THE CRAFTS OF THE INCA EMPIRE


Under the Inca most silversmiths, goldsmiths, stonemasons, and potters lived and worked in the towns. Their products were used by the government and by the nobility. For their work they required food from the government warehouses and regular allotments of wool for clothes. In a way, they were favored above the farmers, because they did not have to pay taxes. The craftsman, like the farmers, was happy to be working at his job and to excel at it. He taught his children his skills.

The metals mined in the Inca Empire were gold, silver, and copper, as well as some tin, lead and platinum. These metals came from open pit mines or were washed out from mountain streak; Miners were drafted from neighboring village, and towns. They prayed to the mines, which they considered huaca, to give up their metals. The Inca permitted miners to work only four months of the year—the warm months. When the four. Months' period was over, the miners returned to their homes.

The important metals were copper and tin. Tin mixed with copper made bronze, and out of bronze craftsmen fashioned fine, durable tools, knives, and balls for the ends of bolas. The Indian herders used bolas as men in the North American West use lassos.

 Inca craftsmen knew many of the methods for treating metals that are known to us today. They knew how to make the cutting edges of bronze knives, axes, and chisels hard, durable, and sharp. Metals that required smelting were worked in clay furnaces. Instead of forcing a strong draft into the furnace with a bellows, the craftsmen blew into the copper tubes that led to the furnace. In some locations, where strong winds prevailed, they constructed the furnaces facing the winds, so that they would help to fan the flames.

 Pure gold was hammered into sheets. Working this soft metal with a bone tool, on an anvil lined with leather, the craftsmen embossed designs on the sheet and cut it to the desired shape. The design might be a man's face, a bird, or a serpent. Craftsmen also used the repousse method we use today—they placed a mold under the gold sheet and hammered the design from the mold onto the sheet. The edges of two gold sheets were folded and clinched together skillfully. Sometimes the cages were heated and welded together; sometimes solder was used. The solder was a copper powder mixed with gum.

Craftsmen also used molds for casting metal. Sometimes they made rough casts and finished the product, after it had cooled, by cutting and hammering. They also made fine castings filling a specially designed clay mold with wax. The mold was heated, and as the wax melted, it was replaced by the molten metal, which the craftsmen poured into the mold through an opening. Hundreds of craftsmen were busy turning out gold and silver dishes, cups, and goblets, arm inlaid with shells and precious stones, and spoon with straight handles that were highly decorated with hammered designs. They molded figurine, of women, alpacas, and llamas, which the nobility used as ornaments and as decorations for their sumptuous litters. The earplugs worn by the nobility and the specially designed gold ornaments which were woven into the royal headdresses were also produced by these craftsmen.

Even with the annual sacrifices of quantities of gold and silver ornaments to the Sun, the Empire still possessed an ample supply, and the craftsmen kept turning out more and more year after year. Pottery making was also a highly developed art under the Inca. For several thousands of years the people of the Andes had been making things 0f clay, and by the time the Inca conquered them, there were many skilled potters scattered through the land.

Among the Andeans both men and women worked as potters. Although the women were and turned out fine water jars and attractively decorated chicha jugs and storage pots, the men were the superior potters, because under the Inca they could devote all their time to their craft.

Clays for making pottery were everywhere in the Andes. There were some fine clay beds around Cuzco. Each group of potters knew the potentials their clay and worked out the best way to temper to make good pottery. Some potters added finely ground sand, shells, and even potsherds (fragments of broken earthen pots) to make the clay more plastic and durable.

Pottery ranged from the simple, rounded cooking pots, ladles, and spindle whorls that house-wives made to the highly decorated, enormous storage jars made by skilled craftsmen. There jars of all sizes and shapes. The potters also made bowls, plates, goblets, and pitchers. There were pitchers with legs, for balancing on flat surface, and pitchers without legs, which could be placed on the ground in scooped-out holes or on a stove.

The simplest way of making a small, round-bottomed pot, after the clay had been mixed and kneaded, was to take a lump of it and shape it with the hands, let it dry for a day or two, and then fire it. Sometimes a potter rolled the clay into long coils and built up a pot with the coils, round and round, until he had the size he wanted. Next he smoothed the sides of the pot with damped hands, let it dry, then polished it with a smooth pebble and let it dry some more. To achieve a thinner finish, he sometimes pressed the freshly made pot against a smooth stone held inside the pot. The Andeans did not have the potter's wheel, but they often placed a pot on a rounded, specially molded plate and twirled it.

