Sunday, January 29, 2012


The Racial Politics of Culture and Silent Racism in Peru

by Marisol de la Cadena

(Paper prepared for the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) Conference on Racism and Public Policy, September 2001, Durban, South Africa )

In this talk mestizaje is both the topic and a pretext. Treating it the topic of the paper, I want to explain why, in contrast with other Latin American countries such as Mexico, Bolivia, and Ecuador mestizaje--or the project of racial mixing--never became an official national ideology in Peru. But I also want to use mestizaje as a pretext to analyse the historical production of the Peruvian culturalist scientific definition of race, which is partially similar to what analysts of contemporary European forms of discrimination have called racism without race or "new racism."

I call it silent racism, because in the case of Peru, as we shall see, culturalist forms of discrimination are neither new, nor without race. The debate about racial mixture (or mestizaje) that took place in Peru in the first half of the 20th century, is a good window to explore the reasons that Peruvian intellectuals might have had in developing this presumably peculiar definition of race which eventually allowed for the current denial of racist practices in Peru. Illustrative of these denials Jorge Basadre, one of Peru s most eminent historians declared in the mid 1960s.

Historically, racism as it is understood in South Africa or in parts of the Southern United States has not existed in Peru. (...) This is not to say that there do not exist prejudices against Indians, cholos, and blacks, however these prejudices have not been sanctioned by the law and more than a profound racial feeling, they have an economic, social, and cultural character.

Colour does not prevent an aborigine, mestizo, or Negroid from occupying high positions if they can accumulate wealth or achieve political success. (If there exists a distance between them and us) it is not racial, (...) rather it corresponds to what can be termed an historical state of things.

Basadre acknowledges the existance of prejudices, but acquits those prejudices of the charge of racism because they do not derive from biological race. This acquittal, which continues to characterize the Peruvian racial formation, is not a whimsical national peculairity. Rather, I argue that it is historically rooted in the scientific definition of race that Peruvian intellectuals coined at the turn of the century.

Then they used it to contest European and North American racial determinisms which positioned intellectuals from my country (and Latin Americans in general) as hybrids and thus potentially if not actually degenerates. During this period Peruvian intellectuals delved into the scientific interconnection of "culture" and race," and produced a notion of "race" through which --borrowing Robert Young s words-- "culture" was racially defined and thus historically enabled to mark differences.

When, roughly in mid-century, the international community rejected race as biology, it did not question the discriminatory potential of culture, nor its power to naturalize differences. Then Peruvian intellectuals--like Basadre-- dropped race from their vocabulary and criticized racism, while preserving culturalist interpretations of difference to reify social hierarchies, and to legitimate discrimination and exclusion.

To tell you how this happened, I will start with two quotes, which were produced at the turn of the century. The first one belongs to Gustav Le Bon, a detractor of cross-breeding among what he saw as "distant races," and one of the most popular and controversial European racial thinkers among Peruvians. He opined:

A Negro or a Japanese may easily take a university degree or become a lawyer; the sort of varnish he thus acquires is however quite superficial and has no influence in his mental constitution. What no education can give him, because they are created by heredity alone, are the forms of thought, the logic, and above all the character of the Western man. Our Negro or our Japanese may accumulate all possible certificates without ever attaining to the level of the average European. (...) It is only in appearance that a people suddenly transforms its language, its constitution, its beliefs or its arts.

To this, Gonzales Prada, a Peruvian radical anarchist, responded:

We are always running into Chinamen who dress, eat, and think like the silk-stocking, suave gentlemen of Lima. We see Indians in the legislatures, town halls, courthouses, universities and academies, where they reveal neither more corruption nor more ignorance than other races.

Le Bon and Gonzales Prada’s ideas were part of the discussions that created and enlivened the scientific definition of race in the late 19th century. Then, race was not questioned, and disputes were not aimed at subverting its existence.

Thus, notwithstanding his outrageous radicalism, Gonzales Prada did not denounce racism. That came afterwards, and the very first quote that I read, the one that denied the existence of racism in Peru, represents that later historical moment. (Pronounced in the mid-sixties, his denial of racism was informed by the scientific dismissal of biological notions of race that resulted from various political and scientific events, among which the most visible were the Jewish holocaust, the civil rights movement in the US, and the consolidation of the science of genetics.)

Yet, there are differences between Le Bon’s and Gonzales Prada’s respective quotes, and one of the most obvious ones regards the role each of them assigns to education and culture. For the French thinker racial essences were inalterable, fixed and determined by heredity, and--therefore-- education could only polish external appearances. Peruvians could not have disagreed more.

"Thanks to education man can today transform the physical milieu and even the race. It is his most glorious triumph," asserted the aristocrat Javier Prado, who was also the leader of Peruvian philosophic positivism and Comtean sociology. And these beliefs could become state policies.

The minister of education of the modernizing oligarchic government that ruled the country from 1893 to 1919 declared: "Luckily it has been proved that no race exists that cannot be molded by education: clearly, ours can be so molded, even in the remotest regions of our territory. The myth that the Indian does not want to abandon his miserable condition is rapidly falling into discredit."

Indeed, followers of the Le Bonian type of ideas existed among Limeños, but they were politically marginal, and derided as "racial pessimists." The optimists, however, did not deny the ultimate superiority of Western civilization.

Even the radical Gonzales Prada, wrote: "Whenever the Indian receives instruction in schools or becomes educated simply through contact with civilized individuals, he acquires the same moral and cultural level as the descendants of Spaniards." If during this period, race was an undeniable fact, civilization was the ultimate goal. Fortunately--from the viewpoint of Peruvian racial optimists-- it could be achived through education.

Significantly, the racial optimism of elite Peruvians was not only a project to uplift the inferior races. It provided the obviously nonwhite elite of my country with racial sanctuary, inasmuch as from their viewpoint, education and intelligence could replace "whiteness" as the exclusive marker of racial worth. Dismissing European forms of whiteness as marks of racial status, a conservative writer Manuel Atanasio Fuentes reported: "In Lima, even those men who immediately descend from the European race have a trigueño color [literally like wheat, light brown] which is pale and yellowed," and the iconoclast Gonzales Prada outrageously denied whiteness as follows: "Nobody deserves qualification as white, not even if they are blue-eyed and have blond hair."

Acknowledgement of widespread racial mixture--and of the non-whiteness of the elites-- translated into the Limeæo popular saying: En el Perœ , quien no tiene de inga, tiene de mandinga" "In Peru, whoever doesn t have inga [Indian heritage] has mandinga [black heritage]."

For Limeño politicians, it meant a nation-building project that celebrated mestizaje, and defined it as achieving Western civilization, while maintaining national peculiarities. The following quote, produced in the 1920s, colorfully depicts this smooth process:

The destiny of Peru is to racially integrate into one and the same blood the reverberations of the Spanish guitar, the melancholy of the indigenous flute of the Andes, and the sadness of the African funerary drum.

The quote, which belongs to an aristocrat gentleman, also illustrates the conflation of race, blood, geography and culture undergirding the Limeño mestizaje project. Referring to the interconnectedness of race and culture, the historian of anthropology George Stocking remarked that U.S. academics, used "race" as "a catchall that could be applied to various human groups whose sensible similarities of appearance, of manner, and of speech persisted over time, and therefore were to them, evidently hereditary.

" There was, he said "no clear line between cultural and physical elements or between social and biological heredity." Peruvians therefore were not exceptional in conflating race and elements of what we know consider "culture." Neither were they the only ones to postulate the eugenic might of education to improve the races. In fact this was common to other racial projects, who optimistically rejected the dominance of heredity in determining race.

What I find peculair of Peruvian racial thought and racial relations during this period, is that there existed a tendency to subordinate manifest phenotypic markers to allegedly invisible racial characteristics (yet very visible class markers) such as "intelligence" and "morality."

When this tendency translated into academic pronouncements, intellectuals downplayed biology as a definer of race and suggested instead the relevance of culture or civilization. Neither of this rejected the existence of race of course. Francisco Garc a Calder n a Limeæo aristocrat who spent most of his life in Paris and had his writings translated from French into Spanish was very clear in this respect: "Race persists as a synthesis of the diverse elements of a defined civilization while biological notions of race, are losing prestige."

The relatively non-phenotypical, and culturalist tendencies peculiar to Peruvian racial thought were reaffirmed and sharpened by Indigenismo. At the turn of the century this was a nationalist doctrine, embraced mostly by provincial intellectuals from the Highlands that anchored the Peruvian nation in its pre-Hispanic past, and most specifically in the Inca legacy.

Artists, literary writers, and politicians, Indigenistas are usually identified only after their pro-Indian leanings. Yet they were specially explicit in defining race as culture. Luis Eduardo Valcarcel, a Cuzco resident historian and lawyer, and the undisputed intellectual leader of this nationalist movement was exceptionally clear in this respect:

The universal relationship between human beings and the natural world is resolved through culture. We are the offspring, that is, the heirs, of a being that has been shaped by the interaction of Nature and Culture. We repudiate the idea that spontaneous generation, mutation, or any form of biological life determine history because they lack history" . (La generaci n espontánea, la mutación, la vida, sin historia, la biologia por si sola no significan nada, ellas repugnan a nuestra mente ) (Valcarcel 1927: 109)

Valcarcel aimed at discrediting the idea, stirred by Social Darwinism, that the progress of human races could be reduced to biological competitions. From an evolutionary perspective, and with civilization as his goal, ValcÆrcel believed (as did W. E. B. DuBois in his early writings "Souls of Black Folk" and in the "Conservation of Races") that the history of a people determined their essential peculiarities. In his view, culture was the imprecise concept, yet powerful force, that determined races.

He thus claimed: "Conocemos, pensamos, sentimos segœn el conocer, el pensar y el sentir de la propia cultura" (We know, think, and feel in the manner of knowing and feeling proper to our own culture ( 1927: 109).

Although this may represent an early version of today s European "cultural fundamentalism" (a term coined by Verena Stolcke), in the 1920’s Valcarcel s ideas had an oppositional thrust. His view questioned the power of biological inheritance to rule human destiny, and in so doing, he dismissed the definition of culture as "varnish," "appearance," or "superficial memory" that undergirded Le Bonian racial pessimism, and instead postulated culture as the essence of human racial differences.

