Mama Huaco, the first Coya of Peru

The ancestors of the Quechua, eight siblings, emerged from the Pacaritambo cave and wandered the land of Perú. One of their chiefs was Mama Huaco, “a woman exceedingly strong and skillful.” She took two golden staffs and hurled them toward the north to divine where the ayllu-s (clans) should settle. One fell in Colcabamba, but the hard ground did not allow it to sink in. The second staff easily plunged into the ground at Guayanaypata, in the center of Cuzco, “Navel” of the world. Meeting resistance from the local people, the Inca ayllu-s were not able to settle there right away, but found their way back after further travels.

As Guamán Poma de Ayala told it, Mama Huaco was the mother of Manco Capac. Others make her his sister and wife, or co-wife with Mama Ocllo. The overlap may indicate an ancient tradition of brother-sister pair being superceded by a patrilineal husband-wife pair. Maria Rostworowski notes that in what appears to be the oldest version, no father figure or conjugal pair exists, only the blood bond of mother-child and of siblings. This is the ancient pattern of mother-right societies.

Modern pictures and media accounts foreground the masculine leaders at the expense of the women.

Another, militarized version of the colonization of Cuzco shows Mama Huaco in a fiercer light. In this story she is married to Manco Capac, and she did not throw golden wands. Instead she shot stones from a sling, wounded one of the indigenous Guallas, then cut open his chest and inflated his lungs with a strong breath. (I’m just reporting what the account says.) The Guallas fled in terror, and the Inca clan took control of the land. This story probably dates to the Inca empire period. Another story shows a more peaceful settlement, with the son of Mama Huaco and Manco Capac marrying Mama Coca, daughter of a local chieftain of Zañu.

Mama Huaco represents the female warrior chieftains of ancient Perú. Cabello de Valboa described her as a brave captain who led armies. The Aymara connected the word huaco to  free women who are undaunted by cold, work or difficulty. Mama Huaco is one woman among the four named captains of the ayllu-s (clans) in Quecha oral histories. One group under Manco Capac settled in Hurin (lower) Cuzco, while the followers of the elder brother Auca (who turned into a stone huaca) settled in its uplands, Hanan Cuzco.

Another female war chief was Chañan Curi Coca, who led the ayllu-s of Choco-Cachona. She too had shamanic powers, employing the pururauca, magical stones that at the height of battle changed into fighters and won the victory for the Incas.

Mama Huaco had other, peaceable powers: “she sowed the first corn that there was.” The field where this happened was held to be a sacred place. [Silverblatt, 40, 59] Other stories say that she taught women the art of weaving. Guamán Poma described Mama Huaco as a beautiful dark woman, who was the first of the Coyas. This writer was descended from Quechua nobles—his grandmother was the tenth Coya Mama Ocllo—and conquistadores. He looks through a dual lens, incorporating European diabolist perspectives, but otherwise reaffirmed the Quecha traditions. He wrote, “They say she was a great sorceress” who spoke to spirits (“devils,” in the demonizing Spanish parlance) and she communed with the stones of the earth.

Mama Huaco, first of the Coyas

This lady made stones and boulders speak—huacas [sacred stones or places], idols. From this woman sprang Inca kings. They say that her father was not known nor was the father of her son, Manco Capac Inca, but rather she was the daughter of the sun and moon, and she married her eldest son… She governed more than her husband Manco Capac; the whole city of Cuzco obeyed and respected her throughout her life because with the power of devils [sic] she worked miracles never seen by man… She was very beautiful, knowledgeable and did much good for the poor people of the city of Cuzco and the kingdom. For this reason the government of her husband grew rather well…. [Felipe Guamán Poma de Ayala, The first new chronicle and good government: on the history of the world and the Incas up to 1615, #121, ed. Roland Hamilton, Google eBooks, p 123]

The Coya was the ceremonial head of Quechua women and oversaw the Moon Temple and its mamacona priestesses. The sacraments of Mama Quilla, Mother Moon, were entirely in women’s hands (as were sacraments of all the goddesses) and governed the fruits of the soil, of animals and humans. The Coyas also had governmental powers. They ruled when the Inca left the capital, and had the decisive vote if the Inca’s council could not reach agreement. Coyas arranged marriages of nobles, and had their own estates. Their names were remembered, and gold and silver statues of them were placed in temples, as awestruck Spanish accounts relate.

Garcilaso de la Vega, another early Inca-Spanish mestizo historian, cast Mama Ocllo as the sister-wife of Manco Capac. They emerged out of lake Titicaca to search for a chosen valley, and in this version it is Manco Capac whose magic staff sinks into the earth. A sacred well inside one of the Inca palaces of Cuzco was named for her.

Mama Ocllo, 17th century Peruvian painting

Mama Ocllo is often described on the Net as a “fertility goddess,” but she was another ancestral founder who represents the Coyas, powerful Moon priestesses and female counterparts of the Incas. Many post-conquest paintings indicate her lunar connection by showing her holding a mirror reflecting the face of the sun.) Some sources conflate the names of these two ancestral Quecha women, referring to Mama Huaco Ocllo.

Sources: María Rostworowski, “La Leyenda de los Hermanos Ayar,” in La Historia de Tahuantinsuyu

English version here:

Irene Silverblatt, Moon, Sun and Witches: Gender Ideologies and Class in Inca and Colonial Peru, Princeton U Press, 1987