Inca garment offers insights into pre-Columbian culture

Researchers gained new insight into relations between the Inca central authority and its subordinated provinces by studying a piece of clothing found in northern Chile. The garment, an “unku,” was typically worn by imperial officials. Irregularities in its design suggest that relations between the central Inca authority and its provinces were somewhat flexible.

A paper published by George Washington University researchers who studied a piece of Inca garment found in Chile’s north provides new understanding about the fusion of Inca culture and local traditions in the empire’s provinces.

The garment, called unku, was found in Vítor Bay on the border with Peru, far from the ancient capital of Cusco. The area was conquered not too long before the empire disintegrated.

An unku was worn by imperial officials, who had to receive the tunic from a peer. They looked similar across the imperial provinces as they had to be woven in line with standards mandated by the central authority, turning them into some kind of uniform. 

The Inca Empire

But the fabric of the unku found in Chile also contains subtle local characteristics, typical of the area’s culture, according to the paper, which was published in early February. The mix of mandated and local features provides some insight into how the colonized dealt with imperial rules. It suggests the Inca allowed for some flexibility and acknowledged the importance of local identities and cultures, even when it came to uniforms, which have always been a symbol of central power. 

At its height, the empire stretched from modern-day Ecuador to what is now Chile’s Talca region. But the Mapuche living there stopped further expansion. The Inca tried to intimidate and entice them, but when these efforts failed, the Battle of the Maule ensued, probably in the late 15th century. Although no clear winner emerged, the Inca never made new attempts to move further south.

Also read:

The Kapak Nan: the lifeblood of the Inca Empire running through Chile

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