The chasquis were messengers in the Inca Empire, they were part of the communication system of the Inca Empire, they ran through the Inca road network at high speeds.
They were selected as children to work as chasquis. They had to possess special qualities beyond the ability to run very fast, they had to have a very athletic physique and particularly good lungs to become a member of the messenger relay teams, on which the communication of the Inca Empire depended.
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The training of the chasquis involved running and mountain climbing. Their legs had to be particularly strong as did their toes, which were slightly spread, necessary to hold on to uneven surfaces. Their lungs were highly developed so that they could breathe properly in the thin atmosphere of the Andes and take in enough oxygen to breathe.
To withstand the cold they chewed coca leaves. Thirst and fatigue were the other dangers that haunted the chasquis, they were among the few people in the Empire who were allowed to chew coca leaves which the Incas called the “divine plant”.
Inca nobles and amautas (masters) are probably the only people authorized to chew coca leaves, as it made them less vulnerable to cold, hunger, fatigue and thirst.
The Chasquis on the Road
The chasquis carried messages knotted on quipus, which contained official records and other information. They crossed the Andes Mountains, running at full speed. They ran about 2.4 kilometers per hour in a stretch between a tampu (destination station) and tampu. Upon reaching the new tampu, the chasqui would deliver his message to another chasqui, who would run to the next tampu. Through this relay system, the chasquis could cover enormous distances in a relatively short time. A message could travel up to 320 kilometers in approximately one day. For example, a message would reach Cuzco, the Inca capital, from Quito (Ecuador) at a distance of 1,250 kilometers in only five days.
Even the messengers of ancient Rome, who were famous for their speed, thought that a hundred miles a day was a good distance to travel. The chasquis were four times faster, and not on straight roads like the Romans. The nature of the Andean roads was governed by the demanding nature of the mountains and sometimes the roads were narrow with an unprotected cliff on one side.
They included rope bridges between mountains like hammocks that swung over deep ravines. The tremendous speeds of the chasquis made it possible for the Inca to have fresh fish at meals, although the nearest source of this food was at least 192 kilometers away, which is the shortest distance between Cuzco and the Pacific coast of Peru.
Messengers were also very important as an early warning system, a much needed asset in an empire that ruled over many conquered territories and tribes. If there was an uprising or other trouble in some distant part of the Empire, the news would reach the Inca and his generals as quickly as possible, so that the rebellion could be put down.
The chasquis in the Viceroyalty of Peru
The Spaniards who conquered the Inca Empire after 1532 were so impressed with the efficiency of the chasquis system that the corridors were maintained in the Viceroyalty of Peru. Pedro de Cieza de Leon, Spanish chronicler, wrote: “The Incas invented a system of posts which was the best that could be thought or imagined…news could not have been transmitted by greater speed than with the swiftest horses”.
Nowadays few of the things used by the chasquis are used, the quipus are no longer used in the Andes (Peru), but the ojotas which are a kind of sandals are still used, another object used by the chasquis were the qëpi, which perhaps has become the Lliclla of our times, a kind of mantle that is placed on the back to carry things (mothers carry their small children in order to have their hands free), these mantles are still used in the daily chores of the Peruvian inhabitants of the Andes, about the clothing and way of life in the time of the Tahuantinsuyo you can visit the article on the social organization in the Tahuantinsuyo.
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