In turn-of-the-century Peru, statements like "The Incas were a culture," or "Gentlemen have culture," and "The working classes can be improved by culture" not only conflated race and culture. They also conveyed the might of culture to shape races.

This conviction inverted the internationally dominant opinion namely, the belief that race determined culture. Contrasting with Franz Fanon’s experience of the irremovable fact of his blackness, Peruvian culturalist racial thought served to soothe the fact of the elites’ skin color --and in some cases even exonerate them from it. The personal, intimate convenience of this tolerance, made of culturalist racial determinism a relatively consensual belief among Peruvian racial thinkers.

Yet complete agreement among Peruvian intellectuals regarding the cultural racial destiny of Peru was interrupted by Geography. And I will tell you how. As important as dismissing phenotype, and probably influenced by popular nineteenth century Lamarckianism and environmentalism, the Peruvian racial taxonomy assigned cultures to imaginary geographic ’transects’ which ranged from the Coast to the Amazonian tropics.

The coast was culturally Spanish, the Highlands was the realm of expansion of Inca culture, and the Jungle, was allegedly peopled by savage tribes (who were not called Indians but chunchos )-- and therefore "empty" of culture, devoid of civilization.

Significantly, Limeños (from Lima, the coastal capital of the country) evaluated the racialized geography within evolutionary temporal schemes. The modernized and culturally allegedly Hispanicized spaces of the Coast ranked higher than the "Indian" Highlands.

This implied that, Limeæos considered highland dwellers (contemptuously called serranos) were culturally/racially inferior to coastal inhabitants, regardless of social origins. Within this view Limeæo elite intellectuals were at the cusp of the Peruvian racial formation.

Competing with coastal gentlemen for national leadership, serrano male intellectuals--and most specifically Cuzqueæos--contested Limeños evolutionary geographical scheme with gendered images of the national territory, as in the following quote:

Numbed by the ocean’s undulating sensuality, the sky and the tropical climate, the Coast has nurtured only weak individuals and like a Greek Lesbos it has trembled before the stern, masculine vigour of the Sierra. The Coast has been the mistress of every Conquest, midwife of all exotic concoctions, it has deformed the contours of the national self .

The above passage is so disgusting that it called my attention to the role sexuality played in articulating the turn-of-the century dominant racial imagination in Peru. To challenge Limeæos legitimacy as leaders of the nation, Cuzqueño politicians emasculated the coastal geography, smothered Limeños in an environmentally determined feminity and, charged them with an alleged consequence: the cowardice that had led them to compromise the purity of the coastal culture/race, by allowing, even promoting its Hispanization.

By contrast, Cuzco, and its intellectual/political class--the Indigenistas--emerged in masculine authenticity as leaders of the only Peruvian nationalism, the one that had valaintly preserved the purity of Inca heritage. Listen to another quote:

Lima and Cuzco are, in the nature of things, the two opposing hubs of our nationality. Lima is the yearning for adaptation to European culture; Cuzco represents the millenary cultural heritage of the Incas; Lima is foreign-inclined, Hispanophile, Europeanized; Cuzco instead is vernacular its nationalism is pure.

Cultural racial purity--and the nationalism it inspired-- was gendered, sexualized, and imprinted on the geography. To articulate these arguments, Indigenistas borrowed from North Atlantic racial thinkers the idea that races degenerated if they were moved from their proper geographical places.

"Every personality, every group is born within a culture and can only live within it," wrote Valcarcel who finished his sentence: "El mestizaje de las culturas no produce sino deformidades" ("cultural miscegenation only yields deformities").

From this widespread Indigenista view, Limeños’ hispanophilia was a deformed result of early colonial displacements. Similarly, mestizos were ex-Indians who had abandoned their proper natural/cultural environment the countryside and migrated to the cities.

There, Valcarcel claimed, they degenerated morally. The same author claimed: "The impure Indian woman finds refuge in the city. Flesh of the whorehouse, one day she will die in the hospital."

Thus, while opposing terminal racial hierarchies, the culturalist definition of race had room for discrimination and it was opened and confirmed by images of sexuality. Indigenistas emasculated Limeños to empower themselves and authenticate their project. But they also used sexualized images to create moral racial distance, and thus subordinate commoners and justify discrimination morally.

According to cultural/racial purists, the crucial characteristic of female Indians sexuality was their inherent rejection of "foreigners," a trait that had subtly preserved the "purity of the Indian race." The belief was embodied in a mythical figure, whose Quechua name was Cori Ocllo, which writers translated as Seno de Oro Golden Breast. About her it was said:

Seno de Oro the most beautiful wife of Manko was the heroine. Don Gonzalo wanted her for himself, and she was faithful to her race. How could she offer her body to the impure assassin of her gods and of her kings? she would die first; so she lay tranquilly, without further vexation; to her cold flesh the white beast would not dare come close. (...) Kori Ojllo [sic] in order to frighten away from her the Spanish gallant had covered her perfect torso with something repugnant capable of driving away Don Juan himself. But still more virulent was the hatred that her eyes distilled. (...) Kori Ojllo has revived in the Andes. There where the Indian returns to his Pre-Columbian purity; there where they shook free of the filth of the invader. Kori Ojllo lives, a fierce female, whom the white man can no longer conquer. The hatred, stronger than ever, inhibits the latent sexuality, conquers the temptations, and the Indian woman of the hostile clans prefers to die than to surrender herself. What disgust if she gives up. She would be exiled from the ayllu. She would return no more to her adored native region. Even the dogs will come out to bite her.

The racial xenophobia imputed to indigenous female sexuality constituted the invisible very intimate touchstone that allowed Indigenistas to define mestizaje as immoral, and primarily sexually so.

Mestizaje was the impure consequence of rape or female sexual deviance. It had resulted in mestizos, sexually irrepresible, culturally chaotic, and therefore immoral social beings. Hence, hybridity in Cuzco represented not biological but moral degeneration, stirred by the alteration of the original order, by an inappropriate cultural environment, and furthured by a deficient education.

The elite regardless of skin color and of cultural mixture were sheltered from the stains of mestizaje. They were educated, occupied their racial proper places both geographically and socially and thus lived within the dictum of moral order. They were gente decente, people of worth. Men were gentlemen, their women were ladies, and as such they displayed appropriate sexual behavior.

Caballeros were responsible patriarchs and damas virtuous women, but more importantly decencia inspired them to fall in love with each other, thus preventing the transgression of racial boundaries. Sexual disorder was not normal among gente decente: it was the attribute of urban commoners, the mestizos.

Anti mestizo feelings colored Indigenista nationalist activities, including the most cultural ones, like stagings of "Inca Theater." This was a local dramatic genre, performed and written by elite intellectuals, considered the only ones versed in Capac Simi. This term translates as "the language of the chiefs" and was a colonial, hispanicized Quechua sociolect, imagined as a kind of High Quechua, the allegedly exclusive language of the Inca aristocracy.

Non-elite playwrights, deemed mestizos, and therefore denied the category of intellectuals, were prevented as much as possible from staging Inca Theatre because they supposedly used Runa Simi, which translated as "the language of the people" and was considered a low class quechua, polluted with Spanish words and devoid of the supposed philological individuality of Capac Simi.

Indeed the search for cultural racial purity transcended guardianship of Inca tradition. It also organized urban and rural regional policies. In the city, market women abhorred and known as mestizas--were a direct target of Municipal sanctions and supervision. Guards strolled the market place to prevents abusive mestizas from increasing foodstuff prices at their will.

Similarly, in order to ease the supervision of cleanliness, city authorities obliged market women to wear white aprons and to cut their hair: their indigenous woolen clothes and long braids nested bugs of all sorts. Meanwhile, in the countryside, anti-mestizo policies acquitted gentlemen hacendados from abusing Indian peons and from catlle rustling, charges that were leveled instead to plebeian owners of newly acquired properties, considered illegitimate because they were not backed by colonial aristocratic titles.

Clearly, Indigenista anti-mestizo practices targeted urban and rural, female and male commoners whose income could be considerable, yet who lacked the education (and allegedly the consequent morality) that would allow their entrance into the elite.

Ultimately, Indigenista anti- mestizaje rhetoric represented a conservative class rhetoric against an incipient, obviously nonaristocratic, petty bourgeoisie that was emerging from among the popular classes. Hence being mestizo in Peru was a racialized class fact, where class was not only judged in terms of income but of education and origin.

The idea of "race" linked to education (and indeed to class and gender) leads me directly to address--if briefly-how my own identity has shaped the research of which this paper is part.

I am a brown-skinned, middle class, Limeña intellectual. As result of my background-- and, crucially, of my academic training-- I belong to Peruvian elite intellectual circles where "whites" predominate, and where as a result of implicit racialized feelings, people either politely ignore my skin color, or consider me "trigueña", that "wheat like" version of Limeño blurred whiteness.

I think that most less privileged Peruvians would not make a crucial distinction between me and individuals considered white by North American standards. This contrasts sharply with the perception that my US friends have of me, particularly those who met me in this country and not in Peru. For them, I am a Latina, therefore inevitably and overtly marked as a ’woman of color,’ as a friend of mine recently called me (to my surprise, so much had I internalized the colorlessness of my Peruvian trigueño whiteness!!!)

These experiences motivated my initial reflections about the Peruvian racial/cultural processes and their linkages with class, gender, geography. Memories of my elderly grandmother constantly reminding me that I was una seæorita muy decente, "a very decent young lady" called my attention to the fact that, although I look like working class mestizos, neither my Limeño intellectual peers, or my grandmother were willing to consider me a "mestiza."

Telling me that I was "a very decent young lady," my grandmother was deflecting attention from my skin color and instructing me on the social construction of whiteness, and crucially as an average middle class Limeæa, she was also expressing her culturally ingrained dislike of mestizos. Obviously it was not my grandmother s dislike of mestizos which prevented my identification as one; rather this was the result of the historical intellectual and political itinerary of mestizaje in Peru.

Although mestizaje was initially embraced by Limeños in the nineteenth century, it never became in peru an official, stare-led nation-building project. And this might have been one of the hidden legacies of Indigenismo.

