Encoding Authority: Negotiating the Uses of Khipu in Colonial Peru

Amanda Kenney


This paper seeks to synthesize the insights from the wide variety of scholarship while fleshing out the complex story of the roles that khipu played in the encounter of native and Spanish cultures. The chronicle record provides key insights into both how the Spaniards perceived the Inca and their khipu and how those with native claims of authority presented Inca civilization and its cultural trappings, including their system of knots. Augmenting the context of the chronicle record are additional sources from the colonial period. Two important arenas of encounter between indigenous and Spaniard were the church and court. Evidence from these forums of unequal power illustrates the nuanced presentation and perception of the khipu within the larger context of the navigation of Spanish hegemony. Taken together, these sources provide a glimpse into how the khipu itself was transformed by its use by natives in a colonial context.

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