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.


Boys 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.


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