Saturday, September 16, 2006

On The Meanings of Varying Shades of Brown

Simply by inspection of the Ascher Codes of the Khipus reported in the Ascher-Ascher and Harvard Data Bases it is clear that a great many of pendant chords of khipus are of varying shades of brown.

There's light brown (AB), moderate brown (MB) and dark brown (KB) as well as browns that are "reddish" (RL) or olive-tinged (OB).

Do the differing shades of brown have meaning?

W. Burns suggests on page 70 of his book, Decodificacion de Quipu, that variations of lightness and darkness of colors probably don't make a difference in their meaning. (He bases this on the various Spanish and Mestizo Chroniclers' reports from the Colonial era, which did not mention the relative darkness or lightness of the color of khipu chords as being important in the understanding the meaning of khipus. Instead, they talked about the meanings of different colors (red, white, brown, black, blue, etc).

Burns counts 10 different colors reported as being used in the making and reading of khipus. (He then links these ten colors to 10 key consonants in the Quechua language).

I tested this theory tonight, checking for listings of Runasimi (Quechua) words in the in the large online Runasini dictionary (links are available in the Links section of this blog). I checked for words that began with various Burns' consonant combinations that could be inferred from the Ascher-Ascher color codes for the color of the pendant strings.

What I found was the following:

AB, MB and KB could all very well be considered "brown" with a Burns consonant value of "ch."

AB (light brown) could also be considered "greyish brown / earth color" having a Burns consonant value of "h"

However, describing AB (light brown) as white+brown (rch or chr) and KB (dark brown) as black+brown (sch or chs) produced almost no hits when searching for these letter combinations in the Runasimi dictionary, and those hits that appeared, were not not items that one would imagine the Incas having interest in keeping track of via khipus.

In contrast, Olive Brown, considered as green + brown (kch or chk) and Reddish Brown considered as red + brown (pch or chp) do produce some sensible hits.

A chart of the results of this little investigation is given here as well as in the links section of this blog.

Thus the relative lightness or darkness of strings doesn't appear to make a great deal of difference in the reading of khipus, while shades involving the mixing of two different colors can make a significant difference in interpreting the colors' meaning.

Dennis (moderator)


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