Around 1480, Topa Inca Yupanqui embarked on a mysterious voyage. Did the Incas travel clear across the Pacific Ocean…prior to the Europeans?
Pre-Columbian Mystery: Did the Incas visit the Old World?
In 1572, Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa wrote a famous book entitled, The History of the Incas. He wrote it while in Cuzco, the capital of the Inca Empire, a mere 40 years after Spanish conquistadors arrived in the city. He took great pains to record the history and mythology of the Incas, even going so far as to solicit feedback from them during public readings.
In his tome, he described a nine to twelve-month voyage conducted by the tenth Sapa Inca (or king), Topa Inca Yupanqui. Supposedly, this pre-Columbian voyage took the Incas to two islands known as Avachumbi (or Outer Island) and Ninachumbi (Fire Island). Here are some excerpts from the original text:
“Tupac Inca was a man of lofty and ambitious ideas, and was not satisfied with the regions he had already conquered. So he determined to challenge a happy fortune, and see if it would favour him by sea…
The Inca, having this certainty, determined to go there. He caused an immense number of balsas to be constructed, in which he embarked more than 20,000 chosen men…
Tupac Inca navigated and sailed on until he discovered the islands of Avachumbi and Ninachumbi, and returned, bringing back with him black people, gold, a chair of brass, and a skin and jaw bone of a horse. These trophies were preserved in the fortress of Cuzco until the Spaniards came…
An Inca now living had charge of this skin and jaw bone of a horse. He gave this account, and the rest who were present corroborated it. His name is Urco Huaranca. I am particular about this because to those who know anything of the Indies it will appear a strange thing and difficult to believe. The duration of this expedition undertaken by Tupac Inca was nine months, others say a year, and, as he was so long absent, every one believed he was dead…” ~ Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, The History of the Incas
Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis
Some scholars believe the veracity of this account of a pre-Columbian voyage. They point to the Galápagos Islands as well as Easter Island as possible locations for Avachumbi and Ninachumbi. Others believe the account is mythological and indeed, the text backs this up to a certain point. Prior to embarking on his pre-Columbian expedition, Topa Inca supposedly consulted a strange man named Antarqui. Antarqui, who was able to talk to the dead as well as fly, used his magic to determine the islands were real. Only then did Topa Inca set sail.
A pre-Columbian journey by the Incas certainly seems feasible. Unfortunately, no physical evidence of it remains. However, that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Someday soon, archaeologists might uncover a huaraca or a tokapu while investigating an island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean…and in the process, rewrite history.