Aclla (Quechua: aklla or aqlla, pl. aqllakuna), also called Chosen Women, Virgins of the Sun, and Wives of the Inca, were sequestered women in the Inca Empire. They were virgins, chosen at about age 10. They performed several services. They were given in marriage to men who had distinguished themselves in service to the empire; they produced luxury items, weaving fine cloth, preparing ritual food, and brewing the chicha (beer) drunk at religious festivals; and some, the most "perfect", were selected as human sacrifices for religious rites. Others lived out their lives in a monastic environment.
Selection and training
The Inca Empire (1438-1533) created, or adopted from earlier cultures, several institutions to manage the labor of the people in the territory it ruled. Among the institutions were the mit'a, the yanakuna, and the aclla.
Each year the Inca government sent out representatives, called apupanaca, to collect girls eight to ten years old from the provinces as tribute for the state. The girls selected were mostly from the higher social classes, frequently coming from the families of non-Inca provincial leaders. The girls were sent for training in provincial centers to live together in complexes of buildings called acllawasi (house of the chosen women) which might have up up to 200 women in residence.
The girls were trained for about 4 years in religion, spinning and weaving, preparation of food, and brewing chicha. They then became mamakuna (priestesses) and were married to prominent men or assigned to religious duties. The most skilled and physically perfect were sent to Cuzco, the capital of the empire, and might become secondary wives or concubines of the Inca emperor and other noblemen. A few were destined to be sacrificed in a religious ceremony called capacocha. Recently discovered archaeological evidence contained the remains of a male aclla.
The use of acllas was tied to kinship and the maintenance of hegemony within the empire. The family of a chosen aclla would be raised in social status. The acllas themselves would honour the main Inca gods and be honoured in return. Those not sacrificed at Cuzco might be returned to their own communities and be sacrificed there. This would create a ritual bond between Cuzco and the local region; Cuzco had taken a member of the local community and made them a representative of the central state. The aclla had been blessed by the Emperor and became the guardian of the local huacas. This signaled the entrance of the empire into local tradition and religion. This tying of the centre to the periphery was one of the most important aspects of the sacrifice of acllas. The story of Tanta Carhua is one such account of the process of binding the centre and the periphery together.
Colonial documents contain record of Tanta Carhua, who was sacrificed as a capacocha in her home ayllu of Urcon. After visiting Cuzco and being honoured by the emperor, Tanta Carhua was credited with saying “You can finish with me now because I could not be more honoured than by the feasts which they celebrated for me in Cuzco." Upon her return home, Tanta’s father became the curaca of his ayllu. Tanta was deified and her “sacrifice... ritually asserted her father’s, and father’s descendants’, new role as a nexus between Urcon and Cuzco while dramatizing the community’s subordination to Cuzco.”
- Costin, Cathy Lynne (1998), "Housewives, Chosen Women, Skilled Men: Cloth Production and Social Identity in the Late Prehistoric Andes," Archaeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association, vol. 8, No. 1, p. 134
- D'Altroy, Terence N. (2003), The Incas, Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, p. 189
- Irene Silverblatt (January 1988). Inca Imperial Dilemmas, Kinship, and History. 83-102: Comparative Studies in Society and History Vol. 30. No. 1: Cambridge University Press.
- Liesl Clark. "The Sacrificial Ceremony". Retrieved 2011-02-13.