Laguna Yahuarcocha, meaning blood lake in the Kichwa language, is a sacred lake of Ecuador. Looking across the still water in the picturesque region of Ibarra, it is hard to imagine that it was once the scene of a bloody massacre, a consequence of indigenous resistance against Inca domination.
Laguna Yahuarcocha, also spelt Yawarkucha, is located about 3 kilometers (1.86 miles) from the northern city of Ibarra. Sitting at a height of 2190 meters (7185ft) above sea level, it is one of the region’s main attractions today. It is estimated to be around 12,000 years old, and is a vestige of the post-glacier age. Historically, it is important because studies by some researchers claim this area holds wide, unexplored archaeological evidence.
The name Yahuarcocha (‘Yahuar’ – blood, ‘Cocha’ – lake) has its origins in Kichwa, which is part of the Quechuan language spoken primarily in the Andes region of South America.
This so named ‘blood lake’ was the scene of an ancient battle between the Incas, with Huayna-Capac (11th leader of the Incas and last undisputed emperor to rule) as their leader against a united front of indigenous peoples known as the Caranqui-Cayambe-Pasto confederation. Prior to the Inca conquest in the late fifteenth century, the Kingdom of Quito (modern day Ecuador) was made up of several linguistic groups including Pasto, Otavalo-Caranqui and Cayambe
Inca fortresses, built around the time of the battle, have recently been discovered near an extinct volcano called Pambamarca. Its discovery provided archaeologists with evidence of the war fought by the Inca shortly before the Spanish conquistadors arrived. Twenty fortresses have been identified as having been built by the Inca and two forts were built by the Cayambe.
Evidence suggests that there was a pre-Columbian frontier, or borderline, which experts think existed between the Inca fortresses and the fortresses of the indigenous Cayambe people.
The discovery provided archaeological evidence to support the legend of Lake Yahuarcocha, which Spanish chroniclers told when they penetrated into South America during the 16th and 17th centuries. According to these stories, Inca ruler Huayna Capac sought to conquer the Cayambe using a “very powerful army.” He was hoping for a quick victory but ended up getting entangled in a long struggle.
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