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Ayllu, the basic social unit in modern Andean society. An ayllu today is a community that consists of a number of unrelated extended families living in a specified area and following common rules of crop rotation under relatively informal leadership. In ancient times there existed a social unit that basically corresponds to the modern ayllu, but its exact nature is unclear due to confusion and casualness of Quechua usage in the Spanish chronicles.

Modern anthropologists have often assumed that ayllus were clan groups, but there is no unequivocal evidence to prove this assertion. In the Spanish chronicles, the word ayllu was used in connection with several different concepts that can refer to lineages of the royal Incas, a moiety, or the community groups referred to above. As John Rowe points out in his classic article on Inca culture, in Quechua the word ayllu seems to be a generic term for "kin group," and its specific reference was probably clarified by the context. Moreover, the modern definition of ayllu, and what evidence there is for defining the ancient ayllu, do not conform to the anthropological definition of clan, particularly in the respect that the ayllu seems to lack totemic association with any animal or plant. Ayllus were normally named for a person or place.

Under Inca rule, the ayllu is defined by Rowe as a kin group with theoretical endogamy, with descent in the male line, and lacking totemism. The ayllu owned a specific territory, and each member couple cultivated what they needed for their support. Each year the family plots or fields were redistributed to ensure the proper rotation of crops and that the needs of each family were met. The relationship between the ayllu and the panaca, a similar social construction, needs to be worked out.

See alsoCalpulli; Indigenous Peoples.


The best discussion of the meaning of ayllu in Inca times is in John H. Rowe, "Inca Culture at the Time of the Spanish Conquest," in Handbook of South American Indians, vol. 2 (1946), pp. 183-330. Modern ayllus are discussed by Bernard Mishkin, "The Contemporary Quechua," and Harry Tschopik, Jr., "The Aymara," in Handbook of South American Indians, vol. 2 (1946), pp. 411-470 and pp. 501-574, respectively.

Adrián Ambía, Abel. El ayllu en el Perú actual: con un estudio de las normas tradicionales de la comunidad campesina de Amaru, Calca, Cusco. Lima: Ediciones PUKARA, 1989.

Burga, Manuel. Nacimiento de una utopía: Muerte y resurrección de los incas. 2nd Edition. Lima: Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos; Universidad de Guadalajara, 2005.

Rostworowski de Diez Canseco, María. Historia del Tahuantinsuyu. 2nd Edition. Lima: IEP, Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 1999.

                                     Gordon F. McEwan