Experiencing Inca Domination in Northwestern Argentina and the Southern Andes

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Andean scholars often perceive northwestern Argentina in particular, and the South Andes in general, as a marginal area of Tawantinsuyu (literally, “land of the four quarters”, the Inca name for their Empire) and, therefore, that Inca domination had a shallow impact on local societies. There are a number of reasons for this perception. First, the South Andes are far from the core of the Empire. Second, Inca architecture and material objects in this part of Tawantinsuyu are not as abundant as in the Central Andes, nor do they exhibit, in comparison, high quality and great investment of labor. Third, toward the end of Tawantinsuyu’s history, the Incas were clearly more interested in the northern frontier than in the southlands. Fourth, it is generally believed that Inca occupation only lasted a few years in this southern corner of Tawantinsuyu, from approximately AD 1470 until the Spanish conquest [Note 1].

Contrary to these ideas, I claim that Inca domination profoundly influenced the indigenous societies of the South Andes. Through the analysis of Inca domination from the point of view of the colonized, and how subjects experienced this new political context, I demonstrate the momentous impact Inca conquest had on native societies’ social life. First, I explore how the Inca conquest altered social dynamics among communities and created new social relations between different groups. While some native communities were affected by and marginalized from these relations, others benefited from Inca occupation. Then I move on to examine the transformations that Inca domination promoted in subject communities’ social and political structures. Next, I consider the ways indigenous people may have experienced Incaic places. I claim that this constituted a dramatic experience that shaped the identity of the colonized, as well as the identities of those whom the Incas sent as their representatives. In the final section I assess the aftermath of the Incas, demonstrating that Inca domination left an indelible mark on South Andean communities’ social practices and memory.