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Incan Women

Christine Hastorf has studied the Inca conquest of the Wanka people in late prehistoric Peru. In the Wanks 2 period (1300-1460 CE), before the conquest, the household seems to have been an autonomous socio-economic unit. Potatoes seem to have been the staple crop. Maize was not common but seems to have been processed communally by women on patios. Skeletal analysis of men and women of this period show that they ate similar items in similar percentages, suggesting that there may have been equal participation in community and domestic life.  This may also reflect a complementary view of gender in the Andean society.

In contrast, during the Wanka 3 period (1460-1532 CE), after the Incas imposed their government, potatoes disappeared and corn was processed in larger quantities. There was a more restricted crop deposition in patios, also, suggesting that the Inca state began to govern households, meaning there was less freedom for the people, including women. The Wanka people lost social status, and the amount of labor increased. Skeletal remains of this period show that both men and women consumed increased levels of corn, but the men also showed increased levels of meat. This may have been because the government's creation of work parties, attended only by conscripted men, used food and drink as a reward.  this shows that the social position of women was lower than men's following the conquest, as they began to be excluded from the state rituals.

The Chosen Women of the Inca

Like the Aztecs, the Incas had a continually increasing demand for cloth, so they created a system where women, the traditional makers of cloth, labored for the state. One was that this system worked was to isolate some women from the household, so that they could devote themselves to serving the state. The acllahuasi, or House of Chosen Women, developed under the Incans in Peru at about 1438-1532 CE. Each major town had one of these houses, staffed with a number of women who remained chaste and served the state and its religion.  Every year, a government official would inspect the ten-year-old girls in the town, conscripting those who were extremely good-looking. these girls were then educated in the capital, under full guard. The best looking of the girls were set aside for sacrifice, while others learned trades, like spinning, cooking, or brewing. At the end of four years, these girls would be reassigned as concubines of the ruler, as wives of men the ruler wanted to honor, or as permanent residents of the acllahuasi. Apparently, upper class women were more often given the administrative positions in the acllahuasi, while lower class women handled the labor.  This system allowed for some upward mobility by some of the lower-class women, as they might be able to make good marriages. It was not all moonlight and roses, though, for most of the lower-class women: the ones who were not sacrificed and remained in the acllahuasi, were bound to be chaste for their lifetimes. If a one of them was found to be not chaste--i.e., one of them became pregnant--then she and her lover were buried alive.

Women in the Workforce

Incan women might have been workers in weaving shops, which were overseen by men, even though weaving was traditionally a female occupation.

Women might also have been prostitutes or courtesans, but Incan women prostitutes were social outcasts and could not even reside near or have contact with female non-prostitutes. they lived in houses under a supervisor who was appointed and paid by the government.

Like the Aztec women, Incan women could also be healers and midwives, and they were known to be able to induce abortions.