Incan Art History as done by Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala

1, 2. Inka clothed female figurines, 13th-16th Century

3. The Tenth Inca, Topa Inca Yupanqui

The term used by Guaman Poma to refer to Inka nobles is orejon. This word may in fact be derived from the Spanish oreja, which means “ear”.The reason this word was used to identify nobles was because they wore special earplugs that distinguished them from common Inca. In writing about the people of Puquina Colla, a (region) in the Inka Empire, he writes that “since they were lazy, they did not achieve enough for the privilege of Inca earplugs; for that reason they were called puquis, millma rinri [dumb, wool ears]”. In contrast, Inka nobility often wore gold earplugs. 

This is only one example of how the Inka understood clothing and used it to relate to society. The closeness of imperial rank and one’s garments is expressed clearly in the Nueva Córonica, as Poma includes a detailed description and illustration of each Inka ruler’s garments in telling the history of the empire. Above, he illustrates the Tenth Inca, Topa Inca Yupanqui, and writes that “He had a helmet of anas pacra, dark color; the fringe, a club, and a shield; his cloak blue and tunic all of tocapos and four fastenings on his feet”(83[111]). The tocapos to which he refers are the grid-like designs that cover Topa Inca Yupanqui’s cloak. These tocapos, to someone living in the Inka Empire, indicated how proficient the ruler was in imperial conquest. Not coincidentally, in the same passage - just as he does with his description of each and every Inka ruler - Poma details the ruler’s conquests; “Besides what his father took, he conquered half of Huanuco Allauca, Chinchaycocha, Tarma, all themountain regions of Lima; Huno Huaylla, ten thousand Indians; Conchuco, Cajatambo”(85[111]). Topa Inca Yupanqui, clearly, commanded impressive imperial power during his rule, and this shows in the multitude of tocapos that adorn his cloak.

But Topa Inca Yupanqui’s imperial prowess did not cease with conquest. “He was the one who ordered all the royal roads and bridges be kept in good repair”, Poma writes; “He established the runners, hatun chasque [principal messengers], and the churo chasque [shell trumpet messengers] and the lodgings [….]He spoke with the huacas every year. He ordered the ancient ordinances be obeyed and later made other ordinances. He started organizing his property and the community property and the storehouses with much order, accounting and quipo officials throughout the kingdom”(85[111]). The ruler organized his territories with great efficiency and care, employing officials, tapping the spiritual resonance of the huacas, and maintaining the Empire’s knowledge through quipo scholars.

Thus, a ruler’s dress refers both to the Empire and his relationship to it; to dominance and to the living networks, such as the quipo and huacas, of knowledge and spirit which flowed from all locations in the Empire’s spectrum of power.

  • 2 April 2012
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