This research will focus on the Andean woman of Peru in the sixteen century. First, I will explore the role that the woman played in the Inca society. Secondly, I will reflect on the impact the Spanish invasion had on the role woman played in her kinship, in the household, in religion and in relation with productive activities and politics. Later on, I will discuss the contradictory perceptions of the Andean woman as a victim and as a skilful negotiator. Furthermore, I will focus on change and continuation of the roles that women played in society. The impact of the changes in the demography of Andean communities and all over the Inca empire, the labour division and degradation of the status that women played in society in contrast with the relationship between Spanish men and Indigenous women and its repercussions in the society.
Peruvian Andean Woman
Before the arrival of Spaniards onto Peruvian soil, Andean woman enjoyed a respected position in the Inca society and was an active collaborator and participant of the political, religious and economic life of the Inca Empire. Silverblatt (1978); presents different elements to show the parallel role of woman and man in Inca societies, like the structure of kinships, she noticed that women were entitled to inherit lands following her maternal line and men through their paternal line. She also observes that the authority in the kinship was not related to gender but to birth order. She continues focusing on the active role of women in the economy and their labor roles; specializing as weavers, brewers, traders and agronomists. A reference to a plead to Carlos V of Spain, requesting protection for indigenous women from Spaniard’s abuses, stresses the importance of women’s work as essential to household labor and complementary to men’s. Karen Viera Powers (2000) noticed the clash between Spanish and native understanding of gender relations, gender roles and sexuality. She puts special emphasis in gender parallelism and complementary roles of men and women, acknowledging that women and men performed different social, political and economic roles; but that these where perceived as equally important and that their contributions were valued in the same manner. Powers argues that marriage was not a form of subordination but that “the Andean ceremony clearly symbolized a union of equals through a ritual gift exchange between husband and wife and between their families that was intended to create balance and harmony between peers.”
The Spanish could not understand the way in which the Inca Empire worked, the Spanish failed to comprehend the reciprocity, parallel and complementary activities performed in the community and impacted a well organized system forever. The role of women in pregnancy, childbirth and childcare was associated with fertility and considered significant to the subsistence and survival of the community. Every year the communities in the Inca empire were inspected by the Inca officials whom had the task to chose the most beautiful virgins to become wives of the Inca. The virgins called acllas, that means chosen in Quechua, were secluded in special institutions to guard their sexuality. These women were expert weavers that produced fine cloths that were used in religious ceremonies or given as gifts to Inca’s allies. Some were taken by the Inca as second wives or married to Inca nobles or to rulers of conquered territories to seal alliances. Polygamy and exogamy for political purposes was very common among the elite members of the Inca Empire. When the Spanish arrived, the Incas tried to consolidate alliances with them through offering women in marriage. In the words of Karen Viera Powers: The Inca’s assignment of beautiful young women to be wives to his allies, not only created intra-elite and interethnic bonds through a reward system, but also produced a sophisticated, hybrid political system.
The role of the women in the colonial...