Last updated: September 14, 2019
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The Latin American Woman from 1825

Impacts of the Spanish conquest on Inca and Aztec women

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Prior to Pre-Hispanic conquest, Latin America is composed of   already established societies or ethnic groups. Among these are: the Inca Society, which is part of Peru; and the Aztec Empire, that now belongs to Mexico. Religion, politics, economics, education, and family of these two ethnic societies acknowledge women as important equals of their male counterpart. The role of women in their culture opposes those of women which belong to the Spanish Patriarchal society. Inca and Aztec females were not mere subordinates to the men of their civilization but instead work as contemporaries and have political, social, and religious powers that distinguish their role in their non-colonial world(Rogers, 2007).

The Inca were people of the ethnic or native civilization of the country Peru(Lanning, 1967). Unlike the Spanish women who belongs to the Patriarchal civilization, Inca women posses influence and power in their society. Religion in their civilization is based on cosmos and applies their belief in the duality of nature in their way of living. They believe in a hermaphroditic nature of their god, Viracocha so man and women live as complimentary gender. Women head as priestesses the cult of the goddesses as counterpart of those of the cult of Gods which is headed by men. Due to gender parallelism women inherit there land and wealth from their mothers(Silverblatt, 1987).

The comic duality of the Aztec Empire religion brought about the distinct function of women as equal of men in maintaining the balance of their civilization. The Aztec female genders like the males have the freedom to acquire, inherit, and own wealth; and live in a social status according to kinship and lineages. This independence allowed women to pursue their own careers and have strong authoritarian positions in the society such as administrative ranks in market places, priestesses, merchants, teachers, healers, and embroiders. Women are encouraged to gain knowledge through schools and acquire skills in different fields. Gender parallelism consent having females as significant factors in their religion; examples are beliefs in Goddesses and having priestesses that performs religious obligations(Rogers, 2007).

Spanish colonialists in order to assert their power and rule over the Aztec people used their religion which is Christianity to destroy the social structure of the indigenous people. The patriarchical Spaniards established their reign by imposing the change of the gender roles of the Aztec women; they also required the natives to embrace their religion and social hierarchy by considering the native religion and cultural practices to be of demonic origin. The indigenous Aztec female roles were transformed according to the Patriarchal society which imposes limits to the social and political power that can be held by this native female gender. They confined the Aztec women to household activities and imprisoned their freedom to pursue personal interests as significant component of the society(Rogers, 2007).

Transformation of the roles of women from being equal with man to being subordinates in the Patriarchal society of the Spanish colonial world is the main impact of the conquest to the indigenous Latin American people. There privileges as women with political, social, and economic power are lost as well as their right to own properties as individuals of the society. The main difference between the impacts of Spanish conquest to the Inca and Aztec women is that the Aztec women found ways to incorporate their religious ideals in that of Christianity. The Aztec women retained some of their positions in the society because of the death of numerous men which is caused by Old World diseases. Though at the later part of the colonial period the Spaniards had strict implementation of gender practices in Patriarchal society, some Aztec women especially those of Royal Lineage find ways to gain power and position in the colonial society. They practice Christianity in public but still inculcate their children with their native religious beliefs(Rogers, 2007).

The Role of Indigenous Women in the Tupi society

The Tupi people are native Indians. Various tribes compose this ethnic group that dwell in South America specifically in the territories of Brazil. Tupi people live in small villages near forests(Levine, 1999). They share the same language, culture, and belief but never had a single ruler that unified all the tribes. The Agriculture they know how to use is of simple type; wherein they cut and burn trees in an area and then plant beans, corn, pumpkins, peanuts, and squashes(Metcalf, 2005). The foods they usually gather are root crops from their agriculture, fish, and fruits of trees like berries present in those places they reside(Levine, 1999). The Tupi males have the task of burning the trees while the women weed the area and plant their crops(Dean, 1997). Their semi-nomadic nature is due to the search for animals to hunt and new farming lands. The houses they live called malocas is made of palm and can accommodate up to thirty families(Levine, 1999).

Indigenous women of the tribes in Brazil wear only small pieces of clothing or nothing at all. Portraits drawn by seventeenth century artists confirm this claim and even until now the descendants of the Tupis continue to dress like their ancestors. Their good mothering nature is depicted in their taking care of their offspring’s such as during breastfeeding and carrying their children in their hips(Brienen, 2007). In some Brazilian tribes such as in Tupi-Kawahib all of the tribe’s children are taken care of or mothered by the wives of the chieftain. Their polygamous society did not hinder the nurturing and caring of their young. Hundreds of kilometers from south of Arawete resides the Tapirape tribe. A woman in this tribe can have a series of sexual intercourse even though the woman is already gotten pregnant by a tribe member. This cultural practice results in a child having a primary father and many secondary fathers. The Tupi culture is practicing a polygamous concept of relationships so even though a woman is with a steady partner other tribe members can have sexual intercourse with her(Beckerman, 2002).

Men and women roles in this society are not based on gender equality but instead more of a man dominated world. While the men of the Tupi society hunt animals for food the women are left to tend to their temporary dwelling and children. When the women are planting their crops the men guard them to protect them against their enemies(Dean, 1997). Men in their tribes are trained by their elders to be warriors that defend their group during tribal wars and presence of enemies. Tribal wars are said to be common in Tupi people and usually it leads to the capturing and killing of their enemies in as offering to their deities during rituals. They also practice cannibalism wherein they ate there prisoners from war(Levine, 1999).

In there society’s political system, the highest possible rank a woman could have is being a wife of the chieftain. Their tribe’s leaders are men that inherited their positions from their forefathers. Each tribe has its own council of elders; and even in this committee only the senior men of their tribe are included.

Religious deities are also based from nature but the women are not permitted to be the highest priestesses of their rituals. It is common in this group of tribes to have Shaman which are men that perform dual roles – priests and healers. Although there are Shamans that are women capable of uttering many chants that can cure diseases, they are under the leadership of the Nimongarai or senior male shamans that presides their ceremony(Clastres, 1995). Women of Tupi civilization do not have responsibilities of leading cults like in the Inca and Aztec. Due to their semi-nomadic nature, there are also no elaborate temples for religious rituals like the aforementioned two Latin civilizations. The male dominance in the society is manifested even in their religious rituals(Clastres, 1995).

In contrast to the gender role of the women of Inca and the Aztec, the principal role of the women in the Tupi tribe is domesticated in nature. Women in this society were the one’s who farm, prepare food, and take care of their children(Dean, 1997). The individual woman’s pursuit of power and politics in their society as well as wealth is not part of the role played by the Tupi women. They help their tribe sustain the basic needs like food and nurture the young generations.
















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Clastres, H. (1995). The Land-without-Evil: Tupi-Guarani Prophetism. University of Illinois Press.

Dean, W. (1997). With Broadax and Firebrand: The Destruction of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest: University of California Press.

Lanning, E. P. (1967). Peru before the Incas: Prentice-Hall.

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Metcalf, A. C. (2005). Family and Frontier in Colonial Brazil: Santana de Parnaíba, 1580-1822: University of Texas Press

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Silverblatt, I. M. (1987). Moon, Sun, and Witches: Gender Ideologies and Class in Inca and Colonial Peru. Princeton University Press.