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Rumiñahui - Legend of the Hidden Gold Treasure of Llanganatis

Rumiñahui – Legend of the Hidden Gold Treasure of Llanganatis

Here is the legend of the last Incan Emperor Atahualpa and his general Rumiñahui, who resisted the Spanish invaders in the early 1500s. Rumiñahui, general in the Incan army, was on his way to deliver golden treasure to ransom the Emperor, whom the Spanish had captured. But upon hearing that the Spanish had broken their word and executed Atahualpa, Rumiñahui returned to Quito and hauled the golden treasure deep into the Llanganatis mountains. Tradition states that the gold was either thrown off a cliff into a deep crater or lake or hidden in a cave.

While the whereabouts of the “Treasure of the Llanganatis” is a mystery, visitors to the Otavalo market can take home a treasure in the form of handsome wood carvings of these two Indigenous heroes.

At the center of Parque Bolivar, Otavalo’s municipal park, is a large monument dedicated to Rumiñahui, the Incan warrior who led the resistance against the Spanish in 1533. The name “Rumiñahui” in the native Kichwa language means “eye of stone.”

Under a large stone bust of the Indigenous hero is an inscription lauding Rumiñahui. Here is my best attempt at a translation:

Symbol and intangible heritage of indigenous peoples
Otavalo Kichwa
Personification of symbols and values of the country
Majestic wrath (or zeal) of citizenship in the purest source of virtue

Like our Andean basalts
On high to enlarge the high places
On high to grant us the empowering image of male strength
On high to foresee from the watchtower the dangers
That threaten the basic foundations of Ecuador.


Atahualpa as portrayed by an Indigenous actor, Otavalo Day drama at City Hall, Oct. 30, 2010

Atahualpa the Last Incan Emperor

It’s believed that the warrior general Rumiñahui was half brother to Atahualpa, the 12th and last Sapa Inca, “The Great Inca”, the divine Emperor. In the early 1500′s the Incan Empire was at the apex of its power, occupying most of the area corresponding to the modern-day nations of Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Colombia.

Atahualpa’s father was the Emperor Inca Hyayan Capac. His mother was a  princess from Quito.  Atahualpa’s father died in an epidemic (most likely smallpox imported by the Spaniards). Before he died, Huayna Capac divided the empire between his two sons. He gave the recently conquered north, centered around Quito, to Atahualpa, whom he favored, and bequeathed the southern part of the Empire, centered around the capital city Cuzco, to Huáscar, the legitimate heir.  The two brothers engaged  in civil war and Atahualpa was victorious at the battle of Chimborazo.

Carved Bust of Atahualpa

Carved wood sculpture of Atahualpa. Many sculptures of this hero are available for sale in both the Otavalo market and in San Antonio de Ibarra.

But in January 1531, just as the victorious Atahualpa was returning to Cuzco, a contingent of Spanish troops arrived in the area, with the object of conquering the Incan Empire. Atahualpa invited the Spanish to meet peacefully at Cajamarca, considering that a few Spaniards would not be much of a threat. The Spanish, led by Francisco Pizarro, launched a surprise attack, killing more than 6,000 Incan soldiers and taking Atahualpa prisoner.

When the Spaniards looted the Incan war camp they found large quantities of treasure: gold, silver, emeralds. Observing their lust for the precious metals and jewels, Atahualpa offered a ransom to secure his release: he pledged  to fill a large room (approx. 88 cubic meters) once with gold and twice with silver. Over the next few months golden jars, vessels and plates torn from the Sun Temple walls in Cuzco were transported across the empire to Cajamarca to secure his release.

On May 3, 1533, Francisco Pizarro gave the order to melt down the piles of golden objects, a process which took many weeks. On July 16, the resulting golden ingots were divided up between the Spanish troops. Atahualpa was promised that his life would be spared if he converted to Christianity. Which he did. He was baptized and then put to death by strangulation, rather than being burned at the stake. This was how the Inquisition showed mercy to heretics that repented.

The Legend of the Hidden Treasure of  Llanganatis

Sculpture of Rumiñahui

Carved wood sculpture of Rumiñahui. Many sculoptures of this hero are available for sale in both the Otavalo market and in San Antonio de Ibarra.

Meanwhile Rumiñahui, one of the generals in the Incan army, was marching towards Cajamarca to deliver more gold for the “Ransom Room”. But when he heard that the Spaniards had broken their word, and had executed Atahualpa, Rumiñahui returned to Quito and hauled the golden treasure deep into the Llanganatis mountain range of Ecuador. Differing accounts state that he ordered the golden treasures to be either thrown off a cliff into a deep lake or crater or hidden in a cave. Today the whereabouts of the fabled “Treasure of the Llanganatis” is still a mystery.

When the Spaniards learned of Rumiñahui’s defiance, troops were sent to Quito to recover the treasure. Rumiñahui was defeated at the  Battle of Mount Chimborazo. But before Quito was captured,   Rumiñahui gave the order to burn it to the ground. Eventually the Spanish captured  Rumiñahui. He was tortured and put to death but never did reveal the location of the treasure.

In Ecuador December 1st is observed as a national day to remember Rumiñahui,indigenous hero and defender of Quito.

Author: Henry

140 Comments to “Rumiñahui – Legend of the Hidden Gold Treasure of Llanganatis”
  1. Great post! If you are interested by the treasure of the Llanganatis, the legend of Atahualpa and the lost inca gold, please join us at http://www.lostincagold.com

  2. Hello Henry, great info abut the leader and his General. I am seriously thinking about making a trip to Ecuador – Cotacachi, Ibbara and Otavalo. The culture there seems fantastic and the Andes are soemthing I’ve always wanted to see.

    The pictures of the carvings are fantastic – do you know what kind of wood they are. i would hate to buy them only to find out I couldn’t bring them into Canada. Also, if you don’t mind me asking – how much did you pay for them? The carving is exquisite. I take it the three feathers can be removed from the head dress for transport?

    Appreciate any info you have


  3. Hi JD

    The carvings, which are made in San Antonio de Ibarra, are made from cedar and walnut. Yes you are right, the feathers are removable. There is no problem importing wood carvings from Ecuador. As far as prices go, carvings of these two Indigenous heroes are available in various sizes from a couple of inches up to a couple of feet. Prices range from about $8 or $10 up to several hundred.

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