Saturday, September 09, 2006

Approaches for Discerning Narrative in Khipus - IV - A Syllable based Knot / Pendant System

In recent years, historian Dr. Clara Miccinelli, a descendant of a neopolitan noble family from the Universtity of Bologna caused stir in the Khipu researching world by publishing the text of a previously unknown manuscript attributed to the 16-17th century Peruvian Jesuit priest named Blas Valera or a desciple. Her book, Quipu: Il Nodo Parlante dei Misteriosi Incas, written in Italian is based in large part on this manuscript.

A fascinating figure in his own right, Blas Valera, a mestizo, was an apologist for the indigenous peoples of his country. This made him contraversial figure and at some point he was actually expelled from Peru on account of this.

In the manuscript, the writer proposed a system utilizing 40 key Quechua words. Each of these words was represented by a pendant symbol which would be attached to pendant chords of a khipu. Below this pendant symbol would a knot or series of knots on the pendant chord would indicate which of the syllables of from the key word represented by the pendant symbol were to be used to progressively create a word.

The writer of the manuscript noted what was noted in part III of this series of posts, that characteristic of Quechua is a paucity of sounds and of words, and that modifications on the root meanings of words was made the addition of suffixes.

Manuscript included a picture portraying a khipu, encoding a famous Inca hymn using the pendant symbol system described above Sumac Nusta.

The most obvious problem with the system proposed by the writer of this manuscript is that, as of yet, no khipu has ever been found which utilizes the system of pendants (rather than simply pendant chords) described in the manuscript.

Many khipu experts have questioned whether the manuscript a forgery. This has not stopped Miccinelli from continuing to publish. And she has defended the system based on 40 key words in part on basis of a 16th century drawing from among a series of drawings by Guaman P. d'Ayala. Picture in question shows a Peruvian man with a khipu in hand next to a yucana (an Inca counting device similar to an abacus) in which the counting elements of this particular yucana happened to be the first four elements of the Fibinacci series (1,2,3,5) which when used for addition could be interpreted as a base 39-40 counting system.

All chroniclers of the Inca past from the Colonial era, both Spanish and Mestizo, had written that the Incas used a decimal (base-10) counting system. So this could suggest, that this yucana was used for something other than counting.

However, it should be noted that in his book, W. Burns Glynn, Decodificacion de Quipu, uses the same image by Guaman P. d'Ayala to defend his 10 consonant writing system (which will be explained in the next Post in this series).

What to make of the manuscript showing a base-40 khipu of a style that has never been found, and a picture of a yucana suggesting the possibility of a base-40 system that appears to have never been used except in the picture given?

Various people have suggested that the manuscript is a forgery or a fraud. Interestingly, Sabine Hyland, author of a recent biography about Blas Valera entitled: The Jesuit and the Incas - The Extraordinary Life of Padre Blas Valera, SJ (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004), suggested that if the manuscript in question were a forgery or fraud, it may not be a 20th century forgery or fraud but rather a 17th century one.

Here, I would suggest that it needs to be remembered that Blas was an apologist for the Andean peoples of his day and in his mind, he need not have been trying to show how the Incas actually used khipus to record narrative information, but rather how they could have done so.

In my previous post, I noted that characteristic to the Quechua language is the relative paucity of both consonant / vowel sounds, and when I did a calculation of the number of possible letter combinations to form 2 letter syllables, the number came to about 36. Accounting for a number of syllable combinations that my rough calculation may have missed, a number of 40 for the number of generally occurring Quechua syllables, is certainly a possibility.

So Blas Valera may have of heard somewhere of a 40 sign syllable-based system for "writing" using khipus. And maybe even Guaman P. d'Ayala heard independently of such a system as well.

Thus, what is clear is the following: (1) While the nature of the Quechua language is such, that a 40 element syllable system for encoding information in Quechua would be possible, (2) as of yet, no evidence has come to light (no khipu in hand) which, in fact, has been shown to have encoded information using such a system.

Dennis (moderator)

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