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Expansion and the Inka State Institutions

The expansion of the Inka empire is attributed to three main rulers. Pachacuti (the Earth Shaker), founder of the empire and allegedly the ninth emperor, established important state institutions as the backbone of the imperial economy. After defeating the rival Chancas and seizing the power from his father, Pachacuti engaged in the consolidation of the imperial core. Afterward, this ruler vanquished the Aymara kingdoms of the Titicaca basin and, with the help of his son Tupac Inka Yupanqui,

The Inka imperial frontiers; image also shows the ethnic composition of the empire. Map based on D’Altroy 2002; Hyslop 1984, 1988; Morris 1982; Saignes 1986

Figure 2.1. The Inka imperial frontiers; image also shows the ethnic composition of the empire. Map based on D’Altroy 2002; Hyslop 1984, 1988; Morris 1982; Saignes 1986.

annexed a sizable portion of the southern Collasuyu and coastal region. During the reign of Tupac Inka Yupanqui, the empire reached its maximum territorial expansion, as he successfully subjugated the more distant regions of the southern Collasuyu, including a strip of the tropical montana foothills. Later, his son Huayna Capac was charged with consolidating the military conquests, including the massive construction of estate farmlands and storage facilities in the many provinces.

Despite the power of the paramount ruler, competition over resources among the distinct royal panaca families was intense (Garcilazo de la Vega 1988 [1609]). Each new conquest provided the ruler with the opportunity to enhance the state’s wealth while also opening the opportunity to grant rewards to supporting panacas and allies. Although conquest and expansion were often achieved through the deployment of military force and coercion, diplomacy and the cultural integration of the natives into the Inka ways of life were also vital. Political control in the provinces and distant frontier regions was in some cases delegated to elite individuals, particularly those from the ruling panaca. Yet privileged Inkanized native lords (or Inka-by-privilege) and midlevel administrators played a critical role. These elite factions and state representatives were often successful in the newly conquered regions because they skillfully transformed earlier economic practices and social institutions for their own ends.

Based on existing forms of tribute, reciprocal provision of labor, and redistribution, the Inka purposefully magnified and targeted some of these practices to an unprecedented scale. In the absence of a state-sponsored market economy, the transformed social institutions gained particular importance. In fact, these social institutions became the backbone of the thriving Inka imperial economy, allowing this polity to finance its large-scale expansion. They also made it possible for the nascent elite to cunningly portray themselves as the guardians of ancient cultural traditions while also legitimizing their rule through the state’s religion.

Once a region was incorporated through a combination of strategies, the state often expropriated strategic resources like fertile land and gold and silver mines, and taxed the new subjects with the provision of labor as tribute. Depending on the conditions and the imperial interests, large contingents of nonlocal mitmaqkuna laborers were relocated on a permanent or temporary basis to increase the indigenous production. As a result, the composition of mitmaqkunas varied in size, ranging from single individuals to entire colonies. They served as agriculturalists, miners, soldiers, or even specialized craft producers. This strategy ensured the consistent flow of surplus to the capital and the imperial core, and facilitated the availability of a labor force for the construction of state facilities (religious architecture, roads, agrarian terraces, and storage facilities) in the distinct provinces.

Thus, using the language of reciprocity, the Inka successfully generated vast amounts of surplus based on masked asymmetric social relations between the rulers and the ruled. For example, as part of broader cycles of reciprocal obligations, and upon the culmination of a main project, state representatives dispensed vast amounts of food and chicha corn beer. These events also served to distribute politically charged gifts to native lords and valued allies (for example, fine cumbi textiles, personal adornments, and gold and silver plates) to enhance their allegiance to the em- pire—and, ultimately, to Inkanize them.

Although most redistributive institutions grew out of earlier cultural practices, some, like the yanacona service, were new imperial inventions. As a new social class directly under state supervision, the yanaconas had broken away from their original ayllu kin groups and, in so doing, became increasingly dependent on the state. By losing their ayllu membership rights, they also lost the possibility to claim access to collective property, including land. Instead, their status and resources were dictated by the type of service rendered to the state. Resourceful yanaconas could even achieve a high social standing as provincial administrators, gaining, in this way, the right to be granted lands and laborers to work them.

A similar situation occurred with the aqllaconas, a sisterhood of cloistered priestesses dedicated to the cult of the sun. Chosen at a young age on the basis of beauty, craftsmanship, or social ranking, the aqllaconas fulfilled a range of tasks, including the specialized production of finely made cumbi textiles for the royal court and the state divinities. They also brewed lavish amounts of chicha corn beer for the sun cult and other state-sponsored celebrations in the capital and other provincial centers. Depending on their family status, some aqllaconas could even be selected as secondary wives of the Sapa Inka ruler, or be granted by the state as principal wives of newly allied noblemen as a means to cement interelite alliances. Altogether, whether inherited from earlier cultural practices or as new imperial inventions, these Inka institutions were transferred to the newly conquered provinces and frontier regions. As this study shows, they were also adapted to specific local conditions and circumstances, and in the process, became transformed.

At the onset of the empire, the Inka frontiers and the associated institutions were in flux. However, it is likely that during the reign of Huayna Capac, the frontier became increasingly stagnant, considering that this ruler ordered the erection of defensive support installations in different frontier locales. This was the case of the Southeastern Inka frontier against the Guarani-Chiriguano invasions, including those established in Pam- bamarca at the northern frontier. However, other frontier regions, like those in the eastern Antis, remained relatively open, and served as departure points to establish horizontal forms of exchange with outer tropical groups. In some cases, this approach was solidified with strategic interelite marriages.

Despite such seemingly amicable relations, many Inka rulers penetrated into the deep forest in an effort to incorporate its inhabitants as subjects. However, as abundantly narrated in the royal accounts, these efforts often failed, considering the extreme heat and wild montana forest and the hostility of its inhabitants. As a result, this frontier was kept relatively open, acting as a buffer and point of exchange in strategic locales. Changing political conditions, the arrival of belligerent foreign groups, and the growing need for valuable tropical resources were central in shaping different frontier dynamics elsewhere.

In this context, my research explores the Southeastern Inka frontier, the setting for a unique encounter between the extremely belligerent Guarani-Chiriguano tribes and the Inka empire. The Guaranies, a branch of the Tupinamba, were fierce warriors who expanded over a sizable area of the South American tropics, subduing and enslaving a number of tribes on their way to the Andean foothills. These clashes not only prompted the increasing militarization of this frontier segment but also changed forever the indigenous trajectories.

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