Valcarcel became Minister of Education in the 1940s, and since then either overtly or surreptitiously, Indigenismo--and its undergirding anti-mestizo feeling-- inspired significant official cultural policies. For example, since mid-century--and for a long period under the leadership of Jose Maria Arguedas--the state promoted the training of Quechua-speaking rural teachers.

Similarly, the state promoted purist manifestations of indigenous folklore, while emphatically discouraging those considered "inauthentic" or "mestizo." In sharp contrast, and during the same period, Mexico, Bolivia, Guatemala, and Ecuador implemented "assimilationist" policies that promoted Spanish literacy and explicitly or implictly fostered the elimination of vernacular languages and indigenous cultures.

Evidently I do not think that the Peruvian state represented the Latin American pro-Indian vanguard. Yet I want to link this Peruvian exception to another one: while in the countries that I have just mentioned powerful ethnic social movements have emerged since the late seventies, similar efforts in Peru are still very marginal.

Some analysts have interpreted the absence of "ethnic social movements" in present-day Peru to reflect indigenous "assimilation" and cultural loss. According to this perspective, Peruvian Indians are either behind in terms of ethnic consciousness or have yielded to dominant mestizaje projects.

The conceptual reification implied in this view accounts for its ahistoricism. It contains indigenous Peruvians within the parameters of "an ethnic group," and forgets that ethnicity is only one among the host of social relations race, gender, class, geography, generation (to name commonplaces) that organize (and disorganize) indigenous and nonindigenous life processes. But, most importantly it disregards that "indigenous culture" exceeds the scope of Indianness. I know this sounds strange, but I will tell you what I mean and how I leraned about it.

From the 1950s to the mid 1970s, indigenous peasant leaders from all over the country, but most specifically from Cuzco, led a long political insurrection against the traditional hacienda system.

The conflict, organized in alliance with leftist parties, and waged under the colors of class struggle, destabilized the political order and eventually forced a military coup, and a radical Agrarian Reform in 1968. Blinded by the success of class rhetoric, leftist social scientists have ignored the indigenous cultural aspects of the struggle, which were abundant.

Ardent insurrectional speeches were delivered in Quechua in its Runa Simi version and the the massive demonstrations in the Plaza de Armas of Cuzco were attended by peasants wearing ponchos and chullos, clothes that express indigenous identity and which were specially and symbolically worn for those occasions.

I would not have paid attention to the significance of these symbols, without the help of Mariano Turpo, a self-identified indigenous leader, active since the 1930s, and who took part in the 1960s-1980s struggle for land. From him I learned that indigenous utilization of class rhetoric was a political option, and it did not represent the loss of indigenous culture, but rather a strategy towards its empowerment.

The huge peasant meetings in the Plaza de Armas, and the struggle for land that they were part of, expressed a political practice that was not an either/or choice between ethnicity and class. Instead it coupled both.

Don Mariano’s Turpo’s personal experience illustrates this. He is a paqo--an Andean ritual specialist, somewhat like a diviner. During the years of the struggle, this role was crucial in his capacity as a regional politician. In his own words, "they did not follow anybody but me, they accepted me because I was the only one that knew, I consulted the Apu Ausangate [the regional Andean deity] before going on any strike, before signing any document." Don Mariano who speaks Quechua and Spanish, has signed many documents.

In one of them, written while imprisoned under the charges of being a communist, he urged his compaæeros to QUOTE "learn how to read and write, as being illiterate, makes us more Indios, easy preys of the hacendados and their lawyers, we have to stop being Indians to defend ourselves."END OF QUOTE Indeed, I was surprised at this call for de-Indianization.

Yet, I gradually learned from don Mariano and from many other indigenous Cuzqueæos-- that "not being Indians" did not mean shedding indigenous culture.

Rather de-Indianization implied shedding a social condition entailing absolute denial of civil rights. This definition of Indianness was reinforced when, in the midst of the struggle for land--and while state cultural activists were busy promoting indigenous folklore-- other state representatives--the police--used the label "Indian" to deny peasant leaders their rights to public speech while torturing people like Don Mariano.

De-Indianization meant--as Don Mariano had urged in his letter-- becoming literate, being able to live beyond the hacienda territory, in general obtaining civil rights. And non of this meant shedding indigenous culture, on the contrary it meant empowering it, and thus pushing it beyond the scope of disenfranchised Indianness.

After my lessons with Don Mariano, it was impossible for me to assume that "the loss of indigenous culture" explained the lack of ethnic movements in Peru. Don Mariano helped me realize that the absence of overt culturalist (or ethnic) political slogans during that period, resulted from the need to take a distance from state-sponsored Indigenismo and its allegedly pro-Indian, and highly anti-mestizo language.

I thus returned to the notion of mestizaje and found it had had more than one trajectory, and more than one meaning. Despised by the state, and by leading historians and anthropologists, indigenous Cuzqueños have appropriated the word mestizo and given it an alternative meaning: they use it to identify literate and economically successful people who share indigenous cultural practices yet do not perceive themselves as miserable, a condition that they consider "Indian."

Far from equating "indigenous culture" with "being Indian"-- a colonial label that carries a historical stigma of inferiority--they perceive Indianness as a social condition that reflects an individual’s failure to achieve educational improvement.

As a result of this redefinition, "indigenous Andean culture" exceeds the scope of Indianness; it broadly includes Cuzqueño commoners who claim indigenous cultural heritage, yet refuse to be labeled Indians. They proudly call themselves "mestizo," while refusing to disappear in the cultural national homogeneity that the dominant definition of mestizo conveys.

Adriana and Isabel, two young university students whom I befriended, were among the first to alert me about this, to me totally unusual, meaning of mestizo. They danced in a folk troupe called Pasña Coyacha, in part, they told me, because of their proud identification with regional indigenous culture.

Their dance represents ’the people of the highlands," la gente de las alturas, individuals regionally identified as Indians. Since I was aware of the stigma Indianness carried in Cuzco, one day while we were chatting at the university cafeter a I asked them if they had problems performing the dance. The response and the ensuing conversation merit being quoted at length:

Isabel: Last year we had a problem with one young man. He did not want to dance because they had insulted him as "cholo Indian." We told him not to pay attention. I said: "After all, you’ re acting... the fact that they see you in those clothes doesn’t mean that you are entirely that way...

Marisol: Why did you tell him that he was "not entirely that way?" Is he "a little" that way?
Adriana: Well you see, Marisol, in Cuzco, el pueblo, we can all be Indians, and some Indians are also mestizos. Like us... we are not entirely Indians, but we are indigenous, aborigines, whatever you want to call us, because we are not like... for example you .

Marisol: What do you mean you are not like me? We are all university students, we have the same skin color, the same kind of hair, we are speaking in Spanish...

Isabel and Adriana (alternating): Yes but you don’t believe in the things we do, you may go to Coyllur Rit’i, (a regional pilgrimage) but you don’t really care about it, besides you don’t even know the ritual... we go like the Indians do, we follow their example, we respect them, but we are not entirely like them . . . we follow many, some, of their beliefs, but we wear shoes and not ojotas (rubber sandals), we sleep in beds, we eat properly, right? We are different and alike, do you understand? mestizos like us are also indigenous, aborigines, oriundos, because of our beliefs . . . we respect our costumbres.

Thanks to Adriana, Isabel, and many others from whom I elicited responses during many months, I gradually began considering the ways in which subaltern Cuzqueños have lived, practiced and created alternative meanings for the term ’mestizo.’ Like Don Mariano’s coupling of ethnicity and class, this subordinate meaning of mestizaje is not meant to be resolved in "either indigenous or mestizo" evolutionary choices.

Rather, as a lived experience that has redefined Indianness by decoupling it from indigenous culture, the subordinate notion of mestizaje exceeds the bounds of binary racial discourses, and can thus bring sameness into difference, and difference into sameness. I repeat Adriana s and Isabel s words: "We are different and alike, do you understand Marisol? "

Obviously, dominant definitions of mestizaje--and the racial cultural projects they entail--have not disappeared from the national political scene. They have remained latent either among leftist or conservative ideologues. Incidentally, the celebrated writer Vargas Llosa revived it, when he said:

Indian peasants live in such a primitive way that communication is practically impossible. It is only when they move to the cities that they have the opportunity to mingle with the other Peru. The price they must pay for integration is high-renunciation of their culture, their language, their beliefs, their traditions, and customs, and the adoption of the culture of their ancient masters. After one generation they become mestizos. They are no longer Indians.

Although used to promote mestizaje, Vargas Llosa s words illustrate the survival of earlier Indigenista culturalist rhetoric, this time dressed in the evolutionary ethnic lexicon to which Peruvian anthropology, resorted when race was evicted from scientific discourse. Within this new framework, Indians were an ethnic group that represented an earlier stage of development and were culturally different from mestizos.

This allegedly nonracial yet evolutionary lexicon, which allows for images of "indigenous improvement" and speaks of hierarchies of reason is facilitated by the culturalist talk, provided by certain notions of ethnicity. They also give a nonracist allure to images like those produced by Vargas Llosa, and lead to the manifold current denials of racism in Peru.

Analysts of contemporary European "racism without race" (Barker, 1983, Gilroy, 1987, Balibar 1988, Targuieff, 1991) explain that the new European version of racism is a culturalist rhetoric of exclusion resulting from the reformulation of former biological discriminatory procedures.

My historical study of racial discourse in twentieth century Peru shows that the concepts of race and culture were thoroughly intertwined and that race was not only biology. When the international scientific community rebuked race as biology, the culturalist tendency to explain and legitimate racial hierarchies preserved its academic, political, and social authority. It was smuggled in the apparent egalitarianism of culture talk.

Unlike scholars of current European forms of exclusion, I claim that--at least for the case of Peru--culturalist forms of exclusion and discrimination are not new, nor are they without race.

Neoliberalism: The End of Silent Racism?

In 1990, the now infamous Alberto Fujimori ran for president against the renowned writer Mario Vargas Llosa calling upon "chinitos" (an allusion to himself) and "cholitos" (working class Peruvians) to join forces against "blanquitos" ( Vargas Llosa and the elite circles surrounding him).

El Chino, as he came to be known, promised a government that would promote "technology, honesty, and work." Once in power, he implemented a neoliberal economic plan and requested that the chinos and cholos forget their collective battles and instead struggle individually against poverty by becoming microentrepreneurs.

