Object 2: Inca khipu

May 28, 2021


This is an Inca khipu, found in Chulpaca, Peru. It is estimated to be from the years 1425-1532, during the years of the Inca Empire. Khipus were used by officials to record tax records, labour input, and other numerical information. It is possible that it also served for narrative writing, but very little is known about interpreting the information encoded in the knots.

Much knowledge about ancient cultures of the Americas such as the Inca Empire has been lost due to colonial destruction. Although khipus are still used in some Andean regions, it is largely for ceremonial use. Thus, the knowledge of khipu’s practical use has been lost. That knowledge not only belongs specifically to a community of ancient Inca people – officials who needed to record information – but has remained in the time period of the Empire as well. This object contributes to the exhibition as it shows that knowledge can belong not only to specific communities of knowers, but to specific time periods as well.

Despite the loss of knowledge about the khipu, it has become a subject of great interest for Western scholars. Anthropologists and archeologists have studied the khipu in Andean areas to great lengths, information which is then published in western journals and institutions. The khipu shown is exhibited at The National Museum of the American Indian in New York, and the information about it is accessible only to those in New York. Thus, knowledge about the khipu shifts from the original owners of the knowledge – the Inca and their modern descendants – to a specific community of Western knowers. The khipu contributes to the exhibition by demonstrating part of a larger trend of knowledge of ancient practices and culture shifting away from the original community of knowers to the community of Western academics.

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