Native Lords of Quito in the Age of the Incas: Frank Salomon

Frank Salomon’s Native Lords of Quito in the Age of the Incas (1985) is still the most complete ethnohistory of the Ecuadorian Andes in English. Making extensive use of indigenous legal documents from the early colonial period, Salomon focuses on what is today the city of Quito and the Los Chillos valley, as well as some discussion about pre-Incan societies in the northern Andes, like the Cayambe and Carangue.

Salomon argued that Andean communities in this region used trade networks operated by traveling merchants, known as mindalae, to procure what they couldn’t produce locally. Salomon believed Quito was likely a market location, known as a tianquez.

At the time, this challenged the predominant theory of the Andean vertical archipelago as conceptualized by John Murra, in which communities were thought to have built their own agricultural colonies, known as mitma, in different climactic zones across the vertical landscape to produce everything they needed. Goods were shared among members of a community, known as an ayllu, and their leaders, known as kurakas, in a complex network of reciprocal exchange.

Salomon argues that while the Incan conquest represented a major shift in regional society, its relatively short duration of about three decades was not enough to leave an overwhelming footprint on local culture. However, by the seventeenth century, even the chaos of the Incan period could evoke nostalgia, he says, a testament to the brutal conditions of life for indigenous communities in the colonial Andes.

Salomon, Frank. Native Lords of Quito in the Age of the Incas: The Political Economy of North-Andean Chiefdoms. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

By N. H. Gill
Quito, 2020

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