A Socialist Empire: The Incas of Peru

By Louis Baudin; Arthur Goddard et al. | Go to book overview

5
The Substructure: The Agrarian Community

1. The Clan

The basis of all regional organization, the agrarian community, was invested with such importance before the time of the Incas that Cunow and his disciples regard it as the very foundation of the social system of the empire.1 This community appears to have been the result of a centuries-old evolution. Its origin is lost in the ages before the dawn of history, and in many parts of South and Central America we find it still today virtually unchanged. Through it the empire of the Incas thrust its roots deeply into the past and continues to maintain a kind of penumbral existence in the present within the framework of modern legislation.

The primordial cell of Peruvian society was the ayllu, a clan made up of all the descendants of a common ancestor, real or supposed. Every ayllu had its totem (pacarisca, the engendering being). Garcilaso reports that the common people believed themselves to be descended from animals -- puma, condor, snake 2 -- and, indeed, some of the Nazca pottery represents beasts so stylized that they seem human.3 But the totems were not only living creatures; sometimes they comprised inanimate objects, such as mountains or rivers, and sometimes natural phenomena like thunder and lightning.4

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