The Role of Women in the Acllawasi

Young Women from Cuzco

The acllawasi that in the Quechua language means: Aclla – virgin woman, chosen woman and Wasi – house, was the house of the virgin women. It is said that in the Inca period the army traveled to different regions of Tahuantinsuyo to choose the most beautiful and intelligent women between 8 and 12 years old and brought them to the Acllawasis where the mamaconas who were like the teachers instructed the novices.

These acllawasis were compared by the Spaniards to the Christian convents, but their functions were very different. In the Acllawasis they learned textile art, since they were the work force for the manufacture of fabric, culinary arts, courtesanship and religion. These virgin women were the only ones who could prepare the sacred drink used for the ceremonies (chicha), made from the fermentation of white corn.

Only a group of these women of the Acllawasi were destined to the cult of the sun, which remained virgin all their life. Others were given in gifts as wives and concubines for the lords with whom the sovereign wished to ingratiate themselves,. These could be curacas or noble warriors. The women might also be a reward for the conquests made. The Inca chose the most beautiful women as his concubines.

Most of these virgin women were daughters of provincial and Cuzco elites. Leaving the ayllu from where they came, they acquired a higher status than the common people because they happened to serve the Inca directly, and therefore, the sun.

The Acllawasis were sacred places and there was always one in every place where there was a temple of the sun, such is the case of Machupicchu, Ollantaytambo, Cusco. It was a place of worship in which only women lived. The Inca could not enter this place nor any other male, only the Coya that was the wife of the Inca could enter.

In the city of Cusco, the original foundations of the Acllawasi can still be seen. They are made in well carved stone and pare perfectly assembled in the finest technique of stone work “the Inca imperial technique”. This shows the importance the acllawasi had as an important center of worship.

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