Before the pot were fired they were decorated with red, white, and black geometric designs, Some of which were so well made that they looked like woodwork or metalwork. Some villages had favorite designs, which were used with slight variations, and a pot belonging to a certain region was easily recognized. The designs were simple, yet strikingly strong and pleasing. Before a pot was painted, it was covered with liquid potters clay, which was called a slip. The potter rubbed in the slip and let it dry. It filled whatever pores remained in the clay. When the paint was applied with a fine reed brush, it spread evenly over the smooth surface. Experienced potter knew just how long to fire a pot or bowl close to the flame it should be placed, and how hot the flame had to be for the desired effect. Another great Inca craft was their stonework.

We still do not know exactly how the stonemasons produced such fine articles with their simple tools. Craftsmen made axes, war-club heads, clod crushers, mortars, and pestles for everyday use. They made round and square ceremonial dishes of stone, with designs in relief, and they made bone and shell spoons, needles, picks, spindle whorls, flutes, and beads. The best of the Andean stonemasons were drafted to build temples and the emperor's palaces, Hundreds of men worked together on these buildings; and enormous boulders were moved up and down mountainsides, cut to the proper size, and, without plaster, fitted together so expertly that even today a knife blade cannot be pushed between the joints of some of the old walls still standing in Peru. The Inca, like some of our modern architects, liked their buildings to be entirely functional. Their magnificent stone constructions are still marveled at today. The walls of the building were so beautiful that the Inca left them undecorated. But inside the temples was some of the finest work of the Empire: gold and silver plates; images of Viracocha, the Sun, and other deities; figures of people; and hammered serpents, pumas, and llamas.

Despite the destruction of some of this work by the Spanish, some of it survived and has been preserved in museums the world over. We are very grateful to the Inca for this rich heritage. When we see a goblet, a gold figurine, a feathered cape or blanket, a war club, or even a simple cocking pot and bowl, the Inca craftsmen and women who created them come alive in our minds and hearts.











INCA CHILDREN AND THEIR EDUCATION

In villages young children played under their mother’s watchful eyes. Little boys had toy bows and arrows, toy spades and digging sticks. They whirled tops of clay and wood. Little girls played with dolls made of grass or molded of clay. They ‘cooked’ in tiny clay pots and used toy spoons and bowls.

 At seven or eight years children were expected to help their parents. Boys began to herd the llamas and alpacas; little girls ran errands for their mothers. Between the ages of 10-13 years a boy began to work with his father in the fields.  At about the age of 14 years, he was taxed as an aldult. At 15 years he had to contribute his share of labor to the village Mita.  By Helping and imitating their parents, the children of farmers and craftsmen learned all the skills they needed for life as adults.

The education of the children of Inca nobility was different. It took place outside the home. 

At about the age of 10 years, some of the gitls of the nobility were selected for service to the temple. These girls were called Chosen women and they were place in one of the temples of the four provinces of the Inca Empire. They were taught to weave, cook, care for a house and make Chicha – a beer made of fermented corn which was the popular drink of the empire and still popular in Peru today.

It took a girl about 4 years to learn these skills. Some of the chosen women became the wives of nobles and warriors. Others, however, were dedicated to the service of the temple. These women never married. They took care of the priests, wove clothing for them and rugs for the ceremonies and prepared food for the festivals. Some went to live in the emperor’s palace, where they prepared his food and wove his clothing.

A few of these girls were designated for eventual sacrifice to the sun. All the girls were deeply religious and considered themselves especially fortunate in being sacrificed. They looked forward to a happy life in heavens.

When a girl reached maturity, there was a ceremony to introduce her into womanhood. During the ceremony the girl remained shut up in her home. She fasted for 3 days- eating nothing at all for the first 2 days and chewing only a few kernels of corn on the third day. On the fourth day her mother bathed her and washed, combed and braided her long hair. The girl put on a new dress, a shawl and white woolen sandals and a feast was held for her. She waited on the relatives who had come to the feast and her most important uncle gave her a permanent name.

Boys of the Inca nobility were carefully educated. Schooling for boys began at about the age of twelve. As the empire expanded, the government needed more and more men to fill jobs as generals, priests, philosophers and poets. Thousands of administrators such as governors and curacas were also needed. To insure that they would be available the Inca had special schools for boys of the nobility, which prepared them for these roles. The Inca adopted into the nobility some of the conquered sons of chieftains and educated these boys to become administrators.

