Land of the Incas

Edward C. Simmel
William Bernal
Production Date: 
Edward C. Simmel
Run Time: 
Encyclopedia Britannica Films

Establishing shot: Pan of tall jagged mountain peak above clouds, presumably near Lake Titicaca and Machu Picchu.
Named locations: Lake Titicaca, Machu Picchu.
Major themes covered: Overview of the history and archeology of the Inca Empire and its contemporary descendents. Assumes voice and identity of ancient Inca peoples—asks viewer, “Let us imagine that we are citizens of this ancient city [Machu Picchu],” and proceeds with “we” to describe Inca beliefs and culture.  Later, film depicts contemporary Quechua life as adverse, impoverished, disenfranchised, fallen from Incan glory.

Native activities shown:  Inca activities implied or alluded to in the film: travelling dirt roads to deliver messages (called by narrator the “Inca telegraph service”) (2:40); population numbering 6500 (3:18); serving/obeying the emperor who is sun god incarnate (3:41); dividing crop/harvest evenly between self, emperor, and reserves (4:02); practicing communal living (4:30); worshipping sun god (5:00); putting thatched roofs on dwellings each year (5:12); building techniques (5:41); carving religious figures into stone (6:18); growing crops on mountain terraces (7:12).

Quechua activities depicted in the film: child standing on top of a rock wiping nose (8:37); group of Quechua people washing clothes in wash basins (8:48); large group of Quechua people, all wearing hats (bowlers and monteras), milling around and socializing in what seems to be a town plaza (8:52); man exchanging what appears to be a jug of water with older women with young boy on her back (9:00); young boy holding large stick (9:03); montage of men and women wearing ponchos, monteras (9:05 – 9:18); boy, shot from below, posing beside rock with clouds in background (9:26); close up of same boy looking into camera (9:28); woman spooling wool (9:40); man carrying large bundle of sticks on back (9:50); woman and younger woman walking along road beside truck (10:07). 

Quechua activities implied or alluded to in the film:  suffering impoverished conditions (8:41); maintaining few of the ancient Inca traditions (8:51)

Native language spoken: None.

Print Resources:

Baker, Paul T, and Michael A. Little. Man in the Andes: A Multidisciplinary Study of High-Altitude Quechua. Stroudsburg, Pa: Dowden, Hutchinson & Ross, 1976.

     *Oft-cited in situ anthropological study of Quechua life in the Andes.  Focuses on biological and cultural adaptations to Andean environment.  Topics discussed include fertility, mortality rates, nutrition, human response to the elements, and drug use.

Bingham, Hiram. Machu Picchu, a Citadel of the Incas. New York: Hacker Art Books, 1979.

     *Hiram Bingham’s original report on the discovery and excavation of Machu Picchu.  Includes findings and details of 1911, 1912, and 1915 expeditions and excavations.

Burger, Richard L, and Lucy C. Salazar. Machu Picchu: Unveiling the Mystery of the Incas. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.

      *More recent and oft-cited collection of studies of Machu Picchu.  Includes chapters on Bingham’s discovery of Machu Picchu, the significance of Machu Picchu as an Inca royal estate, and the contemporary issues revolving around Machu Picchu.

Femenías, Blenda. Gender and the Boundaries of Dress in Contemporary Peru. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005.

     *Discusses the role of clothing and traditional dress in constructing gender and racial categories among Quechua people.  According to the Library of Congress summary: “Blenda Femenías argues that women's clothes are key symbols of gender identity and resistance to racism…. This is the only book about expressive culture in an Andean nation that centers on gender. In this feminist contribution to ethnography, based on twenty years' experience with Peru, including two years of intensive fieldwork, Femenías reflects on the ways gender shapes relationships among subjects, research, and representation”   (

Isbell, Billie J. To Defend Ourselves: Ecology and Ritual in an Andean Village. Austin: Institute of Latin American Studies, University of Texas at Austin, 1978.

     *Ethnographic case study focuses on Quechua rituals practiced in Chuschi, Peru as a means of preserving traditional indigenous culture.  Discusses political structure and structures of kinship and family in Chuschi community.  Online version made available by Cornell eCommons:

Skar, Harald O. The Warm Valley People: Duality and Land Reform Among the Quechua Indians of Highland Peru. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1982.

     *Addresses consequences for Quechua peoples of 1969 agrarian land reform in Peru.  Discusses Quechua social structure, agricultural practices, and community living.

Online Resources:

Internet Archive page for Edward Simmel’s production company:

Includes links to other films directed and/or produced by Edward Simmel around the same time as the production of Land of the Incas.

Native Planet page on the Quechua people:


Statistics on population, lifestyle, classifications and language of the Quechua people. 

Encyclopedia Britannica entry for “Quechua:”


Provides historical background on Quechua people as well as information on agricultural practices and religious traditions.  Also comments on ancestral relationship between Quechua and Inca peoples.

Indigenous Peoples of the World “Quechua” page:

Includes statistical and cultural information about contemporary Quechua populations.  Addresses contemporary environmental and political challenges faced by Quechua populations.  Provides useful bibliography.

UNESCO World Heritage Site page on Machu Picchu:

Multimedia page presents information on the history and cultural significance of Machu Picchu among the Incas.  Also includes variety of links to other informative pages.

--Adam Iddings, 2013