The Knot String Record.

26 Jun

The  quipa  (pronounced “Kee-poo”),  which  means simply “knot,” and which  the ‘countries passed from  hand to hand, was as  close to writing as  man  got in  South America; still no matter how much  writers  have strained their imagination, the quipu is not  writing. It is simply a mnemonic device  to  aid the memory  and  its knotted strings are  based  on a decimal  count.

All quipus had to be  accompanied by a verbal comment ,  without  which  the meaning  would have been  unintelligible .The quipu was a simple and ingenious device; it consisted of a main cord (ranging from a foot to many feet in length) and from this cord smaller coloured strings dangled which had at intervals knots (quipus) tied into them. It has been shown conclusively by those who have studied them that the strings were used to record numbers in a decimal system and that there was a symbol for zero, that is, a string with an empty space”; this allowed them to count to over ten thousand. Knots were  tied into the  string to represent  numbers; if a  governor was visiting a newly conquered tribe and the  Inca wanted  to know how many  able  bodied Indians  there were, these  were counted  and the number  tied into  the quipu.It maybe that there  was a certain  symbol or heraldic device for “man,” but if there was it is not known.

There was attached to the governor an official knot-string record interpreter known as a quipu – camayoc, whose duty it was to tie in  the records. He then had to remember which quipu recorded what; i.e. numbers  of men, women,  llamas, etc.,  in the  newly conquered lands when the governor had an audience with the Inca he could, with the knot-string record plus  the ” rememberer,” recite the facts as gathered.

The different colours of the wool threads apparently had a meaning; the mode of intertwining the know or twisting  the  thread or the distance  of the knots from each other gave nuance,  With these  quipus the Inca had the numbers of tribes, llamas, women and old people. Beyond mere numbers, the colours, the smaller  threads, the green, blue, white black and  red colours, could, it is believed, express meanings and  even, it is asserted, abstract ideas.These knots counted from one to ten and ten to one hundred, and from one hundred to a thousand. Each ruler of a province was provided with accountants , and by these knots they kept accounts of what  tribute was to be paid, with such accuracy not so much as a pair of sandals would be missing.

Like  all pre-literate peoples, they had good memories. While the quipu itself could not be read without verbal comment to make all the entanglements understandable, it did (this much is certain) go beyond mere compilation of statistics; it was used as a supplement for the memory of historical events. The lack of writing in any form among the South Americans is a puzzle indeed. The Aztecs had a pictographic writing and were arriving at the stage of syllabic phonetics  when the Spaniards arrived. Even the North American Plains Indians had a form of rebus writing which by positions,  colour and crude drawings conveyed ideas. There was no  such thing in  South America; and unbelievably no writing among the Incas, who needed it most of all.

Inca man holding a Qeipu.

Sadly any further evidence of the Knot-String record  was destroyed upon the arrival of the Spanish conquest.


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Posted by on June 26, 2017 in Uncategorized


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