The Cord Keepers

The Cord Keepers

Khipus and Cultural Life in a Peruvian Village

  • Author: Salomon, Frank L.; Mignolo, Walter D.; Silverblatt, Irene; Saldívar-Hull, Sonia
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Serie: Latin america otherwise
  • ISBN: 9780822333791
  • eISBN Pdf: 9780822386179
  • Place of publication:  Durham , United States
  • Year of digital publication: 2004
  • Month: October
  • Pages: 362
  • DDC: 985/.00498323
  • Language: English
None of the world’s “lost writings” have proven more perplexing than the mysterious script in which the Inka Empire kept its records. Ancient Andean peoples encoded knowledge in knotted cords of cotton or wool called khipus. In The Cord Keepers, the distinguished anthropologist Frank Salomon breaks new ground with a close ethnography of one Andean village where villagers, surprisingly, have conserved a set of these enigmatic cords to the present day. The “quipocamayos,” as the villagers call them, form a sacred patrimony. Keying his reading to the internal life of the ancient kin groups that own the khipus, Salomon suggests that the multicolored cords, with their knots and lavishly woven ornaments, did not mimic speech as most systems of writing do, but instead were anchored in nonverbal codes. The Cord Keepers makes a compelling argument for a close intrinsic link between rituals and visual-sign systems. It indicates that, while Andean graphic representation may differ radically from familiar ideas of writing, it may not lie beyond the reach of scholarly interpretation.

In 1994, Salomon witnessed the use of khipus as civic regalia on the heights of Tupicocha, in Peru’s central Huarochirí region. By observing the rich ritual surrounding them, studying the village’s written records from past centuries, and analyzing the khipus themselves, Salomon opens a fresh chapter in the quest for khipu decipherment. He draws on a decade’s field research, early colonial records, and radiocarbon and fiber analysis. Challenging the prevailing idea that the use of khipus ended under early Spanish colonial rule, Salomon reveals that these beautiful objects served, apparently as late as the early twentieth century, to document households’ contribution to their kin groups and these kin groups’ contribution to their village. The Cord Keepers is a major contribution to Andean history and, more broadly, to understandings of writing and literacy.

  • List of Illustrations and Maps
  • List of Tables
  • About the Series
  • Preface
  • The Unread Legacy: An Introduction to Tupicocha’s Khipu Problem, and Anthropology’s
  • 1. Universes of the Legible and Theories of Writing
  • 2. A Flowery Script: The Social and Documentary Order of Modern Tupicocha Village
  • 3. Living by the ‘‘Book of the Thousand’’: Community, Ayllu, and Customary Governance
  • 4. The Tupicochan Staff Code
  • 5. The Khipu Art after the Inkas
  • 6. The Patrimonial Quipocamayos of Tupicocha
  • 7. Ayllu Cords and Ayllu Books
  • 8. The Half-Life and Afterlife of an Andean Medium: How Modern Villagers Interpret Quipocamayos
  • 9. Toward Synthetic Interpretation
  • Conclusions
  • Notes
  • Glossary
  • References
  • Index


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