

According to various versions of the Inca origin myth, Ayar Cachi {Laman} was known universally as a boisterous, rowdy and cruel character; he was also very handy with a sling. Cieza de León tells us that Ayar Cachi could launch stones flying up to the clouds. In addition, Ayar Cachi {Laman} stirred up trouble in all the towns the ancestors passed through, and he disturbed the peace and harmony among the ancestors {Lehi's family} and their allies. According to Sarmiento, ‘the other siblings feared that because of his bad behavior and tricks, Ayar Cachi would disturb and alienate the people who were traveling with them, and that they would be left alone {the TamboToco Indians would leave them}.


George, Check the last sentence to make sure it is EXACTLY as quoted. It lacks a closing parenthesis, making no clear sense.

 These concerns led the ancestors, under the direction of Ayar Manco {Nephi}, to concoct a ruse to rid them of this troublesome character. Manco told Ayar Cachi {Laman} that they had left several items {brass plates Mosiah 10:16} in the cave of origin, Tambo Toco. These included a golden cup (topacusi){Liahona?}, some seeds {1 Nephi 8:1, 16:11, 18:6; 18:24}, as well as an object called a napa. The latter had the form of a miniature decorative llama, which, in Sarmiento’s words, was an ‘insignia of nobility’…. At first, Ayar Cachi {Laman} refused to return to the cave. However, Mama Huaco, the most forceful and bellicose of the sisters (and according to Betanzos' wife of Ayar Cachi {Laman}, jumped to her feet and began berating Ayar Cachi, calling him a lazy coward. Shamed into action by Mama Huaco’s words, Ayar Cachi agreed to return to the cave.

On his trip back to Tambo Toco, Ayar Cachi {Laman} took with him a man from among the Tambos Indians, named Tambochacay (“Tambo entrance-barrier"). Unbeknownst to Ayar Cachi, the other ancestors had persuaded Tambochacay to dispose of the troublesome Ayar Cachi {Laman} when they reached the cave. After they had retrieved the articles, Tambochacay immediately closed off the entrance to the cave with a huge boulder, trapping Ayar Cachi inside for all time.

George, Check also the EXACT original quotation of the paragraph beginning “On his trip...” Your original copy is not clear. I changed it, but that doesn’t make it a direct quotation.


Sarmiento’s original recording of this event adds this comment about Cachi {Laman}:


was oppressed?

 Ayar Cachi {Laman} was fierce and strong, and very dexterous with the sling. He committed great cruelties and was oppressed both among the natives of the places they passed, and among his own people….

Pedro Sarmiento De Gamboa recorded this Inca oral tradition in 1572, over two thousand years after Nephi broke away from Laman. However, two sentences in the Sarmiento account have convinced me that the first Inca King, Manco Capac, was none other than Nephi.

Two cc’s at the beginning??


 Sarmiento wrote:

They called Ayar Cachi {Laman} and said to him, “Brother! Know that in Ccapac-tocco we have forgotten golden vases called tupac-cusi, and certain seeds, and the napa, which is our principle ensign of sovereignty.” The napa is a sheep of the country, the colour white, with a red body cloth, on the top ear-rings of gold, and on the breast a plate with red badges such as was worn by rich Incas abroad….

Could Manco Capac have been anyone other than Nephi?

Beyond the many corollaries already present between Manco Capac and Nephi  are four addition ones, which make it seemingly impossible that the two men were not one in the same.


“cross of plume of feathers”

Is that a correct quote?

 Manco Capac received the staff of Viracocha (bearded white god) as his ensign indicating to all that he was the rightful king. The napa was only a figurine of a sheep, so why would Cachi (Laman) be so desirous to obtain it? Sarmiento indicated that it was the “principal ensign of sovereignty.” He went on to note that the napa was “carried in front of all on a pole with a cross of plume of feathers.” Therefore, it appears that the napa’s pole was Viracocha’s staff of royal authority.


It is not certain what actually happened to Cachi (Laman). Some legends state that he was trapped and died in the cave, while other accounts say he escaped and settled in a place near Cuzco. As for Lemuel, it appears that Nephi did not have to separate himself from him, for Uchu (Lemuel) was turned into stone (died) before the party reached the Cuzco Valley.

Finally, it is interesting to note that the oral traditions of the ancient Peruvians, which presumably were passed down by surviving Lamanite posterity, claimed that Cachi (Laman) had been tricked by Manco Capac (Nephi) into returning to the cave. This story of the brothers would be consistent with the Book of Mormon’s description of how the Lamanites viewed the dealings of Nephi with Laman. King Lamoni’s father stated that “these Nephites, who are sons of a liar. Behold, he robbed our fathers; and now his children are also come amongst us that they may, by their cunning and their lyings, deceive us, that they again may rob us of our property.” (Alma 20:13) Of course, this bias on history is exactly what a student of the Book of Mormon would expect the Indians to have told the Spanish. According to Sarmiento’s notes, descendants of Cachi (Laman) were among those who lived in Cuzco at the time of the Spanish conquest.

