Mama Sarpay: Part 1

Helen Pugh
2 min readDec 13, 2021


Respected Priestess

Sarpay, or Mama Sarpay, was a noblewoman and high priestess, who was linked to the Apurimac River (pictured above). You know what, noblewoman is an understatement: she was as royal as they come! The only child born to Huayna Capac and his principal wife, Kushirimay, she was the most royal of them all. Born of two generations of brother-sister incest (Mama Ocllo married to Tupac Inca, then Kushirimay married to Huayna Capac), there’s a good chance Mama Sarpay didn’t have an amazingly robust constitution.

I believe Mama Sarpay was born between 1493 and 1499. And given that Kushirimay moved to Quito with Huayna, it’s possible that Sarpay was born in that city or somewhere nearby. Depending on the exact timings of Mama Sarpay’s birth and Kushirimay’s death, it could be that she barely knew her mother or that her mother raised her until she reached the age of six or seven.

Whether or not her mother got the chance to build a bond with her child and pass down wisdom and advice, she certainly passed on her blue blood. For instance, though she wasn’t a coya, people tended to refer to the princess as Mama Sarpay rather than just Sarpay to show their respect for her and because her father chose for her to become a distinguished priestess.

Priestesses and priests were very important in Inca society. For example, each town had storehouses of food together with textiles which housed 1/3 of the town’s produce to be used in times of famine or war. Another 1/3 of the produce was for daily consumption and the last 1/3 was used as taxes for religious use. That meant plenty of wealth was going towards priestesses, priests, acllakuna (whom we saw in the section about Ima Sumac) and the upkeep of spiritual buildings.

For the Incas, female priestesses were just as vital as male ones. The difference was that in general, women led the worship of goddesses (except for acllakuna who paid homage to Inti) while men led the worship of gods and everyone worshipped the intersex deity, Wiracocha. A female leader of the moon temple was just as respected as a male leader of the sun temple. One of the cults led autonomously by womankind was for the goddess Apurimac (pronounced a puu REE mac), and Mama Sarpay was high priestess for the famous temple dedicated to the Apurimac River together with the Apurimac goddess who lived in the river. The temple was built on a cliff near the river’s edge.



Helen Pugh

#History where #women take centre stage! Ebooks & paperbacks for kids + adults in English & español. She/her #SouthAmerica #somerset