The 2000 electoral campaign, the first act in the year-long drama that finally drove the increasingly corrupt and dictatorial Fujimori from office, pitted him against Alejandro Toledo, a Peruvian of working class origins, whose campaign evoked the complexity of Peruvian mestizajes.Like in most stories of mestizaje, migration and education play a crucial role in Alejando Toledo s public electoral life story.

This emphasizes his poor origins in an Andean village and his success in earning a Ph. D. from Stanford, a private (and elite) university in the US. However, rather than using education to silence his origins--like the ideology of decency would have indicated-- throughout his electoral campaigns Toledo loudly claimed cholo identity.

Yet, this identity is not simple. On the contrary, "el Cholo Toledo" is multifaceted for the images he uses to fashion his electoral persona draw--perhaps independently of Toledo s intentions--from the historical rhetoric of Peruvian mestizaje and its multiple meanings .

At the most obvious level, Alejandro Toledo s electoral campaign connects with the Incanist, anti-mestizo tradition promoted by Valcarcel s indigenismo. As the symbol of their political party they chose the "Chakana," described as an Inka symbol that signaled the dawn of a new era. Within the same script, very important political gatherings have been held in Cuzco, where the candidate opened the demonstrations with a ritual salute to the Andean deities that surround the city, and Eliane Karp, (Toledo s anthropologist wife) addressed the crowds in Quechua, the indigenous language.

Less obviously, but summoning the attention of a crucial sector of the electorate, Alejandro Toledo s image wearing a chullo and a tie connects with indigenous views of mestizaje--those that, for example, see Quechua and vernacular Andean practices, as compatible, even coming to fruition, with a university degree, and economic success.

However, and notwithstanding the candidate s reverberant claims to a working class cholo identity, he also connects with elite views of mestizaje. His university degree, his "studies abroad," (and of course his marriage to a foreign white woman) loom large, and thus "Alejandro"--as his elite peers familiarly call him--represents an "ironed" choloness, one that has been tamed by education and is a useful political strategy. Alvaro Vargas Llosa--the writer s son-- praised Toledo s "cool calculating mind of a Stanford, and Harvard academic" and his ability to "understand life from a viewpoint rooted in analytic rigor and scientific information."

Coinciding with his son s opinion, Mario Vargas Llosa, expressed his support of Toledo by describing him as a "modern Indian, a Cholo without grudges or inferiority complexes."

But Toledo s mestizo identities aside, and considering the historical trajectory of race (and racism) in Peru, a question remains pending: What happened at the end of the twentieth century that allowed for the profusion of racial images in a country used to silencing the racial identity of public figures and to the denial of racism?

Attributing this effect to Alberto Fujimori s origins and phenotype would be too simple, and would have probably disappeared with the now fugitive President. That this has not been the case, obliges further explanation.

In 1998, in my annual summer visit to Peru, I was surprised by the outpouring of denunciations against racism set off when the employees of four separate night clubs and a coffee house in Lima barred entry to several persons seemingly because they perceived them to be non-white identity, has the right to participate in the free market.

The anti-racist saga was complex: The Institute for the Defense of the Consumer had taken on the denunciations and had leveled fines against the businesses accused of discrimination. Revealing that the state is not monolithic (and also making visible the corruption that affects its practices) several judges were bribed into revoking the Institute s sanctions.

Against this backdrop, another state institution, the Human Rights Commission of the National Congress, organized a public audience to discuss the pros and cons of penalizing "racism" constitutionally.

Throughout the process, I could not but think: Why denounce racism now? And the crucial response came from a lawyer from the sanctioning Institute:

People believe that the free market has no laws. But let me tell you, the free market has one law, and that law is that as consumers we are all equal. The free market does not tolerate any form of discrimination against consumers. Every individual, regardless of gender, religion, ethnic, or racial .

And a law was passed unanimously in 1999 to legally sanction discriminatory actions for the first time in Peruvian history. The hegemony of Peruvian racism --its mute reign-- was apparently over, and although this did not mean it would disappear, it did mean that it could be publicly censured. Racism s silent rule, however, was being challenged by the potential hegemony of neoliberalism, and its capacity to displace former discriminatory practices and embrace the excluded as consumers, regardless of their self-identity.

Indeed the cholo image that Toledo casts is highly compatible with that of the persona neoliberalism requires: a solitary achiever, able to succeed without the intervention of the state. The public version of the candidate s life story describes Toledo as a micro-entrepreneur since his childhood, working as a shoe shiner, a soda and popsicle vendor during Sunday soccer games, and a door-to-door peddler of the tamales his mother cooked.

This boy, the story tells us, can become the President of Peru, and even if he does not, he lives a comfortable life. Thus, Toledo also plays into the hegemony of neoliberalism, and its promotion of a consumer who can come from any background, provided that he/she can buy and sell.

The economic identity that neoliberalism requires, and the social success it offers, is not measured by the "refinement" standards imposed by "decency," because with globalization as one of its premises, identities can be multicultural.

Obviously, I do not think neoliberalism needs to raise anti-discriminatory banners, or to generalize the advocacy of multiculturalism. Yet I do think that in countries like Peru neoliberalism has a certain amount of seductive room for selective class-blind multiculturalisms. Alejandro Toledo s "market economy with a human face" can also come with a cholo face.

Thus it potentially decouples the dominant identification of popular classes with immorality, and perennial marginality. In so doing, it connects with popular mestizaje projects and promises an historically unprecedented possibility for the inclusion of the "unrefined" members of the so called popular classes in official politics.

Undoubtedly, the markers of indigenous mestizaje that Toledo used throughout both his campaigns represent an unprecedented public challenge to "decency," and this has provoked the explicit revulsion of the upper classes.

Thus, while neoliberalism may appropriate multiculturalism, the practices of indigenous mestizaje are not for its consumption only. Insofar as they connote images that defy exclusion, they can be used by the new social movements to resignify the traditional cultural politics of race and class in Peru. Whether this resignification serves the market or the people (by for example, furthering democracy) is a historical matter. And by history I do not mean the past. I mean present-day people acting politically.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Naturaleza Activa presents new downhill circuit in Arequipa

by The Colca Specialist

New Downhill Circuit in Misti volcano is awesome!

The Colca Specialist was invited to the presentation of the new downhill circuit in Misti volcano in Arequipa. There is no doubt that many tourists would like to have the same experience I had in Misti volcano. The creator of this circuit is Eduardo Sánchez “Lalo” the manager of Naturaleza Activa and the guide was the most condecorated tour guide from Arequipa Guillermo “Kamikaze” Rendón .

The tour starts at midday so if you come to Arequipa you can visit the downtown area in the morning and in the afternoon you can have this wonderful tour.

The tour is really well prepared and the guide provides you a good quantity of information about Arequipa. This tour is mix of the city tour,countryside tour and the much recommended reality tour: a tour where you can see the “both sides of the coin” in Arequipa. Watching the different neighborhoods on the way and receiving high quality information about the actual situation of Peru was very interesting. Four tours for the price of one! Excellent!

The circuit is not technical at all and it is adapted to the needs of the clients. The tour is designed for the complete satisfaction of all the clients.

There is a saying that says that an imagen speaks much more than thousand words so I am publishing the pictures I have taken during the tour. Thank you very much for reading The Colca Specialist and I hope you enjoy the pictures and the views of this circuit as much as I did! See you soon my friends!

The circuit is designed for people of all ages who want to have a wonderful experience in Arequipa!

As you can see the circuit is not technical at all

The area is peaceful and there is no much traffic in the area

A wonderful view of the inca terraces of the area.Behind we can see the impressive view of Misti volcano.

The visitors´faces expressing their happiness in this picture

A little chapel in los Arenales area.

Pichu-Pichu volcano appearing behind the green terraces

The people of the area continue keeping the inca legacy: the agriculture.

the sunset is starting in the area of Chiguata.

Misti volcano (5,825 mts) was chosen as symbol of Arequipa and its people. Arequipenians are called "mistianos" or "children of Misti"

The shadows of the sicsera cactus. A typical cactus of these areas.

Driving towards the sun... a special feeling!

a beautiful sunset in the area of Chiguata.

The sun hides behind the eucaliptus tree in Chiguata area.

We said good bye to Misti but I promised it to come back soon again!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Turismo en crisis en Arequipa!

Operadores capitalinos descontentos con servicios turísticos en Arequipa

por The Colca Specialist

Así lo manifestaron en una encuesta realizada en la ciudad de Lima. La mayoría de agencias de viajes y turismo de Lima se hallan muy descontentos con los servicios prestados por la gran mayoría de agencias de viajes y turismo de Arequipa.

Con costos irrisorios y un servicio cuya calidad es mínima lo único que están haciendo los operadores turísticos de Arequipa es literalmente “matar a la gallina de los huevos de oro”.

Hay que destacar que el 99% de operadores turísticos de Arequipa no son profesionales del sector turismo y una gran mayoría de ellos son simples microempresarios que vieron en el turismo un forma de hacer dinero. Esa es la triste realidad del turismo en Arequipa.

A esta crisis se suma la incapacidad de los representantes del sector turismo como lo es la Cámara de Comercio Exterior y Turismo de Arequipa, el Gobierno Regional de Arequipa, Dircetur, AUTOCOLCA cuya imagen ha quedado empobrecida por haberse visto envuelta en casos de malversación de fondos entre otros, incluyendo a la Municipalidad de Caylloma, lo que hace necesario tomar medidas urgentes y hacer una REINGENIERIA TOTAL del sector turismo. La falta de CALIDAD HUMANA es el mayor problema que enfrentan estas instituciones representativas.

Tema aparte es la corrupción en la que se encuentran las asociaciones de guías de turismo de Arequipa como lo es el caso de ASGUIPA, ADEGOPA y AGOTUR asociaciones de guías de turismo que se han convertido en guarida de elementos delincuenciales siendo este el caso de los guías de turismo denunciados por mala conducta ,prostitución, violaciones a turistas, borracheras entre otros, asociaciones a las que se les viene investigando a fondo esto debido a que algunos miembros de estas instituciones están involucrados en el asesinato del joven estudiante NATAN SOTOMAYOR quien protestó abiertamente en contra de los abusos de los guías de turismo a través del internet.

