Distant Provinces in the Inka Empire: Toward a Deeper Understanding of Inka Imperialism

Distant Provinces in the Inka Empire: Toward a Deeper Understanding of Inka Imperialism

by Michael A. Malpass

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Who was in charge of the widespread provinces of the great Inka Empire of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries: Inka from the imperial heartland or local leaders who took on the trappings of their conquerors, either by coercion or acceptance? By focusing on provinces far from the capital of Cuzco, the essays in this multidisciplinary volume provide up-to-date

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Who was in charge of the widespread provinces of the great Inka Empire of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries: Inka from the imperial heartland or local leaders who took on the trappings of their conquerors, either by coercion or acceptance? By focusing on provinces far from the capital of Cuzco, the essays in this multidisciplinary volume provide up-to-date information on the strategies of domination asserted by the Inka across the provinces far from their capital and the equally broad range of responses adopted by their conquered peoples.

 Contributors to this cutting-edge volume incorporate the interaction of archaeological and ethnohistorical research with archaeobotany, biometrics, architecture, and mining engineering, among other fields. The geographical scope of the chapters—which cover the Inka provinces in Bolivia, in southeast Argentina, in southern Chile, along the central and north coast of Peru, and in Ecuador—build upon the many different ways in which conqueror and conquered interacted. Competing factors such as the kinds of resources available in the provinces, the degree of cooperation or resistance manifested by local leaders, the existing levels of political organization convenient to the imperial administration, and how recently a region had been conquered provide a wealth of information on regions previously understudied. Using detailed contextual analyses of Inka and elite residences and settlements in the distant provinces, the essayists evaluate the impact of the empire on the leadership strategies of conquered populations, whether they were Inka by privilege, local leaders acculturated to Inka norms, or foreign mid-level administrators from trusted ethnicities.

 By exploring the critical interface between local elites and their Inka overlords, Distant Provinces in the Inka Empire builds upon Malpass’s 1993 Provincial Inca: Archaeological and Ethnohistorical Assessment of the Impact of the Inca State to support the conclusions that Inka strategies of control were tailored to the particular situations faced in different regions. By contributing to our understanding of what it means to be marginal in the Inka Empire, this book details how the Inka attended to their political and economic goals in their interactions with their conquered peoples and how their subjects responded, producing a richly textured view of the reality that was the Inka Empire.

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Editorial Reviews

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“Malpass and Alconini have assembled a collection of studies reflecting the diversity of theoretical and methodological approaches to Inka provincial strategies. The essays in this volume reflect the dynamic nature of the Inka imperial enterprise, bringing to the fore the role of local interests in the negotiation of administrative practices. The wide range of case studies provides a good reference that adds to a growing international literature.”—R. Alan Covey, Southern Methodist University

“This book is a great success. It presents studies of Inka occupations in various distant provinces of the empire and as such is a companion to the earlier Provincial Inca, edited by Michael Malpass. It makes the case that Inka occupations varied widely, due to a number of factors, and the individual chapters bear this out quite nicely. I find the book to be a significant contribution, especially as it pulls together studies from widely dispersed regions. The concluding chapter, by the volume editors, is especially useful and makes the significance of the entire work quite clear.”—Katharina Schreiber, Department of Anthropology, University of California at Santa Barbara

“Malpass and Alconini have assembled a worthy successor to Provincial Inca. They have spread their net widely to look at aspects of empire outside the highland core, with contributions dealing with the far south and southeast, with the central coast, and, to a lesser extent, with the north (Farfán, Palmitopamba, Ecuador). Using both archaeological methodologies and ethnohistory, they show how the Inka presence outside the Cuzco region varied by the nature of the Inka interest in the area for labor, raw materials, or defense and the varying responses of people to an Inka presence. This book will prove a boon to those who are teaching South American history and archaeology courses and will be of considerable general interest to history buffs as well.”—Karen Olsen Bruhns, San Francisco State University

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Distant Provinces in the Inka Empire

Toward a Deeper Understanding of Inka Imperialism

University of Iowa Press

Copyright © 2010 the University of Iowa Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-58729-869-1

Chapter One

Michael A. Malpass and Sonia Alconini

Provincial Inka Studies in the Twenty-first Century

This book began as a symposium at the 2004 Society for American Archaeology meetings in Montreal. The purpose of the symposium was to bring together researchers who had advanced our ideas about the nature of the Inka Empire, both geographically and in the details of the processes involved. Geographically, the research presented focused on provinces of the empire that were far from the capital of Cuzco. The volume here includes six chapters that cover the southern part of Tawantinsuyu and three that cover the central or northern part. Particularly exciting are the two chapters dealing with the Central and North coasts of Peru, areas where little previous research has been reported. This additional coverage adds more support to the conclusions that have emerged in the past two decades that Inka strategies of control were flexible and tailored to the particular situations faced in different regions.

