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A kuraka (Quechua for the principal governor of a province or a communal authority in the Tawantinsuyu) was an official of the Inca Empire who held the role of magistrate, about 4 levels down from the Sapa Inca, the head of the Empire. The kurakas were the heads of the ayllus (clan-like family units). They served as tax collector, and held religious authority, in that they mediated between the supernatural sphere and the mortal realm. They were responsible for making sure the spirit world blessed the mortal one with prosperity, and were held accountable should disaster strike, such as a drought.
The kuraka was an aristocrat who frequently, but not always, descended from the previous generation. Kuraka means 'superior' or 'principal', and his authority was granted by the Inca. Each ayllu actually had four kurakas: upper and lower (hanan and hurin), and each of these had an assistant. However, of the four, one kuraka was still superior to the rest.
One of the functions of the kurakas was to choose a bride for adult males, aged 25 and over, who could not choose, or had not chosen, a wife. The kurakas could also decide, in the event two men wanted to marry the same woman, which man would be allowed to marry. The kurakas also dealt with minor crimes, but had to refer major crimes to the provincial capital. Among other duties, the curaca settled disputes, allocated agricultural lands, organized community events, and officiated ceremonies.
The kurakas suffered a transformation during the first years of Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire. Although they continued to be the chiefs of the people and ayllus, they were no longer the ethnic traditional chiefs they had been in pre-Columbian times. The kurakas ceased to control the communal administration and no longer had the workforce or human energy necessary for the making of redistribution networks.
The kurakas were no longer elected (as they were in pre-Hispanic times), but were chosen by the chief magistrate. This exposed them to the fury of the people when the taxes were too great, and to the displeasure of the chief magistrate.
- Teofilo Laime Ajacopa, Diccionario Bilingüe Iskay simipi yuyayk'ancha, La Paz, 2007 (Quechua-Spanish dictionary)
- Diccionario Quechua - Español - Quechua, Academía Mayor de la Lengua Quechua, Gobierno Regional Cusco, Cusco 2005 (Quechua-Spanish dictionary)
- Incas: lords of gold and glory. New York: Time-Life Books. 1992. p. 61. ISBN 0-8094-9870-7.
- Ramírez, Susan E. (2005). To feed and be fed: the cosmological bases of authority and identity in the Andes. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press. p. 135. ISBN 0-8047-4922-1.
- Earle, Timothy K.; Johnson, Allen W. (1987). The evolution of human societies: from foraging group to agrarian state. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press. p. 263. ISBN 0-8047-1339-1.
- Jean-Jacques Decoster; Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa; Sarmiento de Gamboa, Pedro; Vania Smith; Bauer, Brian S. (2007). The history of the Incas. Austin: University of Texas Press. pp. 146, 147. ISBN 0-292-71485-8.
- McEwan, Gordon Francis. The Incas: New Perspectives. W. W. Norton. pp. 96–98. ISBN 0-393-33301-9.
- Incas: lords of gold and glory. New York: Time-Life Books. 1992. p. 132. ISBN 0-8094-9870-7.
- Incas: lords of gold and glory. New York: Time-Life Books. 1992. p. 138. ISBN 0-8094-9870-7.