Contarhuacho, Inca Dudette

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
Meet Contarhuacho, a secondary wife of the Inca emperor Huayna Capac and an intrepid dudette. As both a local leader and ambassador for her people, she was a powerful woman in her time.

Submitted: January 14, 2020

A A A | A A A

Submitted: January 14, 2020




Extract from my upcoming book Intrepid Dudettes of the Inca Empire





Name: Contarhuacho, pronounced con-tar-WA-choh

A.k.a: Contarguacho

Born: c.1500

Died: at some point between 1536 & 1557

Occupation: curaca or local leader

Family: wife of the Inca Emperor Huayna Capac and mother of Quispe Sisa




The words "contar" and "huacho" aren't in Quechua dictionaries. I wonder if the Spanish misspelt her name and it was actually "Kuntur wachay" meaning birth of a condor. The Andean condor is the largest bird in South America with an impressive 3m wing span. It’s a pretty badass bird to be associated with!


Contarhuacho was from the Huaylas area of Peru (not to be confused with the city of Andahuaylas in southern Peru), which is north of Lima. Huaylas is an area of outstanding natural beauty, a high-altitude valley between two branches of the Andes Mountains. Huaylas was originally called Guaylla which is Kichwa for green and also meant pastureland in reference to its fertile soils. The huailinas (as the ladies of the area were called) liked to wear their hair in buns and decorate them with large leaves from the luscious green countryside.

Contarhuacho was born in Tocash and her dad was a curaca, meaning local leader. These leaders had to approve any marriage in their area, make sure taxes were paid as well as ensure able-bodied people worked. Above curacas were provincial governors and beneath them were camayoc who were lower-level leaders. 

The Huaylas area was part of the Inca Empire and they spoke Quechua as their native language yet also had their own local traditions. For example, the Huaylas people would’ve had their own special headdresses. Each ethnicity in the Inca Empire had its own style of headdress and/or clothing to set each one apart. In fact, no one was allowed to wear the traditional clothes of another ethnic group as it was seen as disguising yourself in order to get up to mischief.


DID YOU KNOW? Alongside the existence of female curacas, there were iñacas. An iñaca was the wife or sister of a curaca and they had a certain amount of power, too. For example, Contarhuacho would have been an iñaca since she was married to a curaca.


Pachakutik conquered Huaylas in the 1460s. The Huaylas people were forced to become part of the empire by the sheer might of the Inca army. Some of the battles were very cruel, hence the Incas weren’t super popular there. What is more, the Incas were keen to get the Huaylas people to pay taxes to them and worship Inca deities, which caused resentment.


Contarhuacho the Curaca

Pachakutik’s grandson, Huayna Capac, became emperor in 1493. In around 1513, he visited and met Contarhuacho. He was a popular emperor who was down-to-earth and friendly with people which helped as he needed to charm the Huaylas people, who weren’t best pleased about the Incas ruling them.

Our dudette became one of Huayna’s secondary wives along with another local lady, A?as Collque, whose name means silver vixen, making her sound pretty elegant. Besides, silver vixen was a good name for her because Huayna Capac was about 45 years old at the time so he was a silver fox! 

Meanwhile, Contarhuacho was a teenager. Yup! Huayna was born c. 1470 while Contarhuacho was born c. 1500, making him about thirty years older than her. However, this marriage was still a pretty good deal for Contarhuacho as it gave her added status as a wife of the emperor and while secondary wives were not considered royal, they were thought of as noblewomen.

Huayna also made her the curaca or leader of Atunhuaylas and made A?as Collque the leader of Lurinhuaylas. In this way, they felt like they were a part of the mighty Inca Empire; they felt part of something bigger. Being incorporated into the empire was a clever way in which the Incas made the local leaders feel important. As curacas, these ladies did have some real power as well as status. They had to oversee work in their regions and make sure people paid their taxes.

Likewise, the marriage suited Huayna Capac: it was a bit like “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours!” Marrying Contarhuacho was a strategic move because by making her a curaca she would have power in Huaylas so would make sure her area stayed loyal to the empire. Marrying the two women helped calm the tension caused by the Huaylas people’s resistance to Inca rule.

Often when the Inca emperor married a local elite woman, a Cusco woman would be offered in marriage to a local male curaca to consolidate the alliance. Given how much Huayna wanted to placate the Huaylas people, it's possible this happened when Huayna Capac married Contarhuacho and A?as Collque.

After the marriage, Contarhuacho had a lot of indigenous servants given to her by Huayna including three hundred women. Now, giving people away like this and using them as bargaining chips is not totes cool, however we have to remember that although slavery was common at that time in other cultures, the Incas didn’t have slaves, at least.

The local indigenous people admired her not only for being one of the emperor's wives but also because she was like an ambassador for their area when she went to live in Cusco. She had a degree of political and economic power.

Interestingly, in Huaylas, gay folk were allowed be open about their sexuality: the law placed no restrictions on homosexual behaviour and people didn't discriminate against them or call them names. Sadly, neighbouring ethnicities were not as tolerant and instead mocked the Huaylas people for their progressive thinking. When Pachakutik invaded the Huaylas area, he punished those who were openly gay, but he died, was succeeded by Tupac Inca and then the more tolerant Huayna Capac as emperor. I wonder whether Huayna’s wives Contarhuacho and Añas Collque had managed to persuade him to be broadminded.



In the same year that the Spaniard Francisco Pizarro with his men and African slaves first made contact with the Incas on the coast right in the north of Peru, the European diseases they carried with them swept through the empire. Diseases spread partly thanks to the Inca’s fantastic road system that connected all corners of the empire. In fact, the Inca Royal Road was the longest trunk road in the world until the 1800s, measuring 10s of thousands of miles long. But, back then, no one was celebrating that fact. Soon, an epidemic had broken out, shrinking the population…





Helen Pugh first went to Ecuador in 2006 and from 2011 lived there for 7 continuous years, 6 in the Amazon Region and 1 in Quito. She experienced domestic violence and very long and traumatic legal battles there so can relate to some of the women in the book on that front. Helen studied Spanish and Italian at University and has a lifelong passion for history.







Copyright © Helen Pugh 2019

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law.


© Copyright 2020 helenpugh. All rights reserved.

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