Incan Life and Society - The Artisans


pp 101-105


Among a community's obligations to the Inca was the supply of various handicrafts. Each household had to deliver to the tax collector a certain quantity of articles it had made: stuffs, clothes, shoes, rope. The raw materials came from regional depots. Time and trouble were the sole contribution of statute laborers. The wealth and luxury of the Incas, a subject which never ceases to be commented upon in the accounts of the conquests, as well as the high technical and artistic qualities of the exhibits in our museums, presuppose numerous craftsmen-jewelers, weavers, potters, and sculptors. While a large part of the everyday articles were made at home by the peasants, the luxury goods-fine cloth, jewelry, ceramics-were the work of specialists. Some craftsmen worked directly for the court, while others were stationed in the workshops of provincial governors or local princes. Custom de-creed that royal officials who came to see the Inca should give him a valuable present. They could not have done so without skilled workmen available to make the objects. These workmen and artists, separated from all links with their villages, were fed and clothed at the Inca's expense, or at the expense of some dig-nitary who employed them, and were exempt from labor service. The "Virgins of the Sun," who wove fine, richly embroidered cloth from vicuila wool, could be likened to the craftsmen in their workshops. The situation of these people, who spent all their lives working for the court or for an important dignitary, re-sembled that of the craftsmen of ancient Egypt who, at whim of the Pharaoh, were attached to the person of a "nomarch."

The position of these artisans shows no essential difference from that of the yanas a category of persons with a somewhat ill-defined and often contradictory status, seeming at some times to be veritable slaves and at others privileged officials. These yanas, having been torn from their communities, were entirely de-pendent on those they served. Some had been captured in the wars; others were criminals or relatives of criminals who, as a result of the system of collective responsibility, had been reduced to this condition. However, the majority of the yanas were young people given by the rural communities to the Inca or his repre-sentative as servants. Many of them became manservants, body-guards, or the Inca's litter bearers. Others fulfilled the same tasks for provincial governors or helped in their administration. Some of them even became important, thanks to their intimacy with the powerful. Some received women as a reward for their zeal in serving the master, others were given more yanas as servants. Unfortunately we know very little of these parvenus. It is none-theless significant that the Inca's favor, or that of one of his.'digni-taries, could make a person of humble origin important. It is wrong to neglect this side of Inca society, which hardly tallies with the theory of their society so often put forward. In this respect, as in many others, the so-called socialist state looks very like an Asiatic type of monarchy.

Privileged yanas were the exception. The majority were at-tached to the private estates of the Inca or the aristocrats in the same way as the colonos are to the haciendas of modern Peru. The growing importance of the yanas as the empire expanded can only be explained if their production was greater than that obtained by the traditional system of labor service. In removing part of the people from a community the Incas weakened it and sowed the seeds of a revolution which, had they grown, would have changed the structure of the empire. From a group of mainly autonomous agricultural collectives it would have become a species of "prefeudal empire," with huge estates, owned by nobles and officials, being worked by serfs or even slaves.

The taxes in kind which accumulated in the Inca's storehouses were used for many purposes. Some of this produce was sent to Cuzco, but most of it was used locally to support the officials, the army, and the gangs employed on state projects. There is no doubt that these stores were drawn on to feed the local population if crops failed and famine threatened.
Interpret the following statement:
"Among a community's obligation to the Inca was the supply of various handicrafts." This group may choose from two different readings and statements."

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