Another focus of the symposium was to report on studies that added more details about the specific nature of Inka control of their conquered provinces. Four chapters in the current volume report on specific excavations and studies of local and Inka sites that give a more nuanced view of the complex interrelationships that occurred when the Inkas incorporated conquered groups into their empire. The archaeological research shows how the particulars of Inka control were manifested in ways that ethnohistorical documents do not, and perhaps cannot, address.

Five issues emerged from the original symposium as points of discussion about the Inkas: (1) the various forms of Inka imperial control exercised in the provinces as seen through a range of archaeological indicators (that is, settlement patterns, household analysis, cultural material, architecture, bioarchaeology, and so forth); (2) the nature of the interaction of archaeological and ethnohistorical research seeking to understand the various manifestations of Inka imperialism and provincialism; (3) local reactions to imperial control and institutions, including resistance, colonization, and negotiation of power as seen through archaeology and ethno history; (4) the scales of analysis and archaeological correlates used to understand the various forms of Inka provincialism and imperial control (that is, regional-level versus household approaches); and (5) the reevaluation of marginality and marginal provinces in the Inka Empire, or how archaeologists understand and measure imperial marginality, Inka imperialism, and Inka provincialism.

From these five themes, a salient issue addressed by the different contributors to this book involves imperial strategies of domination exerted by the Inkas across their provinces. In order to provide a theoretical framework for such discussion, we first provide a brief overview of the history of studies involving Inka imperialism and forms of Inka imperial control.

Forms of Inka Imperial Control

Empires can be defined as highly extractive polities controlling a vast territory through a combination of political, economic, military, and ideological strategies of domination (Mann 1986:251, 271). As such, empires are by essence multiethnic, plurilinguistic, and multinational as they expand over large expanses of land incorporating a variety of environments and cultures (Alcock et al. 2001; Barfield 2001; D'Altroy 1992, 2002; Schreiber 1992). The study of ancient empires has benefited greatly from core-periphery models emphasizing the dominance of the imperial core in the asymmetric economic and sociopolitical relations established with its peripheries (Wallerstein 1976). As a response to such metrocentric perceptions of imperial control, many studies have emphasized the importance of peripheral regions and their native elite as important catalysts of imperial expansion (Doyle 1986). More recently, the study of empires has broadened to look at not just empires and how we define them but also the relations between empires and adjacent regions, the worldviews of the societies calling themselves empires, the kinds of data on which empires are defined, and the historical aspects of the descriptions of empires (Alcock et al. 2001).

For the Inkas, the study of imperialism has emphasized the flexibility in the forms of control that they used to maintain compliance in the various provinces. In response to a monolithic view of the Inka Empire portrayed in ethnohistorical documents often magnifying the role of the rulers or the might of the empire, the work of Dorothy Menzel in 1959 first recognized the flexibility of imperial control as a response to existing sociopolitical conditions. On the Peruvian coast, she acknowledged, the Inkas, whenever possible, took advantage of existing administrative facilities and bureaucratic apparatuses to minimize imperial expenditures. Such was the case of Chincha, a South Coast society with a strong centralized authority, where the Inkas did not need to establish their own centers of administration, but exploited those in existing enclaves and also delegated the control to native elites. In comparison, she noted that in nearby coastal valleys, such as Ica, with lesser levels of political centralization, the Inkas had to build an administrative infrastructure from scratch by establishing imperial centers in strategic locations while ruling the region in a direct fashion. Therefore, while indirect control was possible in regions with already centralized governments by delegating the administration to native elites, direct rule was exercised where the Inkas targeted resource extraction in regions that had low levels of political centralization and the absence of a bureaucratic apparatus (Menzel 1959).

In more recent years, such notions of direct and indirect Inka rule were expanded into broader theoretical models. In 1992, the work of Katharina Schreiber on the Wari Empire stressed the varying kinds of imperial control in subdued provinces, ranging from direct territorial control to indirect hegemonic rule as ends of a continuum. She also remarked that it is not only very likely that a combination of both forms of control were common in the Inka provinces but also that the degree of imperial rule was a response to three factors: the availability of administrative personnel, the cost-benefit ratio involving direct rule, and the existing levels of political complexity (Schreiber 1992). Depending on whether the local system was adequate for imperial rule, the administrative structures might be left intact or completely reorganized to better respond to imperial needs. In addition, she recognized that depending on the levels of cooperation of indigenous elites and the associated imperial interests, native leaders might be left in place as provincial rulers. Alternatively, if cooperation was not likely, local elites might be completely replaced or simply displaced in the hierarchical structure by adding a third tier of imperial administrators to overlook the regional affairs (Schreiber 1992).

