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Segmentary State Formation and the Ritual Control of Water Under the Incas

  • Peter Gose (a1)

There is a strange and unacknowledged paradox in the historiography of the Incas. On the one hand, few would deny that theirs was a typically theocratic archaic state, a divine kingship in which the Inca was thought the son of the Sun. On the other hand, the standard descriptions of Inca political structure barely mention religion and seem to assume a formal separation between state and cult.1 I believe that these secularizing accounts are misguided and will show in this essay that the political structure of the pre-Columbian Andes took form primarily around a system of sacred ancestral relics and origin points known generically as huacas. Each huaca defined a level of political organization that might nest into units of a higher order or subdivide into smaller groupings. Collectively they formed a segmentary hierarchy that transcended the boundaries of local ethnic polities and provided the basis for empires like that of the Incas. However, these huacas were also the focus of local kinship relations and agrarian fertility rituals. The political structure that they articulated therefore had a built-in concern for the metaphysical reproduction of human, animal, and plant life. Political power in the pre-Columbian Andes was particularly bound up with attempts to control the flow of water across the frontier of life and death, resulting in no clear distinction between ritual and administration.

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G. Feeley-Harnik 1985. “Issues in Divine Kingship.” Annual Review of Anthropology, 14: 273313.

C. Julien 1988. “How Inca Decimal Administration Worked.” Ethnohistory, 35:3, 257–79.

S. MacCormack 1984. “From the Sun of the lncas to the Virgin of Copacabana.” Representations, 8: 3060.

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Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
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