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Gender and Politics in the Inca Empire
The argument or problem that will be presented in this wiki is gender roles and political “reciprocity” among the Inca Empire. I seek to explore whether or not women served a larger purpose than just a bride service and also whether or not the tributary system was a system of reciprocity or just an ingenious way of coercion. In addition to that, I would like to examine through my own idea of culture whether or not conquered peoples of the Inca Empire felt a loss or gain of identity post conquest. Examining the culture from a postmodernism perspective will be the best way that I can produce any knowledge that is of “real” quality. On that same note Garcilaso de la Vegas’ Por Que soy Indio: La Florida del Inca and Comentarios reales de los Conquistadores will also serve as a tool to better understand Inca culture in pre and post colonialism that means nesza izz kool!!!!


It’s impossible to comprehend the extent of a social construct such as gender roles, but through ethnographic research and ethnologies to compare South American culture groups, the picture is becoming clearer. (Hendon 49) To understand the gender differences of the Inca Empire we first have to understand how they were created and/or where they started. Before Tawantisuyu, the four regions of the Inca Empire, there were several tribes that ruled different territories around South America, specifically around the Andes. These pre-Columbian groups were sedentary hunter/gatherers which were divided by kin groups. (Silverblatt 39) Women in these groups had just as many rights towards resources as men did. His equality was shown through gift giving. (Silverblatt 39) As these groups of kin begin to form moieties, South American culture grew more and more complex. It was becoming what anthropologists refer today as “Lo Andino.”


From one such tribe settled in Cuzco, the Inca Empire arises. Male roles within pre-Columbian households in Inca culture provided the same amount of social importance to a family unit as a female. Females to a certain extent fulfilled one of the biggest roles in the Inca Empire; they were given as wives as a way of manipulating there kin structured government. Essentially, the Inca empire was cementing there right to govern by introducing there lineage into conquered peoples own lineages. In this way, women seem to be holding all of the Inca Empire in place and providing a function within the society. The Inka were gendered in complex and apparently contradictory ways. In military contexts, it became masculine, emphasizing conquest as the basis of men’s individual matrimonial claims and the Inka sovereign right to ‘give’ them women. However, in its civilian tributary system, the Inka state assumed female guise, providing food, drink, and clothing to dependent tributaries as an expression of its political-econominc power, according to the Andean idiom of mink’a. (Gose 84)
Women under the mink’a system were chosen specifically for there beauty by Inca nobility and were taken to Cuzco. There they would be put in isolation where they would make fine textiles, serve food and be prepared, both mentally and emotionally, to be wed. These young girls were taken from all over the Inca territories as a way of symbolizing, not only Inca power, but male domination. Ironically, by being taken and subjugated to a type of imprisonment, there status was considerably higher. The men that got married to women of the mink’a got land and a higher status. (Gose 85) These “chosen women” would be able to have rights and privileges that other women didn’t have. (Gose 86) They were also considered to represent Inca culture as a whole. (Gose 85) This is also, a type of display ritual and exchange system that functions to reinforce power and a social construct. (Hendon 49)


Another gender associated role was beer making. There would be feasts that men would have and women would make all the beer. In stable isotope analysis of skeletons, it showed that women’s diet had a lot less corn in it than males, which means that women weren’t participating as much in these feasts. (Hendon 49)
Whether or not people abided by the tributary system in order for them to get married to a “pretty girl” or just gain some land back is, in my opinion the question

we should be asking. The Incas must have been doing one of two things, either convincing people that their land was really the Inca’s or they were using blunt

force to attain the respect that they wanted. If they were just using force, why didn’t people just rebel? From Garcilaso’s accounts we see that several tribes

fought against the Inca in order to keep their independence. ( So why didn’t other one’s fight for independence or continue to fight for independence? The

answer, I Think has to do with identity. South America is almost in its entirety a phylogenic tree. Everyone is connected somehow. When the Inca Empire rose, it

had cemented a web of relationships that extended further than the Inca Empire. People felt they identified, to a degree, with the Incas. This could explain why

tribes would believe or pretend to believe Inca beliefs. The Inca, in turn, felt a connection with the people they conquered. The perfect example is how the Incas

shared and borrowed different technologies, architectural designs and customs from conquered peoples. If political decisions were being taken without the

concern of the people they would affect, then why would the Inca create a tributary system in which people would get repaid for the time and energy they

invested for the Empire? There is no way to know what Inca rulers were thinking but I could make an intelligent assumption and say that they did care. I draw this

conclusion from the fact that the Incas would go out of there way to conquer a society so that they can give them there land back at an expense of labor. It’s a

very un-western thing to do. By that I mean that western societies seem to fight for ultimate control and will go to any end to win and dominate a neighboring foe.