At about the same time, and inspired by the work of Luttwak (1976) and Hassig (1985, 1992) studying the Roman and Aztec empires, respectively, Terry D'Altroy (1992) laid out the mechanics of territorial and hegemonic rule for the Inkas. Using a cost-benefit analysis, he explained that the degree of imperial control in the provinces was usually determined by the intensity of imperial extraction. Therefore, he stressed that imperial control should be envisioned along a continuum, ranging from direct territorial control to indirect hegemonic rule. At one extreme, direct territorial control entailed a high-control, high-extraction strategy where the empire invested significantly in support infrastructure and military control in the provinces in order to ensure large economic gains for the imperial core. In this case, the provinces fell under direct imperial rule. At the other extreme of the spectrum lies indirect hegemonic control, involving a low-control, low-extraction strategy. In this latter case, the empire ruled indirectly through patron-client ties established with native elites with the consequent low levels of economic revenues. The burden of defense was left to local allies with the promise of military support. One advantage of indirect hegemonic rule was that although the economic gains were low, it allowed the empire to expand over large stretches of land with minimum investment. An important aspect of the territorial-hegemonic model is that it stresses the flexibility of imperial rule both in time and space as a response to varying local conditions, including the existing levels of political organization of the subjects, the kinds of resources available, and the goals of the empire vested in the region. Rather than isolated typologies, the territorial-hegemonic model emphasizes the varying forms of imperial domination falling in between both extremes by combining different scales of political, economic, military, and ideological power (D'Altroy 1992).

An important point brought out by a reviewer of this book is the fact that all Inka control was indirect. While governors of provinces were likely Inka elites from Cuzco, kurakas of decimal units from 100 to 10,000 were local elites incorporated into the administrative hierarchy (see also D'Altroy 2002:233-234). The significance of this lies in the fact that the dichotomies of direct/indirect and territorial/hegemonic must be reconsidered as absolute categories and not as ends of a continuum of forms of control. What we see in the archaeological record is not so much evidence of Inka officials administering the distant provinces from the top levels to the bottom, but local ones under the control of an imperial official, likely the local governor. What needs to be explained in the archaeological record is why some local officials manifested Inka expressions of power, like house form and imperial ceramics, while others did not - in other words, the degree of Inkanization that regional chiefs had as tools of political self-legitimization, imperial imposition, and inter-elite competition. Therefore, the interface between the local elites and their Inka overlords becomes the critical factor. Clearly, a finer level of analysis is needed to understand this interface, which is provided by four of the essays in this volume (chapters 4, 5, 6, and 9).

Related to the issue of direct versus indirect control is the territorial versus hegemonic continuum. As stated above, a territorial strategy implies direct control over a province with heavy investment by the Inkas for maximum extraction of resources. The control often assumes a large contingent of Inka personnel for managing the activities, since no local organization is present. A hegemonic strategy implies indirect control with a reduced level of extraction of resources. In this latter situation, the Inkas used local leaders to rule indirectly. Of course, a combination of these strategies is likely, depending on the combination of military, political, and ideological forms of control.

The fact that Inka imperial rule was always indirect in the provinces, as suggested by the reviewer, brings up interesting issues involving the different scales of analysis when one seeks to understand the makeup of empires - in this case, the Inka. On the one hand, we have information that Inka orejones (members of the Inka nobility, distinguished by their large ear spools) and Inkas-by-Privilege (honorary Inkas from a variety of ethnicities from the Cuzco region) were central in the expansion of the empire (Covey 2006; D'Altroy 2002; Rowe 1946; Rostworowski de Diez Canseco 1988). In fact, the uppermost positions in the army were reserved for them in order to ensure loyalty, whereas the annexation of new territories and tributaries, either through warfare or diplomacy, benefited directly members of the royal elite. New territories and people implied a resource base for the competing panaqa elite lineages of the empire (Conrad and Demarest 1984; D'Altroy 2002). On the other hand, we also know that the organization of the provinces was usually delegated to local lords using a decimal form of administration of tributaries and resources (Julien 1987). Of course, this depended on whether the local chiefs sought to preserve and even aggrandize their positions in the emerging power structure or if they resisted Inka conquest.