Late in the 13th century, Sinchi Roca founded a national university at Cuzco to educate the sons of the nobles and of the emperor. The men who taught at the university were philosophers, amautas and poets who had learned all the wisdom and lore of the Inca people. Since the Inca had no written records, the teachers spoke and the students listened. The Inca believed that memory lay in the heart. Older men always said to the young, “store the words we speak in your heart.” The students were told the myths and legends and history of the Inca. They memorized what they heard as we memorize poems. In fact, the Inca myths and legends were recited in poetic form, with repetitions which made memorizing easy.

Here is an example of Morning Prayer:-

The earth
 Is covered with light
In order to praise
Viracocha, the creator
The lord of the stars,
Our father the Sun,
Spreads his hair
At viracocha’s feet.

The mighty torrent
With its song
Is singing the praises
Of viracocha, the creator

So, too, my heart
At every dawn
Gives praise to thee, Viracocha
My father, My creator.

Boya schooling continued for four years, one of which was spent learning to interpret quipus  the Incas counting and  recording system. A quipu consisted of a main cord which was about a yard long, from which hung smaller knotted strings of various colors. The color of each string and its position on the main cord and a special significance.

Although we have many quipus in museum and have seen herders today using them in Peru, we are not sure exactly how the Inca people used them. It is believed that the zero was known to the Inca and that a decimal system was used in quipu records.

A zero was represented by a string without knots. Other strings had knots representing the units of the decimal system – tens, hundreds and so forth. With this system the Inca administrators were able to record the number of families in a village and the number of villages in a particular district. The strings were specially knotted on the spot by a recorder. Other strings showed the number of man-hours of work a village was expected to give to the government.

It is also likely that a family’s animal and its corn and grain were counted in knots, and records kept of what part it owed to the government collector. Hundreds of such quips enabled the central Inca government at Cuzco to add up the amount that would be harvested and the amount that would be ready for its storehouses.

Quipus were important to the Inca government, and each kind of quipus had its special interpreter. When a boy had finished his special training and become a quipu interpreter, he could look at the strings and recite sums, historical events and even poetry. Exceptionally proficient boys become quipu recorders and spent many years mastering the records of the entire kingdom.

Boys of all classes had an initiation ceremony at about the age of 14 years. Unlike the girls’ ceremonies, which were individual, the ceremony for boys was a collective one. In the village a ceremony was held once a year. The mothers of the boys to the initiated wove breechcloths for them. 

At the initiation ceremony for boys of the nobility was more complicated. First the boys, accompanies by their fathers and uncles, had to get permission to hold the ceremony. They made two trips to Huanacauri, a hillitop near Cuzco, which was a Huaca (a sacred place).

On the first trip each boy drove a llama from home to be sacrificed in honor of the Huaca. Priests drew a line on the boy’s face with the blood of his sacrificed llama and gave him a sling, the traditional weapon of the Inca. After sacrificing the llama, the boy returned home where he received a breechcloth and new clothing. His relatives beat his legs to make him strong and brave, and his family prepared a feast. There was dancing and rejoicing and much chichi drinking.

BIRTH OF AN INCA CHILD AND NAMING


Among all classes of Inca people, children were very much wanted. When a woman gave birth to a child whether she was a farmer’s wife, a noble-woman or even an empress, she was helped by a midwife. Women preferred the help of a midwife who had had twins, because twins were considered a sign of a god’s favor.

During the delivery the husband remained at home. He in no way assisted the midwife, but he fasted and prayed. The moment the baby was born, the mother bathed it and herself. An Inca woman was not pampered. In a short while she was up and about, doing her household chores.

When the baby was four days old it was placed on a low cradleboard. The cradleboard stood on the floor, supported on four short legs. Two hoops were fixed to the cradleboard, and then she placed her baby upon it, tied the baby to the board with a strip of cloth and threw another shawl over the hoops of the cradle. Thus the baby was kept warm without being in danger of suffocating.

The baby, strapped to its cradleboard, went everywhere with its mother. When the baby cried she nursed it. A noblewoman also nursed her baby, but she had a servant to carry the baby for her when he wants to visit a neighbor.


A child was named a year or two after its birth. The naming day was celebrated by the baby’s family and relatives. Relatives brought gifts, and the child’s oldest uncle cut its hair and nails and offered them to the sun with a prayer that the child should be healthy and enjoy a long life. Dancing and refreshments followed.
The name chosen was a “baby name,” and he child shed it when it when he/she reached maturity.

A boy might then be named for his father or his grandfathers or for certain qualities his parents admired. There were no fixed rules for Child naming. He might be called Sinhi, which means strong or Tito which means Generous or Kosi which means happy or he might be named Puma, Hawk or Jaguar. Girls were named Star, Gold, and even Coca. The common people were satisfied with a single name, but the nobility and the royal family liked double names. Some had three names.

