Aclla is Quechua for a Sundaughter. Acllakuna is often translated the chosen women; huasi means house. We are at the remains of the acllahuasi, which Garcilaso described:
A quarter of the city of Cusco was called Acllahuasi, House of the Chosen Women. The quarter is between two streets that run from the main square to the convent of St. Dominic, which used to be the house of the Sun.
Cusco has undergone tremendous changes, but the traces of the House of the Chosen Women are easy to find. The walls of the perfectly adjusted stones in Arequipa and Loreto, the two narrow alleys that Garcilaso mentions, are the original ones; location and the quality of the masonry reveal that it has been a significant building.
Today, the settlement has other functions: a nunnery museum, a hotel and a shopping center. A few years ago, some of the old facade wall of the transverse Maruri Street was broken down, and it triggered rage, graffiti, lit candles, and demonstrations with knocking and kicks on the tin plates that were to shield the site.
When the remodel was over, the shopping center with expensive clothes for women was named Yma Sumac, called after Perus remarkable 20th century microphone singer who, with explosive energy, could swing over four-and-a-half octaves, and whose name can be translated into Beautiful Girl.
Cieza had used the word pleasures about the Incas relations with women. Garcilaso, on the other hand, was discreet and described the Sun as the groom of the Sun-daughters and paraphrased the Incas sex with the women to the Sun should have children.
Incas confusion of sex and divine worship must have provoked deep Christian faiths.
Scholar of religion Lundager Jensen recalls that the ban on entering the sanctuary after sexual intercourse without prior cleansing is generally widespread in the Mediterranean-Middle Eastern area.
That Garcilaso mentioned incasex more carefully than Cieza had done may be due to he picked up the memory from what he, as a boy in his mothers family, had heard, that he had become old and / or that he wanted to do his utmost to present the Incas in the most nobel way in his book to Spanish readers.
About acllawasi and its residents wrote Garcilaso:
They called it the House of the Chosen because the nuns were chosen for their rank or beauty; they must be virgins, and to ensure this, they were set apart at the age of eight years or under.
As the virgins of the house of Cusco were dedicated to the Sun, they had to be of his own blood, or daughters of Incas, either of the king or of members of his family, and legitimate and free from all foreign blood. Those with any taint of foreign blood, or bastards, were not admitted into the house in Cusco of which we speak. The reason they gave was that as only incorrupt virgins were set aside for the Sun, so it would have been unlawful to offer to him a bastard with any taint of foreign blood.
They reasoned that the Sun would have children and that they must not be bastards with a mixture of human with their divine blood. The women devoted to the Sun must therefore be of the legitimate royal blood, which was that of the Sun himself. There were usually more than fifteen hundred nuns, but there was no established limit of number.
Within the house there were senior women who had grown old in their vocation. If they had entered it long ago they were called Mamacuna because of their age and of the office they performed.
Garcilaso had remembered, dipped the goose feather in the ink and then wrote that the nuns should be of the Suns own blood – or daughters of the Incas, either by the king or by members of his family. Suns own blood – can the myth become more alienating, more mythical, more mysterious?
At the same time as Garcilaso wrote his Royal Commentaries in Spain, Felipe Guáman Poma de Ayala drew and described six classes of women in the acclahuasi. About the fourth class he wrote that they were beautiful, served the Inca, were princesses, wove clothes, made chicha and food, but they did not sin.
His contemporaries, the Christian Indian Pachacuti-yamqui wrote that the 3rd Inca had divided the Sun-daughters into four categories: those who were to serve Viracocha, the Inca, curacas, and the common people. According to him, therefore, the chosen women were not reserved for the Inca.
Blas Valera, mestizo, Jesuit priest and contemporary of the three mentioned authors, wanted to present Inca-religion as close to Christianity as possible. He is said to have designated the chosen women as nuns; they had served the moon Quilla and carried the silver image of the moon, but they also served in the temples of the Sun. The Sun-daughters had had a superior, Mama Aclla, who Valera characterized as a kind of abbess. Much could sound like a Catholic nunnery.
In the Inca time, the chosen women had spun wool and woven cumbi, cloth for idols and the Inca, prepared illai tanta, the sacred bread, and chicha, corn beer, for ceremonies – it could sound like wafer and altar wine! The Sundaughters were also responsible for keeping Nina villca, the eternal flame in Coricancha.
Ondegardo, a Spanish judge and writer in Cusco in the middle of the 16th century, claimed that most of the women in the acclahuasi had been forced to live there. Spanish soldiers believed that the chosen Incawomen were witches, so they raped many of them. Valera must have written that many of the women accepted baptism and became nuns for Jesus Christ.
Today, historians believe that the chosen women were well-guarded and that there was death penalty for unauthorized people who had sex with a Sun-daughter. Only the Inca had sex with them, whether it happened as part of a ritual or / and to satisfy his sexual desires. The women bore sufficient sons, so from here could be recruited military and civilian officials loyal to the Inca, who were their biological father, but also in ritual sense and possibly also emotionally.
Beautiful young women could be retrieved from all over the realm. If the Inca wanted to establish a closer relationship with a chief, ie. to this tribe, that is the tribes territory and laborforce, he could choose the local chiefs most beautiful daughter. This invitation could become a force – provided that the chief did not perceive the Incas choice as a personal loss because the daughter was to move to the House of the Chosen Women. When the woman had given birth to the child of the Inca, it through her mother would be affiliated with her home, and thus be able to tie the realm further together.
It is wrong to call acllawasi a brothel, for the Sun-daughters were reserved for the Inca. I don’t think the chosen women can be called neither mistresses nor wives. I have used the word concubine, even though it resembles Roman culture; today we have lost the original meaning of the Medival word mistress. The chosen women had few rights, but individual rights had in general a different character in the Inca society than we are used to.
Children of the Chosen women were recognized as the Incas and it could give the experience of having achieved a high status.
(pp. 158-161 in volume 2, reproduced without notes and illustrations):
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO AZTECS AND INCAS: MYTHS AND STORIES FROM MEXICO AND PERU. Edited, translated, retold and commented by Mikael Witte. Volume 1 + Volume 2
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