The language of twisted wool: the Khipu epistles of Collata, Peru
(University of St. Andrews)
Paper short abstract:
This paper analyses two patrimonial khipus from Collata, Peru. It considers the Collatinos' belief that the khipus are epistles about war, alongside evidence about the khipus' history from 18th century manuscripts guarded by the community, from manuscripts from national archives, and from the khipus.
Paper long abstract:
Khipus -- knotted multi-coloured cord records -- remain one of the enduring mysteries of the Andes. Spanish chroniclers claimed that, while most khipus encoded demographic and accounting information, others contained narratives, and some even served as letters sent from one leader to another. However, no specific khipu has ever been identified as a letter until now. The villagers of Collata, Peru, guard two highly complex woollen khipus which they state are letters written by their ancestors concerning war and rebellion. In 2015, in fieldwork sponsored by National Geographic, I was allowed to study these two khipus in Collata. This paper will explore three layers of historical meaning associated with the two epistolary khipus of Collata: (1) a 17th century chronicler's description of khipus as letters; (2) the traditions of the Collata villagers about the khipus' history; and (3) what a preliminary study of the objects reveals.
The endurance of the ephemeral