Se hace necesario que los presidentes de las asociaciones de guías de turismo hagan una fiscalización de sus miembros para así salvar la imagen del guía de turismo en Arequipa, imagen que se encuentra por los suelos esto debido a la mala conducta de algunos guías de turismo dedicados a exigir comisiones abusivas a los restaurantes turísticos y a emborracharse en las discotecas de Chivay.

El tema de la informalidad en la que operan una gran parte de agencias de turismo es otro de los graves problemas en Arequipa, agencias informales que cobran tarifas irrisorias las mismas que contratan guías piratas en su mayoría estudiantes que trabajan en calidad de practicantes siendo la mayoría de ellos egresados del Elmer Faucett asi como de la UNSA, quienes viajan a guiar al Cañón del Colca sin cobrar salario alguno, obligándolos a exigir comisiones a los restaurantes turísticos así como a los dueños de hoteles y a los artesanos locales.

El AVIT (ASOCIACIÓN DE AGENCIAS DE VIAJES Y TURISMO DE AREQUIPA) no se salva de esta crisis y es a la fecha una de las asociaciones más cuestionadas de Arequipa esto debido a que miembros de esta asociación son en su mayoría agencias de viajes denunciadas por los mismos turistas caso de ACUARIUS TRAVEL que cuenta con una serie de denuncias en internet y COLONIAL TOURS una agencia de viajes que ha sido denunciada por brindar un pésimo servicio y por tener accidentes de tránsito a cuyos afectados hasta la fecha no ha indemnizado como debiera ser.

Tratar de ignorar esta situación es como querer tapar el sol con un dedo y se hace necesario que los directivos de esta malograda asociación arequipeña llamada AVIT pongan orden en su asociación y seleccionen mejor a sus asociados por el bien de ellos mismos y del turismo en Arequipa.


Las agencias de viajes y turismo de Arequipa así como los autoridades de Arequipa han encontrado mano de obra barata mejor dicho gratuita en los practicantes de turismo de las distintas casas de estudio de Arequipa quienes trabajan por tan sólo sus pasajes y un certificado que de trabajo.

Muchos de ellos viajan al Cañón del Colca en calidad de guías de turismo ofreciendo servicios que realmente dejan mucho que desear ante la inercia de las autoridades incapaces del sector turismo en Arequipa.

Las asociaciones de guías de turismo de Arequipa como los son ADEGOPA, AGOTUR Y ASGUIPA están dirigidas por presidentes acéfalos que no hacen nada por dar solución a esta problemática que se viene dando ya desde hace algunos años atrás.

Presidentes acomodaticios que traicionan a sus mismas instituciones al no hacer nada por el bien de sus compañeros asociados. A esta clase de sinvergüenzas les gusta aparecer en los diarios locales dando declaraciones absurdas acerca del caso Ciro y anunciando sus tarifarios que nunca cobran a las agencias de viajes y turismo de Arequipa que cada vez más quieren pagar menos.

Las juntas directivas de las distintas asociaciones de Arequipa deben estar al servicio de sus asociaciones no ellas al servicio de ellos. Los que quieren ser líderes primero deben servir a los demás y no usar sus cargos para hacer sus caprichos realidad o para hacer negocios bajo el tapete.

Ojalá que hagan una marcha para exigir a las agencias de viajes trabajar con guías profesionales y no con los benditos practicantes que viajan por tan solo comisiones.

El problema al parecer es que a los presidentes de estas minúsculas asociaciones les falta pantalones. Habrá que ponerles polleras a estas srtas. disfrazadas de hombres. Practicantes afuera y qué viva Arequipa!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Carreteras del Colca:un desastre completo!

por The Colca Specialist

Antes de empezar con este artículo quisiera mandar un fraternal saludo a todos los choferes que día a día malogran sus vehículos en estas vías que según las autoridades son carreteras ,las mismas que para los entendidos en el ramo son tan sólo ridículas carpetas asfálticas llenas de parches y hoyos hechas no a conciencia por personajes que al hacerlas sólo pensaban en meterse una jugosa cantidad de dinero sin importarles en si la obra misma que al final quedaba convertida en un adefesio.

Esta ridícula carpeta asfáltica llega hasta Chivay y desde Yanque hasta la Cruz del Cóndor lo único que hay es un desastre, una vía para llena de huecos, barro y piedras que en esta época de lluvias se vuelve literalmente intransitable. Vías por las que día a día transitan cientos de turistas quienes se van asombrados de ver tamaña monstruosidad de carretera y se van más asombrados aún de saber que en el Perú y especialmente en Caylloma existen organizaciones como AUTOCOLCA (Autoridad Autónoma de Coimeros y Ladrones del Colca) que abusan de los turistas con sus cobros excesivos de 70 soles por persona para visitar el Cañón del Colca cuyas carreteras parecen más bien haber sufrido un bombardeo aéreo.

La mayoría de turistas entrevistados se van descontentos de saber que el dinero que han pagado por el concepto de boleto turístico es un dinero que no beneficia a la población de la provincia de Caylloma ni siquiera al distrito en el que se encuentra ubicada la Cruz del Cóndor: Cabanaconde ,el mismo que tiene una serie de deficiencias como lo son el estado ruinoso en el que se encuentran los sitios de interés arqueológicos como Kallimarka entre otros problemas los cuales sería muy largo enumerar.

Desde aquí felicitamos al alcalde de Cabanaconde Jorge Guerra que en un gesto de amor a su pueblo ha hecho lo necesario para que el tramo Cruz del Condor-Cabanaconde este en optimas condiciones para los visitantes que visitan día a día el distrito de Cabanaconde.

En un gesto digno de imitar el alcalde de Cabanaconde presentó en el auditorio de la Municipalidad de Arequipa ante el periodismo nacional la Marca Cabanaconde entregando material de difusión a los periodistas y promotores turísticos allí presentes. ¿Y qué pasa con el resto de alcaldes discapacitados mentales de la provincia de Caylloma que todavía siguen pensando que el alcalde actual va a promocionar sus respectivos distritos? Eso va a suceder cuando aparezca volando un cóndor rosado en el Cañón del Colca o sea NUNCA! ¿O es que están esperando que el falso guía de montaña Zacarías Ocsa los promocione a través de sus bodrios en internet?

AUTOCOLCA tampoco hace nada al respecto. La corrupción impera en Caylloma. Es un hecho.
El turismo solo beneficia a una margen del Valle del Colca, la zona alta, la otra margen y el denominado corredor Ampato no cuentan con ningún tipo de apoyo para la difusión de sus atractivos turísticos y mucho menos con apoyo para la construcción de una carretera para facilitar la visita de los turistas.

Los cobros desmesurados han provocado la disminución de los visitantes que prefieren ahora irse a Cusco o a Puno dado que allí tienen muchas más opciones turísticas, de todo tipo y precio, todas ellas bastante promocionadas a nivel nacional y en el extranjero, todas ellas con accesos que facilitan la visita de los turistas y muy bien señalizados.

El Cañón del Colca no ganó el Concurso de las Maravillas Naturales del Mundo. Era obvio. Con las trochas llenas de huecos que cuenta el circuito turístico era imposible que ganase el concurso. No se salva de la crítica ni siquiera el Hotel Colca Lodge cuya vía de acceso parece más bien la vía de acceso a un burdel clandestino.

Para que un atractivo turístico pueda tener una afluencia continua de turistas es necesario que primero cuente con los servicios necesarios para los visitantes y sobre todo que cuente con vías de acceso (carreteras) que le permitan al turista poder tener acceso a dichos atractivos turísticos. Eso lo sabe cualquiera.

Es imposible visitar un atractivo turístico cuyas vías se encuentren en mal estado. Las autoridades de Caylloma ni siquiera arreglan las carreteras y todavía tienen cara de cobrar un boleto turístico de 70 soles alegando que el dinero obtenido va en beneficio del pueblo de Caylloma cuando claramente uno se puede dar cuenta de que ese dinero se va directamente a los bolsillos de los ladrones con corbata que son las autoridades de la provincia de Caylloma.

Es una vergüenza que el Cañón del Colca considerado como el destino turístico más importante de la región Arequipa tenga unas carreteras que son una porquería, es una vergüenza que la provincia de Caylloma tenga organizaciones corruptas y ineficaces como AUTOCOLCA (Autoridad Autónoma de Coimeros y Ladrones del Colca) nombre que provoca náuseas al pronunciarlo cuyo color verde no representa el color verde de los campos de cultivo del Valle del Colca sino el verde estiércol ,el excremento verde de los burros y mulas que los eligieron para ocupar dichos cargos.

Me voy a casa indignado por los abusos que hasta la fecha se vienen cometiendo en contra del turismo en el Cañón del Colca y en contra de los pobladores de la provincia de Caylloma quienes son los más afectados después de todo.

Pero a manera de venganza me queda la risa, la burla y el sarcasmo de saber al menos que gracias a Dios el chaleco de mi empresa no es de color verde ESTIERCOL como el chaleco de AUTOCOLCA (Autoridad Autónoma de Coimeros y Ladrones del Colca) Hasta la vista amigos co0nductores y esperamos que nos manden sus comentarios los mismos que serán publicados en esta misma página. Hasta la vista!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The World of Pre-Columbian Women

By Tim Mc Guinness Phd

Rarely do Pre-Columbian studies or texts focus much attention or detail on the role of Women in Ancient America: their role in society; their labors; their place in family; their health; and the frequent abuses they suffered in Pre-Columbian Cultures. The purpose of this site, is not to be a comprehensive document on the subject, but rather to provide an introduction to the subject, and a guide to select writings and other websites, that can provide more in-depth focus.

For those new to the subject, Pre-Columbian America refers to the regions in the American continents, and the Isthmus between, before the influence of the Europeans (prior to 1500 CE/AD). It refers to the indigenous civilizations of the Americas, such as those of Mesoamerica, North America, and the Andes regions. The term "Pre-Columbian" can indicate the time from the arrival of humans on the American continent (before 14,000 BCE/BC) to approximately 1500 CE/AD. However, it is commonly used for the cultural periods from about 4000 BCE to Conquest.

