Inca Woman

An Indian woman made all the family’s clothing. She wove the long, narrow piece of cotton cloth that her husband used as breechcloth. The cotton came from the coast, where it grown in the warm valleys, and the Indians who lived in the mountains traded their wool yarn for it.

The Inca woman also wove her husband’s long sleeveless shirt, a square piece of cloth with a slit in the center. It reached to his knees, and the sides were either tied with cords or sewed together. She used the wool of alpaca and a llama to weave the shirt in stripes of brown and black.

 If she was weaving a shirt for festive occasions, she might mix the black with some white wool, to make a shirt of gray and brown stripes.

The woman also wove the wrap – around skirt or kilt her husband wore over his breechcloth. Her husband’s cape had to be long warm. Since she could not weave a wide piece of cloth on her narrow loom, she wove several strips and sewed them carefully together.

A well – made cape lasted a lifetime. Her husband wore it and used it as a blanket at night. When he needed as additional bag to carry produce home from the field, he scooped the ends of the cape together and it served as a basket.

In addition to cooking and making clothes for the family, the Indian housewife had the job of repairing cracks in the walls of her house and replacing the thatching on the roof. Adobe did not last very long in this land of bitter winds and rain and extreme daily changes in temperature, so repairs went on endlessly. Anything that was too hard for the women to do was done by her husband when he came home.

The life of the wife of a curaca – who was responsible for 100 farming families – was not as full of toil as that of a farmer’s wife. A curaca’s home, which was built of stone, was sturdier, roomier and better situated than a farmer’s hut, and mita labor kept it in better condition.

 The interior of the house was almost as simple as the farmer’s.  There were mats on the floor, and sometimes there were low platforms for the beds. A three-legged clay oven burned during the cold nights, so the sleeping family was comfortable and warm. The house had either windows or chimney, but it had a good solid door that shut out the night’s cold.

The curaca wife did not have to get up at dawn in freezing room and rush to grind corn for the morning meal. There were women to help her with the grinding, cooking and serving. She had a stove all to herself too, and she did not have to share her cooking shed with anyone.

Servants tended the plants, the herbs and the fruit trees in the courtyard garden. Men worked the curaca’s field and helped to herd the livestock. There was more food in the curaca’s house, and the two daily meals, which regularly included meat, were more ample and varied.

The curaca’s family also owned more than one change of clothing. His wife spent many hours at the loom, but she had women helping her with the spinning and weaving. The clothing her family wore was more carefully made, and she used finer wool – sometimes the wool of the vicuna – for the festive clothes.

In the days of the Inca vicunas ran wild in the highlands of Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Bolivia and the tropics. Their coat, tawny brown in color with a white or orange bib, was not thick, but their wool was of the finest quality. The Inca people were forbidden to kill vicunas. Villages organized hunts for vicunas, however, and sheared them and then release them.

The higher nobility lived in towns. There were many towns in Inca times, towns in the valleys and towns in the highlands. In a typical town the temple was in the center of a spacious plaza. But all roads leading to the plaza were very narrow- just wide enough for a litter and carriers. Homes and government buildings presented solid walls to the street, as they still do in many parts of central and South America today. Behind the walls were patios or courtyards with gardens and flowers.

A woman of higher nobility lived in greater comfort than the wife of a curaca did, but even the noblewoman worked at their looms, weaving and embroidering the finest and laciest textiles. They wove capes trimmed with the colorful feathers of tropical birds. They worked gold and silver threads into garments, giving them a beautiful sheen. They also prepared food for their families with the help of servants.


Post a Comment