Tag Archives: mit’a

the sustainability of Incan shared inheritance

I was really surprised to learn about the Incan tradition of split inheritance. Not only did the deceased king continue living among the Incans (being included in ceremonies, for example), he also continued to collect tributes and taxes. The new ruler doesn’t has no claim to anything the old king collected or anything he will collect in the future. This seems really problematic, perhaps absurdly so. It is not really my goal to criticize Incan culture and political structure; I just really do not understand how it would have at all been sustainable for a long period of time.

If the king’s successor was usually his son, as Professor Watrall mentioned, would his son truly not have any part in his estate. Would the king live a life entirely separately from his family so they would not share in his wealth? It couldn’t have been the case that the father shared things with the son because then there would be no need for new taxes and the emphasis on expansion.

Because the king retained his wealth after death, the new king brought only what he already had (which I think is ambiguous considering the above paragraph). This meant there was a need to generate new revenues. His options, as we learned in class, were limited. One, he could raise mit’a. This is problematic because it’s not a simply tax, it is a labor tax. There is a finite amount of labor available to a ruler. One cannot make people work for more hours than there are in the day. The second option then became expanding the regime in order to have more people from which to collect mit’a from. Again, one cannot conquer lands that do not exist. A ruler will eventually run out of options for expansion. This does beg the question as to whether the Incan political order was engineered to require expansion or whether expansion became necessary to uphold order. It is sort of a teleological argument.

Professor Watrall said that the Spanish were the primary cause of collapse for the Incas. It seems, based on their model that the Incan empire would have not lasted for long even if the Spanish never brought their diseases or “conquered” them. All complex states are unsustainable, but the Incan empire seems especially fragile. Before they could ever run out of resources (what is a very common internal problem for societies), the Incas had to rely on sheer population growth just to maintain political order. Does it not also become a problem when several kings are dead? Is only the most recently deceased the one who remains in society and collects mit’a. Does the position lose any power with the death of subsequent rulers?

Do you think the Incan model could have been sustainable?