This site will mainly focus on societies right before the arrival of the Europeans - Aztec, Mayan, Andean (Inka and others), and briefly North America. It will focus on women's role in the Maya and Aztec civilizations of Mesoamerica, the Inca culture from South America, and North American in general.

In these societies, like in any other society, women play important roles. From domestic activities to political power. They take care of their children, prepare food for the family, and weave textiles. However, women's roles differ from region to region, some having a position in the market and others maintaining essential position in religion and politics. However, in some cultures women held a role as object, trade good, slave, and subject of horrific ritual brutality.
Women's Role in the Mayan Civilization

In the contemporary Maya society of Zinacantan, Mexico, it is said that "man produces the raw materials, and women transforms them into objects of use and consumption." This complementary gender role is applicable to the gender role of the ancient Maya. Most of the roles women of ancient Maya society are inferred only from the elaborate burial and ceremonial sites of the Maya - from their glyphs, elaborate murals, steles, vases, and other burial offerings. Women in the Maya society, like any other civilization, had everyday roles in the care of the household, and their families. They raised animals within the household, prepared food for the family, and made clothing & textiles.

Daily village life for Mayan Women

Along with the roles in everyday activities, women played an important part in religion. As girls, they were trained and taught how to serve religious shrines, and participate in ritual practices of their religion. In addition, there is evidence that some elite women took part in politics.


In everyday life, in the household, women played an essential role. Firstly, they were mothers, raising children. Also, it was their role to prepare and cook food for the family. In fact, as Maya society depended on deer meat, it was typically the women's responsibility to manage the supply of deer. There is evidence that deer were domesticated by the Mayan household, raised by women for men to kill and butcher. Not only that, women wove textiles, which was important not only for domestic use, but as a trade good - an essential aspect in Maya society. It is not known whether all women wove textiles, but it appears that all textiles made were produced by women.

Craft and fiber evidence from the buried city of Ceren - buried by volcanic ash in 600 C.E.- show that women's textile work was not only a normal part of domestic life for specific household purposes, but had its position in the marketplace as well. Women in Maya society had a critical role in crafts, producing valuable commodities for outside consumption.

Also in Maya society, women seemed to have participated in both politics and religion. This is confirmed by the discovery in Guatemala of a 2 meter high limestone monument that depicts a woman of authority in that ancient Maya city. This portrait could be either a ruler or a mythical goddess. Archaeologists from La Trobe University in Australia state that, "This stele may date from the late 4th century AD, making it as much as 200 years older than previously discovered monuments depicting powerful Mayan women.

We have images of queens, who ruled singly and with their husbands and sons, depicted on stelae later in Maya history beginning in the early 6th century AD. But this stele is completely unique in style and likely dates to the 4th century AD. It's unique in that it shows a woman in a really early period in Maya history, a period when the city states were being founded and dynasties were being instituted." This shows that women played important roles in the phase when the Maya states were being established.

While there are few actual writings on the subject, it is clear that slavery was practiced. Slaves were gathered, as was as captured as a result of conquest. What is not well known is the role and treatment of female slaves. If they were treated similarly to male captives, then that treatment would have been far from ideal. However, it was likely that female slaves were used in large part as domestic servants, as was done in more modern times.

Women's Role in the Aztec Civilization

The Aztec society was a patriarchy, a male dominated society, ruled by kings and noble loads. Thus, women in this society were considered subordinate of men, possibly even property. As a result, women had little chance to take part in government and religious activities. However, in daily life, people had clear division of roles between men and women. While men worked in the fields and fought in wars or took the job of his father and became tradesmen, women stayed at home and put their efforts into domestic duties like childbearing, weaving, and cooking.

Women were educated for these activities from young ages. Aztec girls were taught at home the skills necessary for marriage; they began spinning at four and cooking at twelve. However, housework was not the only role of the women. Aztec women not only helped in weaving textiles and taking care of the home, but also included themselves in the work force, working as merchants, traders, scribes, courtesans, healers, and midwives.


Women in the Aztec society played an essential role in maintaining the household. They learned the skills to be a good housekeeper; acquiring abilities concerning childbearing, weaving and cooking. However, they also had a place apart from the everyday house work. For instance, they could be merchants aids that organized and administered expeditions for trade (it is not known whether they could themselves go on the trade expeditions). Also, common women of this society were also offered opportunities in trade goods: they could sell what they made in the marketplace and gain some wealth for their families as a result.

They provided raw and prepared food, cloth, and other items in the market. It is said that women in the Aztec society even held places as official arbiters to resolve disputes that arose in the marketplace. In addition, women became skilled healers and diviners. Documents from the time of the Conquest indicate that the women healers were more highly skilled than contemporary Spanish doctors.

In general, Aztec marriages were monogamous, however, there is ample evidence that marriages of multiple wives occurred as well (see below). However, the Aztec culture did not place the same value on individuals as our modern culture, and in many cases (it appears) women (wives and daughters) were offered to visiting guests, as well as for sacrifice. The worst of the voluntary offerings of women for sacrifice was the ritual of Xipe Totec - where a young girl or woman would be offered by her family to the Aztec priests - raped by the Aztec priests, then skinned alive - after which the priest would wear the woman's skin in a ritual of transformation.


Dona Marina was originally a woman of the Aztec Nahuat culture, encountered by Cortez. She may have been a servant, slave, or outcast in some way, liberated by Cortez. As his companion, she became a Catholic, and played an active and powerful role in the Spanish conquest of Mexico, as an interpreter and an advisor.

Most of what is reported about her early life comes through the reports of Cortez's' "official" biographer, Francisco Lopez de Gomara, which seems far too romantic to be entirely credible, but there is no evidence to the contrary. Although she was not a literate "Pre-Columbian" woman (as most women appeared not to be), by exploring at the role of Dona Marina, one can get an idea of the role of women in Pre-Columbian America at that time.

Malinche was born into a noble family. However, when Marina's father died, her mother gave her away or sold her into slavery. Marina traveled in captivity from her native Nahuatl-speaking region to the Maya-speaking areas of Yucatan, where she learned the different Maya languages. When Hernan Cortes came to this region, the local people offered he and his men hospitality, food, clothing, gold, and slaves, including 20 women.

Marina was one of these women slaves. Cortez noticed her difference, and with her intelligence, and ability to interpret with great efficiency, she earned Cortes' confidence, became his secretary, and then his mistress, eventually bearing him a son. She facilitated communication between Cortes and various Mesoamerican leaders, often actively encouraging negotiations instead bloodshed. Marina was the principal player in building a coalition of city-states that eventually lead to the fall of Tenochtitlan. It is no understatement to believe that without her, Cortez could not have conquered the Aztecs.

Dona Marina had an important role as an interpreter, secretary, mistress, and mother of the first "modern Mexican." However, she was far from a typical woman of her time. Empowered by Cortez, she demonstrated her worth and ability in a way few or no other contemporary woman could have.


Originally, women wove and worked only for their families, but as chiefdoms and small kingdoms developed, the local rulers began to demand tribute (taxes), largely demanded in the form of cloth, which was manufactured almost exclusively by women. Then, as the Aztec culture and empire spread, people were forced to pay more and more in tribute to the Aztec leaders, which could be paid in labor or military service by men and in cloth and other goods by women.

The women's cloth was typically made from agave fibers and was in high demand as commoners were allowed nothing else to wear. As the politics of Aztec culture became more complex, the demand for tribute increased, and men began taking additional wives so that more cloth could be produced by more hands.

Documentation suggests that this led to strained and poor relationships within the family compound. Female slavery also increases as a result.

The Aztecs waged war for gain, as they needed sacrificial victims, tribute, and slaves. Women slaves performed household tasks, especially weaving, freeing the Aztec women for other tasks. Female slaves were also used as concubines and mothered children who also became slaves.

Eventually the demand for cloth tribute became so high that men also began to spin--the most female-identified task in ancient Mexico. Women and men continued to make cloth until the colonial period when the Spanish built textile mills, forcing the men and not the women, because of the Spanish gender roles, to work in cloth production.

Studies of artifacts of weaving and cooking in and near the Aztec capital and has lead to the conclusion that women adapted their weaving as the demand for more and more tribute increased; they changed spindle size and shapes and changed what and how they cooked in order to feed their families, who were in need of increasingly portable food, as they might labor away from home.


Apart from domestic roles, women in the Aztec empire could be merchants, and trades people in the marketplace.

Women also worked as prostitutes and courtesans, but they do not seem to have been social outcasts as a result. It has been shown that the Florentine Codex, it depicts the prostitutes negatively, from the perspective of the European mindset. In fact, the Aztec courtesans served young noble warriors and danced with them at ritual celebrations, suggesting that they had an elevated status in their own society.

The Europeans criticized these women for bathing, painting their faces, and wearing brightly colored clothing, signs of a fallen European woman, rather than as behavior executed by all the Aztec women, whether prostitute or not.

Aztec women might also be healers or midwives. Although the Spanish tried to quell the religious parts of the midwives' practices, believing it at best distracted from the one true Christian God and at worst that it was witchcraft, they were still impressed by the midwives' skill.

Documents from the Spanish accounts indicate that the women healers were more highly skilled than European doctors; however, as most accounts are written by elite Spanish men, they gloss over or do not describe at all the techniques that the women used. Thus, much of the cultural knowledge of these women was lost, especially as the Spanish began to repress the religion of the Aztecs and prosecute and persecute women healers as witches.

Aztec medicines, made from native plants, are documented to have been able to bring on menstruation or to hasten labor. Aztec women may also have pioneered in prenatal care, as records indicate they began ministering to pregnant women in their seventh month.

There is even evidence that at least one Aztec woman, likely a daughter of a noble family, was a scribe for an emperor. It is likely, too, that the noble Aztec women would have needed scribes and would have thus used females to act as their secretaries and bookkeepers.

Women's Role in the Andean Inca Civilization

Women's roles in the Inca Culture differed from that of both European women and those in the Aztec culture at the time, in that those women existed for the benefit of men. In Inca society, women had much different roles from men, but these roles were considered as complementary to those of men and a necessary part of the society. In fact, women played an essential role in the Inca society. Their primary role, as always, was to raise and take care of children, take charge of household duties, including: cooking, weaving cloth, working in the fields, and spinning. But they also worked right beside men in other activities for which they were suited, from agriculture to public works.

