Quipo/quipu/khipu: imperial accounting

The BBC says (background info here) that

Researchers in the US believe they have come closer to solving a centuries-old mystery – by deciphering knotted string used by the ancient Incas. Experts say one bunch of knots appears to identify a city, marking the first intelligible word from the extinct South American civilisation. The coloured, knotted pieces of string, known as khipu, are believed to have been used for accounting information.

There are various accounts of the function of khipu in documents from the early empire in what is now Peru. Here’s a passage from an anonymous administrative document (Visita de los valles de Sonqo en los yunka de coca de la Paz, ca 1570):

Asked how much they normally paid Grauiel de Rojas annually he said that this deponent was a boy at the time and can remember nothing of the affair and that Mr Martin Pacha Coaquira was the holder of the quipo for all tributes

Martin Pacha Coaquira bears witness later as his village’s quipo camayo to fighting between indios and a local ynga (Inca, here used to mean a tame local ruler) as a result of gold accounting disputes. A quipocamayo’s functions are described in a Peruvian viceregal document from 1570 (Glosas para determinar las tasas):

Firstly, in meeting place of each tribe a hut should be constructed next to the house of the head chief and there should be placed a chest and in said hut and chest should be put the tribute and there should be quipucamayos to account for the tributary Indians and what they owe and they should see if someone omits to come to bring tribute on time…

In or before 1607 a judge conducted an inspection tour of Bolivian estate to check on working conditions (Escritura del juez visitador de las estancias para averiguar sobre cómo son tratados los que guardan…):

And then the abovementioned Pedro Chambi Quipocamayo took the oath. And having sworn to tell the truth, he said via the previously mentioned interpreter that in the year that he had been quipocamayo on the estate of the said Joan de Bolumbiscar, and that his salary is 45 pesos of which he is only owed 10 pesos, because on the first day of the new year he was paid 35, 20 in reals and 15 in dried potatoes, at 3 pesos a load, because this witness asked for it to be paid with this food. And he has been paid for the rest of the time. And that that he paid the Indians who working then in the place of those currently serving directly in reals 15 pesos for every six months, and that the witness observed this. And that said payment is in accordance with the quipo which he had of it.

I am glad we have more conjunctions nowadays.

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