Sapa Inka Huayna Capac ordered that his son, Atahualpa, to be made governor of Quito, and perhaps even more than governor, maybe an independent ruler. This event is one of the most confusing and major decisions that led to the downfall of the Tahuantinsuyu.

Summary: Atahualpa being the governor of Quito is one of the most commonly repeated phrases about Atahualpa, but it is inaccurate. Quito was not a kingdom, there were no kingdoms in the Andes, nor the position of governor. Quito was not a specified area to anyone but the Europeans. It would be more accurate to state that Atahualpa was appointed Apu over the llajtas that were formerly ruled by the Scyri.

The Quito area was distinct to other areas conquered by the Inkas.

Each formidable ethnic group that the Inkas conquered were unique, but typically there were similarities in belief patterns between the conquered and the conquering: belief in dualism, cylindrical time, allyus as the basic block of society, and some gods. When the Inkas conquered Quito, a geological area thousands of kilometers away from the Cusco, they encountered a culture that was more unique then the others they had previously annexed. Quito had been ruled by the Scyri for hundreds of years and lived in relative peace. There were social classes with independent tradesmen and the Scyri forming the top rung of status. The bottom was formed by manual laborers with no unique skills or specialized knowledge. Those that lived in the Quito area worshipped different gods and had a unique social structure than those in the central Andes. They ate different foods and essentially were what the Spanish were to the Russians. The Quito basin was also a well-defined area surrounded by less civilized people that were easy to differentiate.

The enigma that Atahualpa was made the governor of the Kingdom of Quito.

There are several problems with the statement that Huayna Capac ordered his son, Atahualpa, to be made governor of the Kingdom of Quito. The enigma is not the fact that Atahualpa was given a powerful position in the Quito area, but the actual phrasing that Atahualpa was made the governor of the Kingdom of Quito.

Modern-day Quito from the sky

Quito as we know it today was built over the Quito that paved the way for Pizarro’s conquest of the Inca Empire

Tahuantinsusyu was composed of 4 quarters, (Tahuantinsuyu is Quechua for Four Parts Together) according to their belief of balance and duality in all things. The suyu’s were then broken down into sayas. Unless there was a dispute between neighbors, it seems that the Inkan bureaucracy did not specify strict boundaries. Keep in mind, over the millennia ethnic groups have become specialized in cultivating and surviving in their own niche in the Andes. Their ability to thrive outside of their niche would be stifled due to the dynamic nature of their environment. Natural borders were not only a physical boundary but also the edge of their known way of life. There was little need for artificial boundaries to be drawn.

We know Quito was not a suyu, having 5 suyus would throw off the deep-rooted Andean belief of balance. Given Quito area’s unique standing compared to the rest of Tahuantinsuyu it is not known how Quito was treated or viewed by the bureaucrats of Cusco. Perhaps it was just another province-saya-but that is unlikely because it is continually referred to as the “Kingdom of Quito.” It was the only partition of Tahuantinsuyu to be called a kingdom.

A ruler over a fixed geographical area is uncommon in Tahuantinsuyu

Quito is not only referred to as a kingdom but as a fixed geological location with a certain ruler: To appoint a ruler over a geographical area is abnormal in the Inka Empire. Inka bureaucracy traditionally placed a ruler-curaca- over an explicit number of households, not over fixed geological areas.

A governor of a kingdom

I need not write too much about the inaccuracy of this clause: you are either a king of a kingdom or a governor of an area within a kingdom. Considering Tahuantinsuyu did not have kings, kingdoms, nor governors. This entire clause is subject to re-interpretation.

The title of Governor would be unheard of

The title of Governor in traditional Andean governments should sit uneasily with those that are not 100% eurocentric in their worldview. The Inkas had many bureaucratic positions that are similar to those that Europeans had, and the conquistadors often could not understand the nuances between them. Apu’s, and several ranks of curacas (rulers over a specified amount of households) could easily be confused as similar to governors. Apus were usually brothers or other close relation to the Sapa Inka and they performed in the Inka’s name. They were administered of justice, generals in war, advisers the Sapa Inka, and solved disputes. In the Inka empire, an Apu could act in the place of the Inka. In such a case an idol of the Sapa Inka was present which was believed to be as good as having the actual Sapa Inka there. The Apu would speak for the idol. A curaca, on the other hand, was primarily a labor tax collector and solved minor conflicts among those beneath them.

Atahualpa’s position over Quito

Atahualpa was given “Governorship” of Quito by his father, Huayna Capac. Before he could see the order fulfilled, he died of a European disease. For unknown historical reason-but for logical and fictional reasons in my book Pachacuti-the new Inka, Huascar, decides to fulfill his father’s request and give his rival this powerful position. He probably thought this would appease his powerful rival.

Atahualpa was likely given the position of Apu over Quito, which he was content with for some time. In giving him this position of power, Huascar would have expected him to act in his name, oversee justice according to the laws made by Huascar, and see that the area was administered correctly. If that was what Huanya Capac desired before his death is entirely unknown.

Atahualpa’s growth in power

Atahualpa was promoted to Apu over the distinct area of Quito that was geographically defined from the rest of Tahuantinsuyu. It was culturally unique and had peacefully obeyed their independent rulers, the Sycri, for centuries. Huascar never visited Quito and likely did not understand how distinct it was compared to Cusco; whereas, Atahualpa was raised there and the people had great affection for him. Given Huascar’s ignorance of Quito and it’s unique practices Atahualpa would have disagreed with orders sent by him from faraway Cusco. Atahualpa could have ruled these independent-minded people with much more practicality than the foolish and rash Huascar. That was enough for Atahualpa to gain his subject’s affection, which is likely one of the factors in Atahualpa’s derived authority. Atahualpa already had the loyalty of the Northern generals from his time spent in fighting by their side under his father. These generals, Apuskispay Quisquis, Calicuchima, and Rumiñahui, would lead Atahualpa to victory over Huascar.

The better statement

Instead of saying that Atahualpa was made governor over the kingdom of Quito, it would be far more accurate to state that Atahualpa was appointed Apu over the llajtas that were formally ruled by the Scyri, which included the ritual center of Quito. It could be stated then that the inhabitants of the former Scyri domain, who lived in the Quito area, desired to be independent again and found a willing leader in their Apu, Atahualpa.


The city of Quito was likely not much of a city, and only after the arrival of the Inkas was it made into an Inkan administrative center. As the Europeans approached Quito, Apuskispay-General- Rumiñahui ordered its destruction. By the time the Europeans arrived, there was nothing left. Anything that remained has since been built over. Within the recent decades, foundations of former structures have been found that match of Inkan architecture, and with that, we can attest that there were significant buildings there. Any evidence of how the city was ruled is derived from post-conquest documents, oral histories, and archeological sites around the Quito basin. The actions performed in Quito were paramount in the downfall of the empire: the loss is akin to losing all records of the Byzantine Empire when studying the downfall of the Roman Empire.