The Inca Emperor

The household of the Inca emperor was, indeed, a show place, as befitted the son of a god. The palace buildings were large one-room dwellings facing spacious patios. The walls were made of stone, skillfully laid by the best craftsmen and stonemasons of the Empire.

 The palace buildings did not have furniture, but floors were covered with soft mats and rugs and the interior walls were decorated with hangings. Some of these hangings were ornamented with hammered gold and silver designs, which depicted the sun, the moon and the stars and with birds, llamas and serpents, which the Inca people considered sacred.



Since the emperor had many wives and many children, his household was very large – a town in itself. It included numerous servants: craftsmen, silversmiths, pottery makers, and weavers; priests, philosophers and poets. The priest gave the emperors advice and the philosophers and poets taught and entertained him.

The emperor saw   very few people outside of these wise men and his own family. He was too sacred a person to be seen by common Inca people. When a nobleman was given the great honor of entering the emperor’s chambers, he first had to remove his sandals and tie a heavy burden on his back. Thus barefoot and burdened, even the highest noble appeared humble before the son of the sun.

The emperor ate his meals alone, served by one of his wives. The wives also prepared his food, each one taking her turn and cooking foods the emperor especially liked. Delicacies were carried in by runners from afar – fruits from tropics, fish from coast.

No one dared touch any of the food left over on the emperor’s plate. It was destroyed because it was too sacred to be eaten by a human being, even by one of royal blood. Even the dishes he ate from, it was said, were burned on certain festive days as offering to the sun.

It was also was that the Inca emperor never wore the same garments twice.  After wearing, the finely woven shirts of vicuna wool, the feathered capes and kilts, and breechcloths were taken to a storeroom. They too were burned on festive days, as an offering to the sun.

This was what the common people believed. It may be that the garments were worn more than once, but it was good for people who had so little extra food and clothing to talk of their emperor’s extravagances. It gave them the satisfaction and pride of abundance. Certainly no one was envious of the emperor. One is not envious of a god.

A family possessions Among The Inca People

A family did not have many possessions. The housewife needed only a few simple cooking utensils for the meals she cooked – some blackened pots, a clay plate or two and clay spoons. She used the large gourds or clay pots she had made to store her water, corn, beans dried potatoes and peppers.

The hut had not furniture. Everyone sat on mats on the earth floor. As the thatching of the roof dried, it shed dust and bits of dried vegetation into the room, so the house was never completely clean and free of dust. Bits of thatching were forever getting lodged in the Indians’ clothing and in their long hair.

With so few articles of housekeeping, the Inca People hut was almost bare. The walls had wooden pegs in them, on which the family hung any clothing they took off at night. Niches built into the walls served as shelves for household goods, tools, yarn, spindles, musical instruments, toys and neatly folded festive clothing.

Outside the hut pens and corals for llamas and Alpacas, a few ducks and guinea pigs. These animals were the responsibility of the housewife and the children who were too young to in the fields. Because space was so precious, related households used the same corral for their few animals and shared the small pens.

The Inca people lived and worked outdoors most of the time. During the day it was pleasant and warm outside. The woman of the house sat on a mat working on her simple loom, spinning wool, or combing the wool for spinning. She boiled vegetable dyes in a pot in the cooking shed, soaked the wool in a large pot besides her, then washed it and laid it out to dry in the sun.

Inca People Clothing


The peaked wool caps with ear flaps, which men and boys wore outdoors, were woven of colored thread and decorated with tassels. A woven or plaited cotton band kept the men’s long hair in place. Everyone had a shoulder bag or two, since there were no pockets in the clothing. These were also woven.

Until a boy reached 14 or 15 years, he wore only a knee-length shirt and a hair band, both modeled after his father’s. Girls wore the same garments their mothers wore. These were very simple – a loose, long dress that left the arm bare, and a cape-like shawl held together  in front by a copper pin.

A housewife on the coast wove her family’s clothing of cotton with wool added. The coast men also wore breechcloths, kilts, shirts and hair bands, but they did not need capes or wool caps to keep warm.

The Inca People always went barefoot at home. A way from home they wore sandals – heavy pieces of llama hide cut to the shape of the foot. Thongs of bast fiber or leather, tied at the heel, over the instep, and between the toes, held the sandals in place.

Like all weavers, the Indian women tried their best to make the clothing not only durable but attractive. Each village had its own styles and weaving designs. Inca people could tell where a man and his family came from by looking at the style of their clothing.