Thursday, May 31, 2007


Did you ever hear of khipu or quipu? There has been a fascinating discussion of this on Sheep Thrills. (Khipu-Woven from cotton, llama or alpaca wool, the mysterious string bundles - known as Khipu - consist of a single strand from which dangle up to thousands of subsidiary strings, each featuring a bewildering array of knots. ) Spanish colonial documents suggest that Khipu were in some way used to keep records and communicate messages. Yet how the cords were used to convey useful information has puzzled generations of experts.

The colors of the cords, the way the cords are connected together, the relative placement of the cords, the spaces between the cords, the types of knots on the individual cords, and the relative placement of the knots are all part of the logical-numerical recording. For example, a yellow strand might represent gold or maize; or on a population quipu the first set of strands represented men, the second set women, and the third set children. Weapons such as spears, arrows, or bows were similarly designated.

This project was carried out in San Cristobal de Rapaz, a highland Andean peasant community in the Province of Oyón, Peru. This community is home to one of only two known collections of khipu currently in ritual use.

Abby Franquemont has been discussing this on Sheep Thrills and I quote:

For the Inca in general, communication and record-keeping via textiles didn't seem bizarre. There are a number of things which make the quipu a challenge today, and it is most likely the case that quipus will never be "decoded" per se. Quipu were kept by individuals trained to keep them essentially from birth; the historical record of things like conquistador journals and letters tell us a bit about how they were used. Much research into quipus has been conducted by mathematicians and historians and archaeologists, but relatively little with input from fiber folks. Quipu (or khipu -- Quechua never having been a written language, and only being written lately, it has variable spelling) keepers were called"Quipucamayoc," which basically means "quipu bearer." Quipucamayoc were able to read each other's quipus, so the systems were not totally proprietary to individual Quipucamayoc. From the manner in which they were read, as described in written records, my father (a professor at MIT) believed that there were likely some programmatic, database-like functions which were understood by all Quipucamayoc, so that the actual information stored was extremely dense; he also believed that the analysis performed by non-textile people missed out on key things like fiber choice for specific cords, direction of twist, amount of twist, and so forth, which are intuitive things perceived by Quechua people today as important.

So I asked my son Patrick if he had ever heard of khipu, since he has really been getting interested in archeology, and he said yes he had heard of it! And I asked him where he had run into khipu, fully expecting him to say from his anthropology professor, but no! Patrick has heard of it in Final Fantasy-the game that he invests all free time in playing. Some characters called the yagudo use it as a code to communicate battle strategies. Isn't that fantastic?!? He keeps trying to convince me that this game is complex and intelligent, and he sort of proved his case this time!

I have also been tempted to order Alice Starmore yarns and try some color knitting with quality yarns. I keep browsing Virtual Yarns and dreaming about her colors. Bears lots more thought though. I don't know if I can justify the cost-well, I know I can't justify the cost! Maybe when my ship comes in?
Here I am looking out to sea, waiting for MORE YARN,

He felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it.
Douglas Adams"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"


b said...

Wow, that is so interesting. And to think it has applications in video games!

JANYCE said...

Just caught up on your blog today. Too busy at work. Ech!! My small pleasantnesses you have given me: Being a treasured friend, reading your blog and the link to the falcon cam. I use that as my screen saver. Love to watch the babies. They should be flying off soon.

Lynda said...

Oh Janyce, You are too kind! Aren't those perigrine babies neat?