Subject: silence about Inca writing? From: email@example.com (Yuri Kuchinsky) Date: 1997/05/07 Message-ID: <firstname.lastname@example.org> Newsgroups: rec.travel.latin-america,sci.archaeology,sci.archaeology.mesoamer ican,sci.lang,soc.history.ancient DID THE INCAS REALLY HAVE A WRITING SYSTEM OF THEIR OWN? Well, I looked into this matter recently, and I will state here my belief that this idea that the prehispanic South Americans didn't use a writing system of their own seems to me completely off the mark. In my own recent investigations, however cursory, I have already seen evidence that quite a few writing systems were known to them. I can't believe that after looking at these representations people would deny that these are ideographic writing systems... And it is quite a difficult matter for me to understand why the mainstream scholarship seems to be so "blind" about the existence of these systems. Indeed, when we realize the complexity and the sophistication of South American societies, the scale of their economic achievements, and their apparent connections with the contemporary societies in Central America, where writing systems were used at the time, it would be inconceivable that the Incas didn't possess _the idea of a writing system_, and that all these achievements could have been achieved without using a writing system. The scale of social, political, and economic endeavour in the Andes at the time of the invasion has consistently been underestimated. The structural and managerial preconditions to build, maintain, and dispatch an oceangoing fleet; ... [to accomplish other difficult tasks, and] ...to trace and construct 25000 kilometres of highway -- all these technological achievements presuppose a macro-organization on a scale beyond anything familiar to the inhabitants of contemporary Europe. (John V. Murra, in TRANSATLANTIC ENCOUNTERS: EUROPEANS AND ANDEANS IN THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY, Kenneth J. Andrien, ed, U. of California Press, 1992, p. 77) The chief investor in the invasion of the Andes, Gaspar de Espinoza, wrote this to the King Charles V: these Indians of the provinces of Peru are very skilled at making and opening roads and causeways and fortresses and other buildings of stone and earth and to open water canals and in this building it is said that they are far ahead of us [nos hazen mucha ventaja]. (quoted in ibid, p. 78) So how all this could be accomplished without a system of writing? This seems incredible to me. I think the real question should be about _the kinds_ of systems used and about the roles of these systems in religion and in social organization. It seems pretty obvious that, at a later stage, severe restrictions were used by the Incas on who can learn and use writing systems and in what circumstances. It was very possibly a (semi)secret writing system, associated with certain taboos. Indeed, the native historical/mythological accounts available to us indicate that writing was used more widely in the past, but at some point, perhaps around 1000 ce (possibly during the reign of King Pachacuti VII, who was the king at the time of the fall of the Old Kingdom) during a severe social crisis, prohibitions against using writing systems were issued. The history of the Andean notational systems is quite unique and fascinating. I don't think it is easy to find parallels in world history to this situation, although the history of Druid Ogham writing systems perhaps comes close in some ways. Indeed, here was a writing system the use of which was strictly regulated, and protected by taboos. But what do we really know about the Druid system? Not much. Here are some of the types of South American writing systems that are known. - Tucapus -- square and mostly abstract signs, used on Inca textiles and in other media -- were part of a complicated system of graphic communication ... (R. Tom Zuidema, in TRANSATLANTIC ENCOUNTERS: EUROPEANS AND ANDEANS IN THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY, Kenneth J. Andrien, ed, U. of California Press, 1992, p. 151) - Quellca -- a writing system referred to in the 1608 work on Quechua language by Gonzales Holguin. (This is discussed in detail in DER TANZ UM DEN BUCHSTABEN, by Fernando Prada Ramirez, Regensburg, 1994, p. 95 ff.) - One also may note a very interesting _Parejhara_ system of native writing that was used in post-conquest times to record information. We know of Catholic religious texts written in this system. This really seems like an original native prehispanic system that was perhaps modified and adapted to new uses. (Prada, p. 102, has a description and an illustration.) - The "bean writing" of the Mochicas. This is clearly a writing system. In DER TANZ UM DEN BUCHSTABEN, by Prada, some illustrations are provided that show how messages were transmitted by runners and interpreted by scribes. (These illustrations appeared originally in Busto, PERU PREINCAICO, Lima, 1988, and earlier editions.) - The robes of the Inca rulers seem to be "books" in their own right. The illustrations that I've seen in a number of publications, including in the TRANSATLANTIC ENCOUNTERS, cited above, show clearly that some sort of a writing system was used to record important information on these ceremonial robes. This is surely related to _tucapus_ writing system. Also related to this were the special embroidered belts worn by high Inca officials. - And of course the _quipus_, the string-and-knots notation devices of which all of us know... Whether or not quipus can be considered a true writing system is open to question, but Prada indicates that they may qualify as such, because with their help many kinds of important information, including mythological and historical information, were recorded. ========= Be it as it may, but the information that I've been able to find about all this so far all seems to be in Spanish and in German. Where are the English language studies? My Spanish is OK, but my German is a bit rusty, so it was unfortunately rather time-consuming for me to gather this information, and I haven't yet been able to figure out some parts of the texts. Nevertheless, here's an interesting quote that I found: Die Tatsache, dass die praekolonialen amerikanischen Gesellschaften keine alphabetische Schrift hatten, darf in keinem Moment so interpretiert werden, dass sie keine genauen Notierungsmedien wie das Khipu oder graphische Systeme benutzt haetten, die in den Webmustern, der Keramik und im heiligen, durch die Huacas determinierten geographischen Raum, in Bergen und Seen verkoerpert werden. (DER TANZ UM DEN BUCHSTABEN, by Fernando Prada Ramirez, Regensburg, 1994, p. 129) Here's my rough translation: The fact that the precolonial [South] American societies didn't possess an alphabetic script should in no wise be so interpreted as to suppose that they didn't possess a _true notational system_ (genauen Notierungsmedien) such as Quipu, or a _graphic system_ -- which was incorporated into textiles, ceramics, and among mountains and lakes in [special kinds of] geographical maps. (Now, the last bit about maps I'm not quite sure about, but Prada explains it in detail... in German, of course!) And further: Der Indios der Anden besassen nicht nur die muendliche Ueberlieferung fuer die Erhaltung ihrer Kultur. Ich glaube in diesem Kapitel gezeigt zu haben, dass die andinen Gesellschaften Notierungssysteme kannten, die die Reproduktion der kulturellen Diskurse durch dauerhafte materielle Medien versuchten. (ibid.) The Indians of the Andes didn't only use oral narratives to preserve their cultures. I hope to have shown in this chapter that the Andean societies DID POSSESS NOTATIONAL SYSTEMS [capitals mine] which employed various material media to incorporate and reproduce cultural discourse. Further down, Prada names these media: - Pallares, - Kerus, [wooden drinking cups] - Kleidung, [textiles] - semantishen Strukturen der Geographie, [geographical notations on maps] - Khipu [quipus] So here we go. This is all for now. Perhaps someone will be able to contribute more information about this obscure stuff? Best regards, Yuri. Yuri Kuchinsky | "Where there is the Tree of Knowledge, there -=- | is always Paradise: so say the most ancient in Toronto | and the most modern serpents." F. Nietzsche ----- my webpage is for now at: http://www.io.org/~yuku ----- _________________________________________________________________Click here to go one level up in the directory.