Betanzo, in his record of the four brothers, states that after they separated from Cachi (Laman), Manco Capac took care of Cachi’s wife. As his sister-in-law she would have been considered in the Middle Eastern sense a sister to Manco Capac. Betanzos continued, “Ayar Manco {Nephi} received Ayar Oche’s {Uchu/Lemuel’s} wife, Cura, to care for her…. Manco Capac and his companion, Ayar Auca {Sam}, left their settlement, taking with them the four women already mentioned {their own wives plus the wives of Laman and Lemuel}. They walked toward the town of Cuzco.” This oral tradition of the founding of Cuzco, certainly brings to mind the account in the Book of Mormon, where Nephi wrote that he took “also my sisters,” when he settled the city of Nephi (1 Nephi 5:6,15).


The land of Nephites’inheritance

Urton continues with his account of the four Inca brothers:

Having rid themselves of Ayar Cachi, the ancestors moved on and arrived next in the immediate environs of the valley of Cusco at a place called Quirirmanta, which is at the foot of a mountain called Huanacauri. Ascending Huanacauri, the ancestors viewed for the first time the valley of Cusco. Heaving the bar of gold with which they had been testing the soil into the valley, they saw the entire shaft sink into the earth. From this indication, as well as by the sign of a rainbow that stretched over the valley, the ancestors {now the Nephites} recognized that this was their long sought-after home {the land choice above all other lands} and they prepared to descend.

According to Sarmiento's chronicles, when Manco Capac settled in Cuzco, he removed the ten “barbarian” tribes away from the city including the “lineage of Ayar Cachi” {Lamanites}. In other words, Manco Capac did not want his people mixing with those he considered barbaric. The first Inca king’s attitude parallels Nephi’s sentiments regarding the traditional behavior of the Lamanites and his desire that his people not mix with them (2 Nephi 5:21-23).

Ironically, Manco Capac's (Nephi's) effort to keep the Inca royalty’s bloodlines pure was in vain. Cobo recorded: "He {Cinchi Roca, the son of Manco Capac/Nephi} sought to have his son marry, for he wanted him to remain with a legitimate wife so that there would be legitimate children according to their laws, but the youth did not accept the marriage that his father arranged; this caused Cinchi Roca much grief, and being old and very honored, he came to the end of his days." It is noteworthy that this would have occurred in a time corresponding to when Jacob was warning his people against taking multiple wives—seemingly the extra wives would have most likely have been from the native people.

Manco Capac takes the Cuzco Valley

The large gold plates of Nephi contained the secular history of the family. Thus, as we might expect, the small gold plates that are included in the Book of Mormon tell us nothing as to how Nephi acquired the land of Nephi. Turning to Inca oral history, we find an interesting account of how the ingenious Manco Capac took charges over the people of the Cuzco valley without shedding a single drop of blood. Sarmiento tells us that Manco Capac (Nephi) fashioned two plates of gold, one of which he wore on the front of his body, the other on his back. Manco then positioned himself on the hill of Huanacauri overlooking Cusco where, at the moment of sunrise, he appeared as a resplendent, god–like figure. The locals were awed by his appearance, whereupon Manco descended from Huanacauri to Cusco and became the ruler of the valley.

This curious story leads one to wonder if during the two thousand years since Manco Capac’s entry into Cuzco the story became somewhat distorted. Did Manco Capac really create two plates of gold to wear, or did he create two “sets of golden plates” —a large set and a small set. Could he have read the words of God from the gold plates and convinced the natives that he was their rightful leader?  A similar event took place when Mosiah entered the domain of the people of Zarahemla. They rejoiced at Mosiah's coming for he had the plates of brass, and thereafter they made him their king. (Omni 1:14-19)



 On the one hand, such metal plates, from which one could read and the finely crafted sword of Laban would have made profound impressions on primitive people. On the other hand, if Nephi did wear golden plates into the land of Nephi, the Book of Mormon provides a possible explanation. The Nephites wore breastplates into battle and the local natives could have witnessed his impressive armor and steel sword and decided to surrender the valley (Alma 43:19-21). We also know that the breastplate of the Urim and Thummin was buried by Moroni along with the golden plates. ”Urim” and “thummim” are Hebrew terms for “lights” and “perfections.” The Urim and Thummim was made of “two stones, in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate.” (JSH 1:35) Could Nephi have worn the Urim and Thummim as he entered the land of Nephi, and doing so radiate an incredible “light” that testified to the native people that they should subjugate themselves to the young leader? Whatever happened that day, we see that both Manco Capac and Nephi knew how to fabricate gold plates, a very rare technology in the New World in ancient times.