Before the conquest, the Inca household was an autonomous socio-economic unit, indicating that there was much freedom for the individual family, including women. An example is the evidence of skeletal analysis of this period, which shows that women in this period consumed food in similar quality and quantity as men. This can be interpreted as women having equal participation in community and domestic life. In addition, women in the Inca civilization played a large role in religion, controlling the cults of the goddesses (unlike Aztec culture where men controlled religion). However, after the conquest, women's social position was lower than that of men's (typical of Spanish culture of the time), and began to exclude women from its rituals and government.


Women in Inca society were not required to work for government public works projects, or perform "mit'a", which was a requirement for every man in the society. However, this does not mean that women did not play a role in working for the government or on such projects. In fact, women were to weave one piece of clothing every year to put in the government storehouses (this was not so much a tax, and a community contribution for the community benefit - these storehouses were public resources for the benefit of all). Also, in some cases, they followed their husband on his mit'a, where they cooked, carried heavy burdens, and helped him with many of his tasks as possible.

In everyday life, a women's main role included taking care of the children, cooking, housekeeping, and weaving cloth. But along with these tasks, women participated in the filed work together with men, especially during the sowing and the harvesting season. When the men plowing punched holes into which women sows (plants) corn seeds - in fact, this was a normal ritual, believing that women (the life bringer) ensured a successful crop. During the harvest, women performed heavy labor alongside their men - carrying bundles of stalks, cut by men, to be stacked to dry. Furthermore, women produced flour by grinding corn and sweet potatoes, and wove cloth by spinning and weaving cotton or wool.


Chosen Women in the Inca society, otherwise called Acllacunas, were identified as the Virgin of the Sun, and had important economic and cultural roles. They formed a special class in the society and lived in temple convents under a vow of chastity. They lived apart from their families and communities, and their duties included the preparation of ritual food, the maintenance of a sacred fire, and the weaving of garments for the emperor and for ritual use.

The Inca's officials selected girls of 10-years of age with great talent and physical beauty to become Acllacunas. Once selected, they were kept in their temples, not allowed to leave for six or seven years. During these years, these girls received formal education from "Mamaconas", who were chosen women themselves. The girls learned not only to weave and skillfully make clothing worn by the nobles, as well as the robes and elaborate hangings used on state occasions. They were also taught the preparation of special foods and "chicha" (a beverage used in religious ceremonials).

When these girls completed their training, and reached 16 years of age, they were divided in to classes based on their degree of beauty and served the state in different ways. The most beautiful and highly born became concubines of the Inca Emperor. Some of the girls that most matched the Inca ideal of perfection were selected to be sacrificed in honor of the sun. While others were interned for life in one of the convents, where they acted as temple attendants and became Mamaconas themselves in time. Others became wives of nobles or military commanders.

However, majority of Chosen Women served as weavers and food producers in Inca provincial centers, as they were taught to do. They provided the textiles of llama and alpaca cloth, which was an essential part of Inca life. Because the Incas used these textiles as payment to the army, or as gifts for nobles and local leaders in conquered areas, Chosen Women's produce were crucial. Additionally, the Chosen Women also contributed food and chichi for citizens performing mit'a.

The level of social status for the Chosen women was generally great, and they enjoyed many advantages in their society. They did not to perform hard labor, even though voluntary for women, in the fields, and enjoyed a lifetime supply of food and clothing, with whole estates dedicated to their needs.

However, they were denied the support and contact of their families as well as the opportunity to participate in daily social life. Those who married could not select their spouse and those who did not marry lived secluded from the rest of society, in a state of perpetual chastity. The Incas posted guards at these most important separate compounds, and did not permit entry to outsiders. The Inca state guarded and trained the Chosen Women because they played an essential part in maintaining the cohesiveness of the society.
Women were an integral part of every aspect of society during the Inca reign. Their role in that society was very different from that of women in most European societies at that time, and because of this, much of the evidence regarding the role Incan women played is distorted by the views and prejudices of the Spanish conquering men who wrote about the Inca Empire, or Tahuantinsuyu (Four Kingdoms).

However it is possible to reconstruct the world of women in Incan society because of the large variety of sources about the Incas written by Spanish chroniclers during or immediately after the conquest. It appears women in Incan society had a distinctly separate role from men, and that this role was viewed as complementary to the role of men and a necessary component of their society.

This was true in all facets of Incan life including religion, politics, family, and economics. It also appears that women in Incan society had more autonomy and power than most of their Spanish & Pre-Columbian counterparts. Because of this the Spaniards had a hard time relating Incan society accurately in their chronicles. The Spanish didn’t understand one of the most important aspects of Incan society, their true gender roles.

Women had a dual or complementary role in Incan society because of their religion. The Incas, like many of their Andean predecessors, viewed the cosmos in a way that emphasized what they saw as the duality of nature. The Incan people believed that the god Viracocha was the creator of all things.

Viracocha was hermaphroditic in nature, being first male and then female. Stemming from Viracocha were the Sun, or the male, and the Moon, the female. These two were siblings as well as spouses and gave life to the other gods and goddesses as well as to man and woman. From the Sun extended Venus Morning, Lord Earth, and Man. From the Moon extended Venus Evening, Mother Sea, and Woman. Venus Morning was equated with the Sapa Inca himself (the ruler of Tahuantinsuyu), Lord Earth symbolized the male nobility and headmen, and Man symbolized the male commoners.

A parallel chain of authority for women stemmed from the Moon goddess. Venus Evening was the Coya, or queen of the Inca, Mother Sea was the female Incan nobility, and Woman the female commoners. Stemming from each of these chains were also parallel kinship chains of men and women, in which some men and some women (with the Sapa Inca and Coya coming first) had authority over other men and women, and so on.

Because of this dual role within the cosmos and the parallel chains of authority, men controlled the cults to the male gods and women controlled the cults of the goddesses. The Coya, who was believed to be the daughter of the Moon, headed the cult of the Moon. The Sapa Inca headed the cult of the Sun, and was believed to be his son. Women priestesses stemmed down from the Coya in the same way that male priests extended from the Sapa Inca. Women priestesses wielded power as the heads of these cults.

This is because the goddesses of Incan cosmology controlled earthly fertility and human procreation, both of which were integral to Incan agricultural society. Women also had their own royal ancestral cults. Coyas were mummified just like the male Incan rulers and were worshipped, and attended in the same way, meaning they were also treated as though still alive and they retained their estates even in death. (Similar to the way Egyptian kings were honored in death.)

The duality of Incan religion was so complete that even the temples of the Incan goddesses paralleled those of the Incan gods. Statues, as well as the mummies of Incan Coyas, were made of the Incan queens and placed in the temple of the Moon in the same way that mummies of male Incan rulers were placed in the temple of the Sun.

The Moon Temple was decorated in a fashion similar to that of the Sun Temple. It was paneled entirely in silver, as opposed to the Temple of the Sun which was covered with gold. It contained a likeness of the Moon with a woman’s face, while the Temple of the Sun contained a likeness of the Sun with a man’s face. It was served exclusively by female priestesses, or mamaconas, who were chosen either because they had unusual births or who were selected from the acllas, which were religious and secular institutions and education centers. Mamaconas also had their own houses of residence where they prepared garments for the Sapa Inca and idols, made food and drink for religious festivals, and were waited on by other high ranking girls of Incan society.

Unlike other Pre-Columbian cultures, Chosen Women had schools in Cuzco like those of the men where non-Cuzcan girls were sent to learn the trades of womanhood, and Incan lore, as well as the appropriate skills and tasks of government service. These schools were called acllawasi, or house of the chosen women.

Spanish chroniclers thought of these institutions as an Incan version of a nunnery. Acllawasi were an exclusively female institution in Incan society. Once a year an Incan agent inspected villages of the empire to choose the girls who would be sent to the acllawasi or who would become immediate human sacrifices.

The girls chosen for the latter duty were part of crucial state rituals and ensured the power of their fathers, most of whom were headmen, because with the sacrifice of his daughter the father gained the right to pass his title down to his son as well as the special favor of the Sapa Inca. Most of the girls selected for immediate sacrifice or to become acllas were ten to fourteen years of age (similar to the Aztec Xipe Totec ritual).

The virginity of these girls was closely guarded in the acllawasi until their future was decided by the empire’s ruling elite. If one of the girls were found to have lost her virginity, “she would be given the death penalty, and it would be carried out by burying the girl alive or by some equally cruel death”. If they were to become an aclla, which was a strictly secular occupation, they were separated from their communities of origin and housed in acllawasi in the capital of each province. By doing this, the aclla women were turned into full subjects of Cuzco because they were no longer thought of as members of their original communities.

Once in an acllawasi the girls were taught women’s tasks such as spinning, weaving, and chicha making. The cloth made in these institutions was highly valued because of its bright colors and fine weave. The chicha produced was also highly sought after because it was said to be some of the best in Tahuantinsuyu. The girls were also thoroughly indoctrinated into Incan ideology so that when sent to their various destinies, would serve the interests of the Inca whether consciously or unconsciously.

The acllas were organized hierarchically, with the basis for this organization being physical perfection, as the Incas visualized it, and the rank of the girl’s family of origin. Thus there were several different types of acllas who would serve the Inca realm within their various destinies.

It was based on this system that prestigious girls were chosen to be chaste priestesses of the solar or imperial cults. These priestesses, the virginal wives of the Sun, called mamaconas, served in a religious capacity as well as educating newly arrived girls. The mamacona women were wed to the various gods they were to serve in solemn ceremonies and afterward were considered to be wives of those gods (similar to Catholic Nuns).

Occasionally the Sapa Inca would visit one of these institutions to indulge himself with the women. The guards, who were old men, would then confront the Sapa Inca who would confess that he had sinned and the matter would be at rest. These women were generally considered to be saints by the rest of the populace and wielded much power because of their proximity to Incan gods.

Despite this, some of these women had more importance than others within the various cults, especially in the cult to the Moon, the wife of the Sun. One woman, who was often one of the Sapa Inca’s sisters, headed that cult. She governed it in all matters whether religious, economical or other. Thus women had much influence over religious and other matters.

