Housewives, Chosen Women, Skilled Men: Cloth Production and Social Identity in the Late Prehispanic Andes



Cloth was the most economically, politically, and rituaUy valuable item in the late prehispanic Andes, and it might be expected that producers, distributors and consumers of this valuable would compete to capture the symbolic significance of these goods as an attribute or identity for themselves. Much has been said of the elite patrons of the textile arts in the Andes; far less has been said of the producers. Cloth production traditionally employed domestic – largely female – labor for both utilitarian and wealth production. The Inka state expanded textile production by taxing conquered households and by developing two new categories of specialist weavers. In reorganizing the economy, the Inka redefined the social identities of cloth producers to ensure that the symbolic significance of cloth accrued to the state, rather than to producers. The traditional category of domestic producers were dissociated from their products, likely seeing their own status diminish as the value of their products increased. The aqUakuna category of female specialist weavers enjoyed an idealized high status commensurate with the value of the exquisite cloth they wove, but at a high personal cost, as they remained sequestered virgins under control of the state.