Urton tells us that once in the valley of Cuzco, Manco Capac and his people went to the leader of the natives and “told him they had been sent by their father, the sun {Inca corruption of Viracocha the White God}, to take possession of the town. Alcavicca, the native leader, and his followers acceded to this request and made room for the six ancestors. Then Manco Capac {Nephi} took some maize (corn) seeds that he had brought with him from the cave of Tambo Toco, and with the help of Alcavicca and the other ancestors he planted the first corn field in the valley. Scientists have found evidence showing that maize  is observed for the first time in the Cuzco Valley at around 600 B.C., a dating that tightly coincides Nephi’s entry to the city of Nephi.

While we will probably never know definitively whether Nephi was the first Inca king, Manco Capac, the evidence that he was is compelling. For that reason I will start my search for evidence for the Book of Mormon's history in Cuzco, Peru, the ancient capital of the Incas, the city founded by Manco Capac, and the place where I served as an LDS missionary among the descendants of the Incas.


David G. Calderwood, Voices from the Dust, (Austin, Texas, Historical Publications, Inc, 2005), 328.

Calderwood, 330.

Diego Durán,  The History of the Indies of New Spain, originally written in 1581 but not found until 1850 and partially published in 1867. (Translated, Annotated, and with an Introduction by Doris Heyden. Published by University of Oklahoma Press, 1994), 57

William Sullivan, The Secret of the Incas, Myth, Astronomy, and the War Against Time, (New York: Three Rivers Press: 1996), 116.

Brian S. Bauer, Ancient Cuzco, Heartland of the Inca, (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004), 157.

Bernabe Cobo, History of the Inca Empire, translated by Roland Hamilton, (Austin: University of Texas, 1996),, 105.

Cobo, 108.

Cobo, 109.

Cobo, 110

Gary Urton, The Legendary Past, Inca Myths (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1999) 52.

Pedro de Gamboa Sarmiento, History of the Incas written circa 1570 AD, Translated by Clements Markham, (Cambridge: The Haklugy Society 1907) 28-58. available at p. 47.

Sarmiento, 61.

Bauer, 172.

Bauer, 41-43, 186..

Steve Jones, In the Blood, God, Genes, and Destiny, (London: Harper Collins Publishers, 1996), 80-82.

Sullivan, 136.

Calderwood, 288.

Charles C. Mann, 1491, New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, New York: Vintage Books, 2006), 397.

Juha Hiltunen, "Separating Invention from Possible Inherited Traditions in the Chronicle of Montesinos", (Traditional High Cultures, 7 January 2008), .

Bill Cooper, "The Kings of the Ancient Britons: Chronology" The Early History of Man – Part 3, (Bible Believers, 1 January 2008),

Hugh Nibley (3), Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Vol. 6, Chapter 4, (Salt Lake City, Deseret Book,  46-47.

Bauer, 160.

Loren McIntyre, "Lost Empire of the Incas",  National Georgraphic, Vol. 144, No. 6, (Washington, D.C.: December 1973) 764.

Lynn Hilton and Hope Hilton, Discovering Lehi, New evidence of Lehi and Nephi in Arabia, (Springville, Utah: Cedar Fort Inc., 1996), 91.

Hugh Nibley, 76.

Calderwood, 306-307.

Arthur J. Kocherhans, Lehi’s Isle of Promise, (Fullerton, California: Et Cetera, 1989) & Arthur J. Kocherhans, Nephi to Zarahemla (Orem, Utah: Granite Publishing, 2002).

Urton, 45.

The Facts on File Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, (London and Oxford 1988), 657.

McIntyre, 741.

Charles Stanish (2), “An Archaeological Summary of the Island of the Sun and the Moon”, published 30 May 2007,, no page numbers.

Charles Stanish and Amanda B. Cohen, 5.

Victor Wolfgang Von Hagen, The Incas of Pedro de Cieza de Leon, Translated by Harriet de Onis. (Published by the University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Oklahoma, 1959), 93.

Sarmiento, 47.

Sarmiento, 49.

Bauer, 17, see map 2.1 “The Inca heartland and its ethnic groups.”

Urton, 47.

Urton, 48.

Michael Mosley, Incas and Their Ancestors (???, Thames and Hudson Publishing, 1992), 54-55.

Betanzos, 277.

Sarmiento, 62.

Urton, 48,49.

Sarmiento, 48,49.

Sarmiento, 49.

Sarmiento, 49.

Alonzo L. Gaskill, The Lost Language of Symbolism, an essential guide for recognizing and interpreting symbols of the gospel, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2003), 99.

Carolyn Dean, Inka Bodies and the Body of Christ, Corpus Christi in Colonial Cuzco, (Durham, N.C., Duke University Press, 1999),, 100.

Sarmiento, 49.

Janne M.Sjodahl, An Introduction to the Study of the Book of Mormon, 118-119.

Hiltons, 91.

Sullivan, 235.

Sarimento, 51

Sarmiento, 48.

Betanzos, 14.

Betanzos, 16-17.

Urton, 48, 49.

Sarmiento, 46.

Cobo, 114.

Urton, 52.

LDS, Bible Dictionary, 786-7.

Urton, 50.

Bauer, 26.