The rest of the girls selected each year were to perform other roles. Another role that the prestigious girls could be chosen for was to be secondary wives of the Sapa Inca. The lower ranking girls served less prestigious gods or goddesses. Some of the lower ranking girls were also given as rewards to men who had pleased the Sapa Inca. It was through the aclla system that the men of the empire were linked to the Sapa Inca by loyalty.

This was because the men would serve the interests of the Sapa Inca if their daughters were taken to an aclla, since it was an honor, or if they were given women as gifts, which was also an honor. In this way, women were a powerful tool for the Incan state.

The Inca Queen, and through her, women, had her own religious celebrations also. For one month out of every year, the entire empire deferred to the Incan queen and to the Moon goddess, or "Coya raymi". This was meant to symbolize the new agricultural cycle and the beginning of the rainy season. It was during this time that any and all female concerns within the realm were given voice, and Men were subordinated during this period.

The Coya was also an important political figure in Incan culture. The selection of an Incan Coya was very similar to that of the selection of the Sapa Inca himself. A potential queen had to show that she was capable of leadership and responsibility before marrying the Sapa Inca, to whom she was usually related.

If the candidate failed to do this, she was removed from consideration. Also, if a woman proved unfit to rule after she became queen, she could be removed from her position (usually by death). An example of this circumstance was the first Coya of Capac Yupanqui. Some time after their marriage she went insane, so Capac asked the Sun god for permission to marry, as his primary wife, another woman who would be capable of performing the duties of the queen. Once made Coya, the queen also received her own estates and her own palace, which was almost as large and sumptuous and the Sapa Inca’s.

The political power of women flowed down from the Coya in a chain parallel to the one extending from the Sapa Inca. It began with the Sapa Inca and Coya at the top, moved to the nobility of Cuzco, to the non-Incan Cuzco nobility, to several ranks of provincial nobility, to local ethnic leaders, and finally ending with any commoners who possessed positions of authority in an "ayllu", or community unit (village).

Moreover both women and men, according to Guaman Poma, were entitled to varying degrees of services, herds, and estates based on their ranking within this system with the Sapa Inca and the Coya at the top. This illustrates the link between the political power of women, and the Coya, to economic power.

However Coyas had power over all subjects at times. Queens ruled in the absence of the Sapa Inca. If the Sapa Inca went off to war, the queen served in his stead in every way. Another important aspect of the queen’s role related to the Inca’s privy council, which was composed of men from the four principal capitals of the Incan state. If the council could not come to agreement on an issue, it was turned over to the queen. After she made a decision it was final, and accepted by the Sapa Inca as such. Thus the Coyas could and did make important governmental decisions, which would have had very far reaching effects.

Three Coyas were known to be especially powerful in the history of the Incan people. These were Mama Huaco, Mama Ocllo, and Mama Anahuarque. All of these women wielded significant power as well as advising their sons and husbands about government. This is especially interesting in light of the fact that these women were married to three of the most prominent kings (Incas) in Incan social history, Manco Capac, Topa Inca, and Pachacuti.

From these examples it is evident that the Coya of the Incas had more power than most of her European equivalents, who were, in most cases, merely a means for a king to produce an heir.
However the majority of the Incan queen’s authority centered on other women.

All women paid obeisance to the queen in the same way that men paid obeisance to the Sapa Inca, even kissing her hand in the same way that men kissed the king's. During festivals the queen of the Incas would give and receive reciprocity from provincial leaders and lower-ranking members of the Cuzco nobility.

She was expected to be very generous on such occasions, and these reciprocity ties were completely separate from those of the Sapa Inca. She “was able to bind others into a web of obligation through which power relations were articulated.” Therefore the Coya had her own power base in the Incan realm based on these ties in the same way that the Sapa Inca himself.

The Coya also had authority over women’s marriage rights. It was her responsibility to marry the female subjects of the empire to the male subjects. She had two hundred ladies in waiting whom she often married to men who either the Sapa Inca or herself wanted to reward or tie to their dynasty. The Coya was also responsible for seeing to the education of the young Cuzcan female nobility and the daughters of local leaders. This helped cement the bonds between the Coya and the varying ranks of Incan nobility as well as the women of the provinces, who by state design, would be Incan educated.

As illustrated by the importance of marriage to the queen’s power, marriage ceremonies and the relationships themselves were extremely important to the foundation of the Incan state. When an Incan couple married, certain ceremonies had to be observed, including asking the permission of the Sapa Inca’s agent.

These marriage rites, whether performed for a rich, noble couple or for a poor, peasant couple, “celebrated the formation of a new unity made up of equals.” The rites were accompanied with gift giving, which was supposed to be done on an equal basis to show that one partner was not above the other or that the kinship group of one was not above the kinship group of the other partner. Typically these gifts consisted of clothing, with the amount being determined by the couple’s wealth.

Within their marriage, an Incan couple would view their contributions to the relationship and the household as complementary but equal, which is what the ceremonial gifts illustrated. Andean culture already determined for a newly married couple what types of duties were appropriate for the man and the woman. “But in any case, the division of labor was never so strict as to prohibit one sex from doing the other’s task if the need arose.

Andean gender ideologies recognized that women’s work and men’s work complemented each other.” The indigenous peoples knew that in order for their culture to survive the work done by both sexes was essential, as was the interplay of that work between the two. Thus the contributions of women, from the Coya to the lowest peasant were recognized as essential to the survival of the society.

One of the duties of common women in Incan society was to weave. As already stated, this was an important task for women to learn when in the acllas.

However it was important outside of those institutions as well. A common adult woman was almost always spinning whether she was watching her children or talking with her husband or neighbors, or even while walking. It was the obligation of a woman to make sure that her entire family was clothed and this required a lot of work, especially once there were children to make clothing for. However this was not the sole duty of an Andean woman.

She was also entrusted with chicha making, cooking, helping her husband prepare fields for farming, planting seed, harvesting, weeding, hoeing, herding and carrying water. While in many societies these were the duties of women, in Incan society, unlike others, these tasks were not considered to be simply domestic tasks for the husband’s benefit only. The contributions of women were recognized by Incas for what they were, essential labor for the continuance of the household, community, and finally for the state.

Another area, other than goddess cults, in which Incan women had undisputed authority, was that of child rearing. Women were expected to take exclusive care of children in Incan families. A woman was also responsible for doing her share of the complementary work to that of her husband up until giving birth to the child and was expected to resume that work soon afterward. Children were considered to be the source of wealth for any Incan family and therefore were the primary responsibility of most women in Incan society. This ensured the future of that society.

Clearly, Incan Women had their own power networks in Incan society in politics and religion. They had their own cults, which they headed and which were worshipped by all members of society. The Coya had her own system of reciprocity, estates, and cult after her death. She had authority over marriage rights. Acllas, which were composed entirely of women, were important institutions in the Incan realm because they reinforced the loyalty of the subjects to the state. Mamaconas were important female power tools because they dictated religious observances and educated future acllas and mamaconas. Common women were responsible for some of the most important aspects of Incan life and survival, including weaving, agriculture, and child rearing.

Women's role in Pre-Columbian North America

Native American women in North America traditionally belonged to a culture that gave them respect and where they had power, autonomy and equality. North American Pre-Columbian societies were not so based on a hierarchical system and there were fewer divisions between men and women.

The work of the two genders often differed, but there was no value of one over the other. These women were respected and valued for their contribution to the survival of their families and communities. Their knowledge of plants, their ability to cure and preserve food, and their counsel in political matters was greatly valued.

Pre-Columbian North America women in general, had an important role in the society, as they were givers of life and gave birth to their culture's children, educated the children, and provided a substantial portion of the food for the family. Also, there were some matrilineal societies in Ancient North America, such as the Iroquois, where women provided leadership as well. In such societies, women held positions in societal governmental, civil, and religious offices.

The common duties of North American women were cleaning and maintaining the living quarters, nursing children, gathering plants for food, grinding corn / grain, extracting oil from acorns and nuts, cooking, sewing, packing and unpacking camps in the case of the nomadic peoples. They were also responsible for producing certain crafts such as: brewing dyes, making pottery, and woven items (cloth, baskets, and mats). They also made, or substantially aided in the making of the shelters that were their homes - either by making the Teepees, weaving the materials for stick or grass houses, or other shelters. They were also frequently the healers of their cultures.

In some areas, women were influential in tribal councils and cast the deciding vote for war or peace. For instance, in the Cherokee society, women were considered equal to men and women could become "Beloved Women", who spoke and voted in their society's General Council. Leading the Woman's Council, they prepared and served the ceremonial Black Drink; served the duty of ambassador of peace negotiations, and could save the life of a prisoner already condemned to execution. Likewise, the Cheyenne women had an important role in the deciding to wage war or not.


One of North America's iconic native women was Pocahontas, a Native American woman that lived in the late 16th, and early 17th century, who married an Englishmen, John Rolfe, and became a celebrity in London in the last years of her life. She was the daughter of Powhatan, who ruled a large area in present-day Virginia.

Because of the modern Disney animated fantasy movie, Pocahontas (1995 film), the revisionist view of Pocahontas is as a peacemaking hero that stopped war between the Native Americans and the Europeans, and a powerful women that had a great role in her society. However, this image of Pocahontas is largely fabrication from the movies and John Smith's writings.

It is true that she was a daughter of Powhatan, a chief, but it is not certain if she held any high social rank. While women could inherit power in Powhatan society, Pocahontas could not have done so, because the inheritance of power was matrilineal, and Pocahontas' mother was of lower class. Pocahontas correctly shows that women in some North American societies could have political roles, but at the same time shows that there were restrictions as well.

The Pre-Columbian Woman's World

Women's common roles in all the societies within Pre-Columbian America included housekeeping, raising children, preparing food for the family, and weaving textiles. In addition to these duties, depending on the region, some women participated in political, economic and religious activities. Some of the North American cultures were matrilineal, where women often had power in politics. Also, in societies such as Maya and Aztec, women participated in the market by manufacturing cloth. Women's role in Inca was somewhat different from that of other societies, for women in Inca society had a duty and real power.

What is significant is that women in Pre-Columbian America had comparatively important roles in their society compared to other regions of the same period, such as China, Japan, Korea, and Europe. They had distinctly separate roles from men, but rather than being viewed as inferior to men (at least in the Inca culture), their roles were considered as complementary to the role of men and a necessary component of their society.