Peruvian Andean Women
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 mportant 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 society has been studied with prejudice towards women. Elinor Burkett (1978) condemns authors who have written with prejudice towards women and presents a different approach focusing on “indigenous society by considering tribute as a household rather than an individual obligation. ” Men and women worked as a team, as did the whole family. Indeed men and women even shared some professions. Karen Graubart (2000) explains this by citing the chronicles of Fray Bernabe Cobo: The Indian women spin not only at home, but when they go outside, whether they are sanding in one place or walking.
As long as they are not doing something else with their hands, walking does not interfere with their spinning, which is what most of them are doing when we meet them on the streets…. Although women are the ones who generally practice this occupation as their own, nevertheless, in some places the men consider it to be their own also. After making the thread, it is doubled and twisted; they never weave with single threads. The same women twist it in the same way as they spin it, and some of the men will generally help in this, especially the old men who are not able to do other work.
Karen Graubert (2000) argues that the chronicles are bias identifying the work performed by Andean women as proper: when they weave, make chicha (corn beer), cook and undertake other type of agricultural work. When the Andean men produced textiles they were considered as artisans. While both, men and women were producing a garment to be paid as tribute for the state and religion, these activities were identified and constructed as distinct.
Graubert observed a more detailed description of the works performed by women in the writings of Pedro Cieza de Leon, when he says: These women are hard workers: because they are the ones who break the ground, and sow the fields, and reap the harvests. And many of their husbands are in the house weaving and spinning and repairing their weapons and clothing, and… doing other female activities. The Spanish had an ethnocentric view of how society, gender relations and religion were supposed to be.
They imposed their political models onto Andean societies and destroyed the organization of the Inca society. Women were removed from their former positions of authority, and the society was transformed into a male-centric society where women had to depend on men for formal representation. Under Spanish rule, the Inca noblewomen were not allowed to attend to new schools, only indigenous men were allowed into the educative system set up by friars to educate the native elite. The Inca Queens of the Andes lost her status. Her role as the axis of the female political system was eliminated.
The Spanish faith excluded women of all participation in religious practices and women were forbidden to perform former roles of midwife, healer and confessor. Although, despite all the efforts of the Spanish to convert Indians and introduced them to Christianity, Indians found ways to hold onto their beliefs and to continue their ancestral practices. According to Irene Silverblatt (1978): Among the archival material there is a legal suit which documents a cult to “Woman Moon,” a goddess venerated by women from several neighbouring communities.
This feminine cult crossed community boundaries, articulating women from different kin groups in an organization centred around the worship of the moon. The Spanish, influenced by 800 years of war with the Moors, viewed the world under patriarchal eyes and condemned these practices. The transformation of the Inca society took place through Catholic syncretism; Andeans understood the new religion through their religious believes, associating the image of Mary and female saints with the moon and mother earth.
Spanish priests did not rest emphasising the importance of virginity and introduced legal codes that defined extramarital sex as criminal (Powers, 2000). The new Spanish system to forced labor, created changes in the role of women but also impacted the demography of the communities all over the Inca Empire. An example of this is found in the work of Bianca Premo; she observed an imbalanced population in the Chucuito census, imbalance that she attributes to a “combination of deception and real absence” of men: Almost 45 percent of adult women were said to be unmarried…
The total number of unmarried adults in the province seems higher than might be expected in communities where land rights were linked to marriage and where marriage amounted adulthood. The way in which the Spanish used, abused and transformed the organisation of the tributary Inca system and its networks and lines of kinship have resulted in impoverishment and isolation of Andean regions.
While in the Inca tributary system, the government taxed only men and women who were married, during the Spanish rule the taxes were imposed on men, women and widows. While the Andean male population was being depleted in the mines and through infections and diseases, the Spanish populations grew due to immigration and higher birth rates (Powers, 2000). In 1618, legislation was enacted requiring women to stay in the villages, even if their husbands were absent or had disappeared.
As Premo (2000) observed, the labor in mines, especially in the case of Potosi, left the community of Chicuito and other nearby communities without the support of men; single women and widows were paying tribute by weaving textiles, with the aid of young children. Premo cited a local leader reporting: The whole community is working for the benefit of the tribute and it is impossible to pay in silver more than we already are neither women nor the old nor the children can contribute more. In a community called Juli, Jesuits priests were accused to have had women locked up, sewing day and night.
Another example of exploitation of the women labor is found in a reference to a letter dated on 1672, where Viceroy Conde de Lemos is quoted: In these already dissipated provinces, the judges from Potosi take these Indians, leaving the land uncultivated and the women and children without anything to eat. In contrast to views that the women were exploited and abused by the Spanish, we also have the accounts of Elinor Burkett; she recompiled information about Andean women working in household as domestics, inheriting from Spanish people, sewing and engaged in small trading; while men were isolated in mining work, construction and agriculture.
According to Burkett, the proximity of Andean women to Spanish men, Spanish women and Spanish families put her in a privilege position than the Andean men; she learnt the language, customs and ways of the Spanish. Burkett (1978), examining records of Potosi, finds Indian women selling pastry, candy, silver items, groceries, bread, preparing food and selling other goods and concludes that the Andean women is depicted as a strong, wilful woman, either Indian or mestiza, aggressive economically and socially.
Conclusions After a thorough research of the role of the Peruvian women in the sixteen century, I have observed the great challenges that Peruvian women had encountered during that period, from having a religion an identity related to beauty, reproduction and in some cases chosen as priests, they were not only forced into a new belief system but also forbidden to practice their religious rituals.
Their Inca queens also lost any trace of royalty and became mistresses. Their man, partner and parallel was taken by the new government and forced to labor. From being an integral part of the kin, women became workers, in many cases they were enslaved, chained, raped and treated like the last rung in the ladder of society. Nevertheless, the Peruvian women, went to the mines looking for their partners, to the point that Spain had to edict legislation to stop them.
The Andean women, adjusted to the changes, she wove when she had to weave, but she also looked for other opportunities, migrated, sold cloths, became a trader, worked in Spanish household and also learnt the language. Nowadays, Peruvian indigenous women have just as much a central role within a household as 500 years ago; they are often the primary caregivers of family and kinship and continue to play a vital role in the Peruvian society.