Inka Dynastic Culture: Interdisciplinary Approaches
Conference on Latin American History 8
The Inka empire, or Tawantinsuyu, the largest polity of the prehispanic Americas, was built over the course of a few decades before the Spanish invasion of the 1530s, and collapsed even more quickly following that event. Its institutions and the culture of its royal class have fascinated investigators for far longer than the lifetime of the empire itself, but remain profoundly enigmatic. Within a society that had no written records comprehensible to later times (the linguistic content of the khipu or knotted string registers remains undeciphered), and which suffered a violent break in institutional continuity, prehispanic Andean politics resist reconstruction. Colonial documents are abundant but hard to interpret, heterogeneous in character, and often contradictory. Historians once read Spanish chronicles of the Inkas as a straightforward narrative, smoothing out their contradictions in a search for a synoptic account. Since the 1980s, more aware of the obstructive lens separating hispanophone colonial writers from pre-conquest experience, many scholars dismissed the colonial sources entirely as a source of knowledge about the Inkas. In recent years, however, new advances in several disciplines have converged toward a better understanding of the Inkas. Ethnohistorians have developed new strategies for reading colonial chronicles, neither accepting them uncritically nor dismissing them outright. Archaeologists have become increasingly confident in reconstructing the interplay between local communities and imperial interventions in the Inka provinces. Historians of the well-documented early colonial Inca elite, in both colonized Cuzco and the independent refuge of Vilcabamba, have become more sophisticated about reading prehispanic practices through early colonial ones. This panel, including papers by two historians, an archaeologist and an art historian, brings together different disciplinary perspectives on Inka royal marriage, succession, and dynastic politics, while taking stock of how our understandings have evolved up to now.
Historian Jeremy Mumford’s examination of Inka sibling marriage, the subject of multiple conflicting accounts in the colonial chronicles, critically examines the documentary evidence and earlier ethnohistorical models, before reinterpreting the evidence in the light of recent research on the emotional culture of close-kin marriage in South India. Art historian Stella Nair reconstructs a sibling marriage and succession crisis a few decades before the Spanish invasion, at a moment when both documentary and architectural evidence suggest intranecine conflict and rapid institutional innovation. Archaeologist Brian Bauer examines another fraught moment of succession, in the post-conquest Inka refuge of Vilcabamba, when the king’s sudden death forced Inka elites to confront contested models of Catholic power within their own political culture. Finally, historian Nicanor Domínguez assesses the work of the great Peruvian ethnohistorian Franklin Pease, and the salience today of his reconstructions of Inka ideas. The commenter is Monica Barnes, principal editor of the interdisciplinary publication series Andean Past, and an internationally-known expert in Inka archaeology and ethnohistory.