Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

#159 Quipu . . .

I stand in front of this quipu,
the second one I’ve been close enough
to touch with my own hands,
this strange belt of long, knotted strings.

When the conquistadors came
to the land of the Inkas, the Mapuche, the Wari,
these quipus were burned, idolatrous.
Only later scholars discovered these belts,
made of woven llama or alpaca wool,
knotted in units of ten,
these “talking knots” carried information
from kingdom to kingdom,
high along the Andes trail,
the knots their own language,
a chronicle, a census,
accountable, transparent
in their fragile white, red and black twists of wool,
some knots figure-eights,
more than numbers, sacred colors, stored infinity
that, it is said,
a few could read with their eyes closed,
their fingers “telling” the knots.

In the whole world, only 600 quipus remain.
This is one.
Not all that was burned is lost.
Some things are known and not told.

The Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, here in Santiago, Chile, has an amazing collection of Pre-Columbian artifacts, including textiles and this one quipu. I read scholars are now finding possible clues about the “language” of these quipus in paintings of textiles and pottery. I was still very moved to see this beautiful quipu and so wrote this second response to Sunday Scribblings' prompt on Language. The image comes from Wikipedia.


  1. Absolutely beautiful. If only we could read the stories that would unfold, the truths that would be told. Thanks for sharing this.
    Teresa aka Tess

  2. I was at a drawing workshop last night where the models wore necklaces very similar to that pictured above. But in that context, with the costumes they wore, the necklaces were no more than ornamental. How interesting though that those knots should tell a story, like Braille.

  3. This is an exceptional piece, Beth. Rooted in the spirit of the place, this poem is like no other. The symbolic aspect is such a strong element here. Cheers.