Chimu Indians the Fifteenth-Century Spanish Term Paper

Pages: 10 (2836 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 8  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion

Any chieftain found guilty of theft would be immediately put to death (Leicht 94).

This higher standard was also applied to physicians who, by virtue of their healing craft, were venerated in Chimu society. The physicians or Oquetlupucs, were richly rewarded for curing the sick. However, should a patient die due to a physician's carelessness, the Oquetlupuc was bound to the corpse. The dead patient was then buried, while the physician was left aboveground, to be devoured by vultures (Leicht 92).

These laws governing social interaction all point to the importance Chimu society placed on the clan. This clan-based organization translated to the larger Chimu groupings, as seen in the capital city of Chan.

Chan Chan

To paraphrase Plato, Chan is the Chimu clan writ large against the sky. Much of today's scholarship on Chimu life is inferred from the remains of Chan, the largest city in South America before the arrival of the Spanish. The city was built between the 9th and the 15th centuries. It covered nine square miles and served as the seat of power of the Chimu Empire (Mason 101).

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Chan Chan served as the seat of the Chimu Empire's craft gold and silver craft production, making it the wealthiest city in addition to the largest. By the late 15th century, however, the Inca conquerors had plundered Chan Chan's wealth and relocated its artisans to Cuzco. Spaniards led by Francisco Pizarro further plundered Chan in 1470. Grave robbers continued to dig for treasures well into the 19th century (Leicht 166).

The remaining adobe walls and structures of Chan, however, reveal valuable insight into Chimu social organization. Archeologists have learned that the great city is composed of nine rectangular palace complexes, called ciudadelas.

Term Paper on Chimu Indians the Fifteenth-Century Spanish Assignment

Each ciudadela contained temples, cemeteries, food and supply reservoirs and symmetrically arranged rooms (Kubler 402). They served as the living quarters of the reigning Chimu king. Upon the ruler's death, the ciudadela became the burial place and also served as a shrine, where citizens venerated the departed ruler's soul.

Archeologists theorize that the architectural layout of Chan mirrors the social caste system that governs Chimu society. The Chimu instituted a strict social hierarchy, since the nobility and the common citizens were believed to have descended from different gods (Leicht 62).

This division was reflected in the way living quarters were arranged in Chan.

The center of Chan, however, was the reigning royal palace, which housed not only the king but also other members of the high nobility. Various nobles held office in building around the palace grounds, overseeing the collected tributes and managing the production of goods in the barrios.

The current ciudadela was the focal point of Chan Chan's political, administrative and religious power. In addition, the ciudadela in Chan was also the central storehouse for tributes paid by other kingdoms and conquered territories of the Chimu Empire.

In addition to the living and administrative quarters, the ciudadelas also had ceremonial squares which were open to the public. These areas were later converted to burial platforms after the king's death. In addition, the public areas also housed smaller offices termed audiencias, where members of the nobility conducted business with the public. These scenes are often depicted in Chimu pottery. Archeologists posit that these audiences were a requirement for people who needed access to the food or other supplies kept in the palace storehouses. These audiencias may also have served as small temples, judging by the sacred imagery decorating the walls (Leicht 163-165).

Upon the king's death, his ciudadela was converted into a royal mausoleum. His wealth, including precious gold and silver, were stored inside the ciudadela, along with the bodies of hundreds of sacrificed young women. Both practices were meant to curry favor with the gods on behalf of the nobleman, and to ensure that the dead king has his wealth and the necessary tools for use in the afterlife. A cult was established to care for the dead king's mausoleum and shrine. Upon his death, the ruler assumed a divine status. (McIlveen, "A catacomb of palace...") His replacement king, meanwhile, will continue to rule from the new ciudadela.

The laborers and artisans, who formed the large portion of Chan Chan's population, lived outside the grand ciudadelas. They dwellings and workshops of the artisans were located in the smaller barrios. With an estimated 10,000 barrios, Chan may have had a peak population of 50,000 (Kubler 408). The barrio, archaeologists have concluded, was the seat of small-scale production, occupied by skilled artisans. In these more modest settings, the artisans and laborers produced the textiles, pottery and the gold, silver and copper instruments that were used by the nobility or traded with neighboring Chimu cities or other Andean nations.

Most of the Chimu Empire's crafts were produced in the barrios of Chan. Archeological evidence shows that these artisans lived in single-family houses made of adobe, cane, reeds and thatched roofs. Discarded food fragments reveal that the artisans of Chan had diets rich in squash, sweet potatoes, lima beans and chili peppers.

Fish and seafood was the centerpiece of Chimu diet (von Hagen 58-59).

Aside from kitchens and living quarters, these adobe houses had areas devoted to either metalworking or textile production.

In the absence of a written language, the artisans taught their craft through apprenticeships, passing the knowledge from one generation to the next.

Though the barrios appear humble when compared to the ciudadelas, the artisans lived a privileged existence compared to the fishermen, farmers and other peasants. The latter lived outside the city itself, socially and physically segregated from the artisans and the nobility. Fishermen lived near the shores while the farmers built humble settlements near the fields. These peasants did not have the same privileges as the artisans. When a king died and a new ciudadela was needed, the peasants were forced to pay a labor tribute by building the new king's palace (von Hagen 112).


In criticizing the Spaniards of Eurocentrism, Ramirez detailed how the colonizers were unwilling to listen or understand indigenous efforts to explain their ways and identity. The colonizers did not recognize "use-based" concepts such as the importance of the clan. As a result, Indian concepts were labeled as primitive, savage or inferior and eventually replaced with imposed European values (Ramirez 84-86).

Ramirez's findings are relevant when applied to the case of the Chimu, who were labeled as backwards or primitive because of several factors. First, despite a complex oral and apprenticeship-based society, the Chimu did not have a written language. The Spaniards deemed the Chimu "use-based" system of meting out justice as barbaric. Focusing on practices such as human sacrifice, sodomy and sexual intercourse between unmarried people further reinforced the Spanish "civilizing" mentality.

This Eurocentrism made the Spaniards blind to the complexity of Chan and the surviving Chimu societies. After all, many of the Chimu beliefs and practices had Spanish counterparts. These include a belief in the soul and the afterlife and a hierarchical society governed by a nobility. The Spanish also practiced a forced labor tribute system in its other colonies.

In conclusion, the example of the Chimu society belies the traditional Spanish colonizer's view of a primitive indigenous societies in need of civilizing. In fact, parallels between the Chimu religious beliefs and social structures indicate quite the opposite - that the Chimu were an advanced civilization on par, in several ways, with the Spanish colonizers.

Works Cited

Kubler, George. The Art and Architecture of Ancient America: The Mexican, Maya and Andean Peoples. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990.

Leicht, Hermann. Pre-Inca Art and Culture. New York: Orion Press, 1960.

Mason, J. Alden. The Ancient Civilizations of Peru. New York: Penguin Books, 1979.

McIlvee, Rose. "A catacomb of palace/tombs defined ancient Peruvian leaders." (December 4, 1998). Indiana University Homepage. Retrieved November 25, 2002 at

Ramirez, Susan Elizabeth. The World Upside Down: Cross Cultural Contact and Conflict in Sixteenth-Century Peru. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996.

Ryan, Missy. "Peru finds 200 fishers sacrificed to… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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