Perhaps there in the Inca Empire had existed royal kiphus with writings for the specially initiated, a secret wisdom of great royal times before the time of the Incas.
Perhaps Valera had developed some writing systems to make the Inca civilization creditable in the eyes of ruling Christian Spaniards.
And perhaps the existence of royal khipus can be confirmed by archaeological finds or by Pomas drawings of Sapa Incas uncus, the decorated ponchos of the rulers.
Pachacuti-yamqui wrote that the sun daughters in acclahuasi were trained in religiously based weaving tasks and suggest something special about weaving art. Were the weavers bearers of a special knowledge of writing? Did Sapa Incas clothing include secrets? Was that the reason why it only had to be worn by him?
Anthropologists are considering whether weavers today can reveal something about writing in the Inca Empire more than five hundred years ago. Is there a cultural continuity across 300 years of Spanish colonial rule that did much to dissolve Inca culture?
Do the patterns mean the same for todays weavers or do they just mimic old style? And finally: Can researchers ever break a forgotten code which they even don’t know exists?
In Taquile in Lake Titicaca, women weave belts that contain the characteristics of the family as well as personal accounts and desires.
In Chinchero, patterns that have names, are woven. I have had the condor pointed out and with good will I have recognized the river in zigzag lines and heard that the edge they call Eyes of the princess.
Do these weaving women agree on the significance of all the signs? About colors, the weavers have answered that they choose colors according to their mood. It can both complicate the outsiders interpretation but also give the weaving an extra layer of importance.
Among weavers in Q’ero – a rather isolated mountain village in the Cusco region (until etnographers and others came), where Inca traditions seem more conserved than many other places – Silverman has found something that can confirm the impression of a written language in the Andes before the Spanish conquest.
She tries to solve the question of writings with help of patterns in woven fabrics that she lists. Weaving techniques, patterns and colors will change over time in a living culture, but some patterns can be recognized in woven items from the Inca Empire, even from the Mochica culture.
Of 294 registered motifs, tukapus, Silverman has deciphered 27. These patterns mean the same for the weaver as for others, and even across ‘language boundaries’ between Quechua and Aymara.
The motifs can be stylized figures that take point of origin in the peasants work or geometric figures. Silverman compares with the development of Chinese characters that had originally been stylized drawings but became pictograms and then phonetic characters.
According to Silverman, a square with 9 fields is deciphered as rurukuna, seed. An angeled spiral as yarqha, an irrigation channel. A vertical rectangle as unu, water. Two coherent angles with the tip upward as orqokuna, mountains. A square on the tip with a line from bottom to top corner represents the hanan/hurin, ie. the symbolic division of the city but also of existence.
Silverman has also demonstrated the difference of signs: that the sign of a rising sun (sun as noun) is different from that of a descending sun. And even more important: that the word for the depicted object – unlike our language – does not stand alone but is put in relation to the one who speaks.
According to Silverman, weavers and wearers of the cloths can inform about the significance of the characters, but also that there is a hierarchy among those who know the meaning. There is something that has to be kept hidden! However, she acknowledges that explanations vary depending on who she asks: weaver or wise.
Ethnographic observations among people in areas – living under comparable conditions – can be an important source of inspiration in interpreting archaeological material. But it seems uncertain to me to conclude from patterns today to patterns more than five hundred years ago, even to state that it was part of a written language, because much may have been lost.
The US-American art historian Thomas B.F. Cummins rejects it as absurd to imagine that the Inca codes in decorations can be broken with contemporary material, because Catholic culture has marked Andes for half a millennium. And unlike Mesoamerica, there are no written sources, that like the Rosetta Stone, can solve the problem. Nor Felipe Guáman Poma de Ayalas detailed drawings of Incas khipus and Sapa Incas costume uncus with tocapus, drawn less than a hundred years after the Spanish conquest, can solve this.
The US-American anthropologist Gary Urton has proposed another research strategy. He believes that khipus certainly was more than counting tool and compared it to the binary system, the 0 and 1 of the computer language. Are there any semantic units in addition to the numerical information? Were khipus more than mnemonics?
However, Urton has not given any clear answer.
(pp. 409-412 in volume 2, reproduced without notes and illustrations):
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO AZTECS AND INCAS: MYTHS AND STORIES FROM MEXICO AND PERU. Edited, translated, retold and commented by Mikael Witte. Volume 1 + Volume 2
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