Inka Borders and the Power of Volatility: on the Fringes and Edges of Textile and Territory
Inka elites of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries used certain textiles as indices of identity that registered value and status to viewers but also used textiles to make material and evident how they understood certain relationships in spatial terms. My dissertation revolves around how Inka textiles articulated ideas of space, serving as critical materializations of how they organized space and, relatedly, how they conceived edges of their territory as well as other border spaces. The Inkas used textiles to express relationships that existed in physical terms but also that existed across socio-cultural or spiritual networks. With particular attention to textile borders, I discuss how the Inkas visualized border spaces as volatile but productive. Textile border areas may be seen as expressions of elusive ontological border areas; for example, those spaces that existed between natural and supernatural entities or that divided one cultural reality from another. Alternately, textile borders may be expressions of larger physical border areas, such as the spaces that existed between enemy territory. In this, I suggest the Inkas saw borders as fruitful places of encounter and engagement rather than as areas of separation and enclosure.
Examining textiles as media through which the Inkas materialized notions of space and border, I situate Indigenous textiles as valuable archives that relay information and knowledge beyond what written accounts transmit. After Spanish invasion, Inka history was mostly recorded through the colonizing power’s documentary means. The written word was assumed to be the authoritative language of history. Yet, the material format of Indigenous Andean textiles has long been understood to carry embedded meaning and, specifically in relation to ideas of space, has been recognized as deeply entwined within a discourse of landscape and land use. My dissertation finds its impetus here, therefore, asking how we can use textiles to think historically about Indigenous ways of inhabiting space and negotiating changes and interactions across space. I conclude that we can use textiles as communicative modes that complement histories told in the colonizer’s mode, providing an understanding of the pre-contact Andean space even within, for example, discourses of territoriality.
Chapter 1 discusses the value of interactive, relational frameworks in an Indigenous Andean worldview and how relationships are made material through forms such as wak’as and, significantly, textiles. To put into perspective how the Inkas used textiles to express aspects of the inhabited space, I look at various textile examples across Andean history wherein the fabric space—and particularly references to border areas and articulation of borders in this space—serves as a materialization of religious, socio-political, and/or territorial relationships.
Chapter 2 reviews textiles as a medium that could transmit for the Inkas ideas and experiences of the lived space or environment— through their material and formal and design qualities— and that as such served as metonyms for Inka territory. The chapter looks at tokapu motifs on men’s garments but also more closely at the detail of zigzag embroidery at the selvedges /edges of Inka unkus/tunics and suggests they communicate something about the way the Inka state perceived the “edges” of its empire. The underlying premise here is that textiles showcase how, for the Inkas, border areas are inherently active zones where exchange between interior and exterior interests is to be expected and perhaps even integrated into a state ideology of productive tension—as if the flux boundary space energizes the state’s territorial extremities.
Chapter 3 expands on Chapter 2’s discussion of how an Inka ideology of space played out in male textile garments by bridging to how the Inkas expressed the relationship between textiles, the inhabited space, and ideas of border through women—namely through women’s roles as weavers (the akllakuna) and through their bodies as tribute subjects. Conscripted to serve the state in ways that essentially made visible Inka control over outside communities and their resources, akllas were an expression of the Inka body politic. The chapter points to examples of textiles associated with women’s wear that are legible within an Inka discourse of conquest closely interlaced with women’s roles wherein women visualized Inka claim to new territories.
Chapter 4 discusses how if in the pre-contact context both men’s and women’s woven garments were able to express a wearer’s place of origin or extended notions of land use and border spaces or territorial edges, then it is likely these messages carried into the post-contact period. Because Indigenous textiles were heavily invested with communicative meaning in the pre-contact period, it is plausible that this continued into the colonial period and that a visual rhetoric of textiles exercised an Andean relationship to space, particularly to the inhabited space within the context of early colonial territorial dispossession. This chapter considers the possibilities that certain motifs on colonial era Indigenous textiles and ascertained in colonial representations of textiles helped convey Indigenous authority in ways that would have had significant meaning to elite Andeans, namely in associations with a past defined by autochthonous Andean (Inka) rulership and in connotations of Indigenous access to (their) land.