But with the Inca Empire it seems different.


The Comentarios depicts the Incas as exemplary conquerors, who practiced an ideology of peaceful imperialism, characterized by constant dialogue and

interaction with their conquered subjects. (Heid 93) This ideology contrasted with the dominant ideology of Spanish histories based on the epic model. Garcilaso

specifically manipulates the binary paradigm of gender identities inherent in epic, which legitimizes conquest by force as the natural dominance of a male-

gendered, civilized conqueror over a female-gendered, barbarian subject. (Heid 93)


The paradigm between male and female gender roles and the political decisions they affect only get worse or better, depending on how you look at it, with the invasion

of Spanish conquistadors. When Francisco Pizarro conquered the Inca Empire, much the culture disappeared. Some rebellion kept Inca culture alive but it was

inevitably going to vanquish because the Spanish way of conquering a society is much different than the Incas. Even though the Incas saw themselves as

“conquistadors,” they couldn’t accept/understand getting conquered. With Pizarro’s run over the Inca territory a new way of doing things was imposed. People of native

blood were seen as inferior to the European conquistadors. But when colonialists started having concubines and having Mestizo children, gender roles and identity have

to be once again evaluated and taught to both cultures. Garcilaso de la Vega is a Mestizo who understood, before any anthropologist pondered did idea of gender roles,

how different he really was. Clearly, Garcilaso’s marginality is inseparable from the European ascendancy. (Rabasa and Abarbanel 80) He was able to identify that he

didn’t identify with neither one culture nor the other but with both equally. For a Spanish conquistador having a Mestizo child must have been equally as perplexing and

complicated because he doesn’t know how to incorporate or not incorporate his own flesh and blood into his life. There was no class in that structure that could

asiimilate an Indian, mestizo, and a bastard as one of its own. (Rabasa and Abarbanel 81) Its one thing to have a simple dichotomy as black and white or as European

and Inca, but when there is a grey area people are confused and want to identify that grey area with either the black or the white side. (This is an afterthought but worthy

of analysis: I figure these are the reasons why a black person might refer to another black person who’s in higher class than he is as a “white black man.” Mestizos, in

the modern day usually have a higher status among native groups of South America but at the same time have a lower status than westerners. This has been an effort

by Europeans and Mestizos that share the same ideology to pick a side so there isn’t a grey area.


Gender and political systems within the Inca Empire were always governed by something or someone else. They influenced and then later got influenced by Spanish

customs. And even though they tried to preserve their own culture the fact that they were conquered leaves the question of whether or not the people that we see today

share the same culture as those from which they came from. I believe that the Incan culture is prevalent and will continue be prevalent. That’s not to say that the culture

will remain static but that it will change while still retaining Inca customs. As much as the Spanish tried to eliminate any Inca opposition to their conquest, the identity

of the culture was never eliminated. As more and more Anthropological research is done in South America the more we will learn about gender, politics, and the

creation of states. The wealth of knowledge that is yet to be uncovered will reveal that South America as a whole is and was connected through complex systems of

kin and geography that grew into unique cultural identities and the formation of states. The information presented is brief but compact in order to understand a small

part of Incan culture. Future insight into this project will provide more data to support this argument and what it means to be part of “Lo Andino.”


Gose, Peter. “The State as a Chosen Woman: Brideservice and the Feeding of Tributaries in theInka Empire American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 102, No. 1 (Mar., 2000).Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association. 84-97.
Heid, Patricia. “Constructing a Peaceful Imperialism: Manipulating Gender Identity in theComentarios reales de los Inca.” The Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. 33, No. 1 (Spring,2002. Published by: The Sixteenth Century Journal. 93-108.
Hendon, Julia A. “Archaeological Approaches to the Organization of Domestic Labor: Household Practice and Domestic Relations.” Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 25,(1996). Published by: Annual Reviews. 45-6.
Rabasa, Jose and Jehudah Abarbanel. "Porque soy Indio": Subjectivity in La Florida del Inca.”Poetics Today, Vol. 16, No. 1, Loci of Enunciation and Imaginary Constructions: TheCase of (Latin). Published by: Duke University Press. 79-108.
Silverblatt, Irene. Andean Women in the Inca Empire Feminist Studies, Vol. 4, No. 3 (Oct.,1978) Published by: Feminist Studies, Inc. 37-61.