was an official of the Inca Empire
The Inca Empire, or Inka Empire , was the largest empire in pre-Columbian America. The administrative, political and military center of the empire was located in Cusco in modern-day Peru. The Inca civilization arose from the highlands of Peru sometime in the early 13th century...
, who held the role of magistrate
A magistrate is an officer of the state; in modern usage the term usually refers to a judge or prosecutor. This was not always the case; in ancient Rome, a magistratus was one of the highest government officers and possessed both judicial and executive powers. Today, in common law systems, a...
, about 4 levels down from the Sapa Inca, the head of the Empire. The curacas were the heads of the ayllu
Ayllu is the traditional form of a community in the Andes, especially among Quechuas and Aymaras.Ayllus were the basic political and social units of pre-Inca and Inca life. These were essentially extended family groups but they could adopt non-related members, giving individual families more...
A clan is a group of people united by actual or perceived kinship and descent. Even if lineage details are unknown, clan members may be organized around a founding member or apical ancestor. The kinship-based bonds may be symbolical, whereby the clan shares a "stipulated" common ancestor that is a...
-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.
Curacas enjoyed privileges such as being exempt from taxation, the right to polygamy
Polygamy is a marriage which includes more than two partners...
, and to ride in a litter.
The curaca was an aristocrat, who frequently, but not always, descended from the previous generation. Curaca
means 'superior' or 'principal', and his authority was granted by the Inca. Each ayllu actually had 4 curacas: upper and lower (hanan and hurin), and each of these had an assistant. However, of the 4 one curaca was still superior to the rest.
One of the functions of the curaca was to choose a bride for adult males, aged 25 and over, who could not choose, or had not chosen, a wife. The curaca could also decide, in the event two men wanted to marry the same woman, which man would be allowed to marry. The curaca 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 curacas suffered a transformation during the first years of the colony
The Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire was one of the most important campaigns in the Spanish colonization of the Americas. This historic process of military conquest was made by Spanish conquistadores and their native allies....
. 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
The pre-Columbian era incorporates all period subdivisions in the history and prehistory of the Americas before the appearance of significant European influences on the American continents, spanning the time of the original settlement in the Upper Paleolithic period to European colonization during...
times. The curacas ceased to control the communal administration and no longer had the workforce or human energy necessary for the making of redistribution networks.
The curacas 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.