Fwd: An: Deciphering Khipus

John F. Schwaller schwallr at mrs.umn.edu
Tue Jan 6 14:43:31 UTC 2004

An article about a Nahuat-l subscriber.

>Date:         Tue, 6 Jan 2004 08:33:32 -0500
>Reply-To: Topiltzin-2091 at webtv.net
>Sender: Pre-Columbian History <AZTLAN at LISTSERV.LOUISVILLE.EDU>
>From: Michael Ruggeri <Topiltzin-2091 at webtv.net>
>Subject:      An: Deciphering Khipus
>Source:University At
>Professor Works To Unravel Mysteries Of Khipu: Colored, Knotted
>Strings Used By The Ancient Incas
>BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Although the ancient Inca are renowned for their
>highly organized society and extraordinary skill in working with
>gold, stone and pottery, few are familiar with the khipu -- an
>elaborate system of colored, knotted strings that many researchers
>believe to be primarily mnemonic in nature, like a rosary -- that
>was used by the ancient conquerors to record census, tribute,
>genealogies and calendrical information.
>Because the Inca didn't employ a recognizable system of writing,
>researchers like Galen Brokaw, assistant professor in the
>Department of Romance Languages and Literatures in the University
>at Buffalo's College of Arts and Sciences, have focused on the
>khipu as a way to further illuminate Inca history and culture.
>Brokaw doesn't adhere to the strict view held by some researchers
>that the khipu is solely mnemonic in nature, instead maintaining
>the possibility that these intricate specimens are historiographic
>in nature.
>Deciphering the mysteries of the khipu, which consists of a
>primary cord from which hang pendants of cords, depends upon
>researchers discovering a Rosetta Stone of sorts that would allow
>them to decode the meaning of the cords and knots.
>Cord color and the direction of twist and ply of yarn appear to
>denote specific meanings, but whether or not the devices recorded
>more than statistical or mathematical information, such as poetry
>or language, remains elusive to researchers, says Brokaw. He does
>believe, however, that some of the specimens -- about 600 khipu
>survive in museums or private collections -- do appear to be
>non-numerical. The khipu didn't originate with the Inca, explains
>Brokaw. Even today, he adds, Andean shepherds can be seen using a
>form of khipu to record information about their flocks.
>"There's a certain kind of mystery about it that's intriguing,"
>Brokaw says, noting that while there is a tendency among some
>researchers to overly romanticize the khipu as some kind of
>writing system, he believes -- after reading the indigenous texts
>comprised, in part, of biographies of Inca kings -- that it's
>easy to see how the khipu might have represented more complex,
>discursive structures than being simply records of tribute.
>In fact, Brokaw says the first step in understanding the khipu is
>"to recognize that it was linked to genres of Andean discourse,
>powerful discursive paradigms" that were retained by the
>indigenous chroniclers in the organizational structure they
>employed in writing down the lineage of the Inca kings.
>While these chroniclers wrote in the language of their Spanish
>conquerors, the discursive paradigms Brokaw refers to "do not
>simply dissolve and disappear when translated into Spanish," he
>says. One chronicler in particular, he points out, attributes the
>principal source of all his information to the khipu. "One of the
>questions that colonial chroniclers attempted to answer about the
>khipu was whether or not it constituted writing, and much of the
>debate today centers around the same issue.
>Based on a selective and literal interpretation of colonial
>sources and a limited understanding of archaeological specimens,
>many scholars have argued that the khipu was not writing, but
>rather a mnemonic device similar to a rosary," says Brokaw in his
>paper "The Poetics of Khipu Historiography: Felipe Guaman Poma de
>Ayala and the Khipukamayuqs from Pacariqtambo," published recently
>in Latin American Research Review.
>Guaman Poma, writing around the beginning of the 17th century, is
>one of the Andean chroniclers who relied on khipu as his primary
>source of information. The numerical aspect of many of the khipu
>differs from Western numbering systems in that Andean societies
>used and viewed numeration as a way to define and organize
>themselves, as well as a way to achieve balance in all aspects of
>life -- from the aesthetic to emotional and material concerns,
>explains Brokaw in "Khipu Numeracy and Alphabetic Literacy in the
>Andes," published in Colonial Latin American Review.
>Brokaw writes that the "complete decimal unit of 10, for example,
>is also a metaphor for the basic social groups called ayllus.
>"Furthermore, many colonial chronicles describe a decimal-based
>system used in the organization, administration and record keeping
>of the Inca empire, and the model of fives also is evident in the
>historical and geographical paradigms of Andean sociopolitics,"
>he explains.
>Brokaw argues that Guaman Poma's work is shaped not only by
>European conventions of text, but also by an Andean conception of
>historical discourse. It is that Andean-influenced discourse, or
>poetics, that is shaping the Spanish chronicle of Inca kings that
>Brokaw believes establishes "an implicit link" between it and the
>khipu as its physical representation -- indeed, as some type of
>text in and of itself.
>Brokaw's research is funded by a fellowship from the American
>Council of Learned Societies. He is working on a book about the
>subject, titled "Reading, Writing and Arithmetic: The Andean
>Khipu and its Transcriptions."
>This story has been adapted from a news release issued by
>University at Buffalo.
>Mike Ruggeri's Ancient America and Mesoamerica News and Links
>Ancient America Museum Exhibitions, Lectures and Conferences
>Mike Ruggeri's Maya Archaeology News and Links
>       ________________________________________________________
>                           All rights reserved.

John F. Schwaller
Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean
315 Behmler Hall
University of Minnesota, Morris
600 E 4th Street
Morris, MN  56267
FAX 320-589-6399
schwallr at mrs.umn.edu

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