Whereas top provincial positions were filled with Inka orejones as direct representatives of the empire, whether or not they resided in the provinces, intermediate administrative positions were usually filled with low-ranking bureaucrats of native origins. In a way, the assertion that Inka imperial control in the subject provinces was always indirect is true, if one views this from a bottom-up perspective. From a top-down perspective, one can argue that the imperial elites, those from Cuzco and from royal panaqa lineages, sought to establish a direct exercise of control through the mediation of intermediate elites (Covey 2006; Morris and Santillana 2007). Other factors being equal, it was in the interest of the imperial elites to maximize their revenues by incorporating midranking bureaucrats from the subject provinces through a range of strategies. That is, the optimally balanced control entailed the combination of indirect and direct forms of control in order to ensure the maximum benefits with the least cost (for more discussion, see Alconini 2008). In this context, the diverse reactions of the local elites, whether they became fully or partially Inkanized, or even remained loyal to their cultural traditions, is an aspect that deserves further exploration.

Therefore, issues that are central in understanding the ways in which the Inkas exercised control in their distant provinces involve a set of related variables. Even though the degree of investment in imperial infrastructure (such as roads, elaborate facilities, temples, administrative centers, extensive agricultural terraces, and warehouses) usually correlates with degrees of control, one needs to be aware of the nuanced politics of imperial control. One can assume that a sustained investment in a region implies a direct form of control and therefore marked economic extraction (and vice-versa). However, depending on the nature of interaction with local leaders, the shifting balance of power, and the imperial interests in the region, this task may be either delegated to native chiefs, to intermediate Inkas-by-Privilege bureaucrats, or even to non-Inkanized trusted ethnicities.

Alternatively, the presence of an existing local infrastructure in conquered regions does not preclude additional organizational changes by the Inkas to develop the decimal administrative system to manage the province. Elevating local elites must have been a tricky thing to do, as there would have been competing factions that could have been appropriate for a given position. While the chroniclers tell us that the Inkas tried to follow local kinship and political norms and existing leadership, in hierarchically organized societies like the Chimú, this could have been problematic.

As will be illustrated in this book, Inka imperial control was more complicated than one would expect from the traditional direct territorial or indirect hegemonic model. To cite a few examples, some provinces evidenced their progressive incorporation from indirect to direct control on a temporal scale (see chapter 3). In other regions with marked levels of sociopolitical complexity, such as the Peruvian North Coast, recent research shows more than expected evidence of direct rule within an otherwise hegemonic circumstance (see chapter 9). In other provinces, such as those in the southern parts of the empire, both indirect and direct rule appear to have been strategically combined, forming a landscape dotted with pockets of direct control, a strategy defined as selectively intense (D'Altroy et al. 2007; Williams and D'Altroy 1998). The question, then, is who is in charge of these pockets - Inkas from the heartland or locals who took on the trappings of their conquerors, either by coercion or acceptance?

Some contributors to this book indicate the importance of analyzing imperial domination and colonization from a bottom-up perspective. Using an agent-oriented approach, Félix Acuto (chapter 5) points to the nuanced ways that local people responded to the Inkas. Taking into consideration inner processes of competition, both in the provinces and the imperial core at the ethnic, class, and faction levels, it is not surprising that the Inkas had to accommodate a range of circumstances in order to exert domination. Indeed, D'Altroy (2001) has noted how even different Inka elite groups would use imperial power to gain private resources both near to and distant from Cuzco, in contrast to the state uses of conquered lands. This provides another intriguing avenue for understanding the complexity of the Inka Empire, though one not discussed by authors in this book.

As presented in this volume, detailed contextual analyses and bioarchaeological research in Inka and elite residences of the distant provinces are useful to evaluate the impact of the empire on the leadership strategies of Inkanized populations, whether they were Inkas-by-Privilege, Inkanized kurakas, or foreign midlevel administrators from trusted ethnicities.

The Interaction of Archaeological and Ethnohistorical Research

Virtually all the chapters in this book discuss the intersection of archaeology and ethnohistory. The complementarity between archaeology and ethnohistory as sources of information has almost become a truism in Inka studies, reflected in the research presented here. Of some interest in this volume is the research conducted in the far distant regions of the empire, Ecuador and Chile. The work of Ron Lippi and Alejandra Gudiño (chapter 10) provides new information on the ethnohistorical and archaeological evidence of Inka activities in Ecuador. The works of Jack Rossen et al. (chapter 2) and Calógero Santoro et al. (chapter 3) provide information about poorly known regions of Chile. The latter especially demonstrates how archaeology is changing our views of Inka control that were based on a very fragmentary ethnohistorical basis. The chapters on Bolivia and Argentina by Sonia Alconini (chapter 4), Félix Acuto (chapter 5), Claudia Rivera Casanovas (chapter 6), and Mary Van Buren and Ana María Presta (chapter 7) refine the outlines of Inka domination that had already been worked out. In these areas, the detailed archaeological investigations begin to fill in the blanks in our knowledge.


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