Response 4

Upon initially brainstorming for ideas for the khipu project, I quickly realized how narrow-minded my thinking was. I wanted to tell a story with the khipu, but I struggled to find a way to tell a story without combining letters to form words. I then began to try to think of a way to convert different knots (and the distance between knots) into letters. That’s when I realized I was missing the point, and needed to start thinking outside of the box. So I began to research what a traditional khipu was used for. I thought they were probably used for a few specific things, but I found out that they were used for more reasons than I could imagine. For example, some khipus represented a recipe for a dish or a song, some were used for numerical purposes, and some indeed told stories (Urton 409-410). Also, the khipu was much more intricate than I imagined. Every specific thing had a different meaning. Strings could be different sizes, colors, or attached to the main loop differently. Knots come in many different styles. Their placement, direction and repetition could also mean different things. I was truly amazed at the complexity and detail involved in the making of a khipu.

My second round of brainstorming was when I figured out exactly what I wanted to do with my khipu. I came up with many ideas for what to make my khipu about. I realized that each indigenous person probably had many khipus, and began thinking about the different ways to make each one of them. However I realized that I only had to make one khipu, and therefore would only need one of those ideas. The choice was simple, I knew the idea that meant the most to me was constructing a khipu that represents my family tree, starting with my grandparents. I have a large family, and they are very important to me. My khipu would have to be versatile, in that it must be able to be passed on and added upon. I knew what I wanted to do, but I also knew that there were many intricacies involved in representing people and their ages with knots.

The distinctions I have to make include: gender, age, marital status, children (in order and distinguished by age difference), children’s children, etc. First, I decided that knots on the primary line would represent my grandparents, using a different knot for male and female. Their children will be represented by strategically placed (to represent age) strings hanging from in-between the grandparent knots. If that child is married, a knot will be tied right next to where the string is attached to the primary line. The grandchildren (my generation) will be represented by knots along that string, according to their age. When I get married, a string would be hung from my knot, and another knot added to that string in close proximity to where it is attached to my knot. My children would then be represented by knots along that string, and so on for future generations. When a person dies, the end of their string gets tied to where it is attached, forming a loop.

While typing this I began to realize that, as much as I hate to admit it, it could in fact be easier to record a family tree this way. If one knew how to properly interpret it, as complex as it sounds, it is actually a very simple concept that includes all the distinctions necessary. This project was at first challenging, forcing me to think outside the box. It quickly became extremely fruitful, in helping me realize (for the first time) that in many cases, writing may not be the best form of communication.


Urton, Gary. “From Knots to Narratives: Reconstructing the Art of Historical Record Keeping in the Andes from Spanish Transcriptions of Inka Khipus.” Ethnohistory 45.3 (1998): 409-410

Response #3

Reading Response #3

While reading the first five chapters of Broken Spears I found that I couldn’t help but question and critique almost every event in the book. For example, I do not understand how there was dialogue between the Spanish invaders and the native Mexicans. It was clearly the first time these two civilizations had never come into contact previously, and therefore must have had completely different languages, or ways of communicating. But when the messengers met them at the beach it seemed as though they communicated fairly easily. I understand that the book mentioned that the Spaniards had a translator, a native Mexican that they captured on the beach; but that was also hard to believe. They would have had to capture this woman several months prior to teach her enough Spanish to translate the conversations mentioned in the book. And if they were there for months, surely the people of Mexico would have noticed them sooner.

Some of my questions arose from my distrust in non-written forms of history, along with their translation to writing. There was a clear discrepancy in when the omens started occurring. According to the stories of the Aztecs, the first omen occurred in the year 12-horse, ten years before the Spanish invasion. However the year 12-horse corresponds to the year 1517. And according to Spain’s written history, the conquer of the Aztec Empire began in 1517. The two histories clearly contradict each other, and I immediately thought the Spaniards written history was more accurate. After realizing this was naïve, I put some further thought into it. It seems like the easiest place an error could have been made was translating the Aztec year 12-horse into the Spanish calendar. It could be possible that the year 12-horse was actually 1509, but since the stories are as translated, it would be very difficult to prove that. I kept thinking about how this major discrepancy could still be unresolved.

This led me to further question non-written forms of history. Knowing that stories were passed mainly by word of mouth from generation to generation of Aztecs, I couldn’t help but question how many times this story could have changed after even a few decades. Stories are often exaggerated when grandparents pass them on to their grandchildren, like the cliché, “I walked 10 miles to and from school everyday, uphill both ways,” but obviously to a lesser degree. I still believe that the vast majority of the events described actually occurred, but it is clear that some are embellished. One of the omens I didn’t believe at all was the Eighth Omen, where a two-headed man appeared, and when presented to the King he vanished. Two things bothered me about that: the two headed man, and the fact that he vanished. As far as I know neither are, or have been, humanly possible.

Another thing that struck me was how it was possible for so many people to escape from the King’s prison. All of the magicians a escaped, as well as the macehual who visited the palace. I didn’t even know where to start in trying to reason through this one. If trustworthy guards said they didn’t see anybody leave, the prison would have been inspected for alternate exits after the magicians escaped, and therefore it would have been extremely difficult for the macehual to escape as well. However, nobody seemed to even question the fact of how they escaped; the King just assumed everybody was a magician. With all these clear loose ends, it was hard to concentrate on the actual facts presented by these accounts, but it was still interesting to see the other side of the story.

Response 2

Throughout our lives we are taught about history. In America we mainly focus on the history of Europeans and then about the history of America since Europeans took over. In our studies we only touch on ancient civilizations and cultures. We are lead to believe that the people no longer exist. However this is far from the truth. The bloodlines are still there, but these people have been removed from their histories. European settlers failed to understand that these people had a written history. In their interpretation, history must be written, and writing is only accepted in alphabetical form. Their history was recorded in pictures rather than alphabetically. The histories of these people (Aztecs, Mixtecs, and other indigenous people of Mexico) were essentially erased by the Spaniards. I’m sure the elders still retained what they could and passed it along to future generations, but after a while it began to fade.

We are taught to believe that hieroglyphs are pre-historic, and any cultures that used them are not nearly as advanced as those who use alphabetic writing. But the indigenous people had books just as the Europeans had. They had their own calendar and religious beliefs. The Europeans failed to recognize that and immediately assumed their way of doing things was better. Now, people are becoming wiser. We have come to understand that there are many different ways of accomplishing the same task. For example, Americans may not understand Chinese characters, but we accept that it is a different language, developed from a separate culture throughout their history. Now that we can accept that there are other languages and forms of writing, we are beginning to understand that there may be a lot to learn from each and every one of these ancient forms of text.

People now are trying to go back to recover and learn the meaning of the pictorials. This may be to gain education, but it’s mainly for the descendants of those people to rediscover and understand the culture and traditions of their ancestors. The key to recovering the true history, however, is to separate it completely from the revisions of the European settlers. This was a difficult task because since the takeover, even indigenous historians began using a mixture of the pictorial and alphabetic writing. People who are trying to find the true history of the indigenous people argue that, “’authentic voices’ are distorted by colonial transcription.” This statement makes perfect sense if you know two languages. Knowing three languages I fully understand how difficult it is to translate between languages.  It is easy to mix words up, which can completely change the meaning of a statement. To recover their true history, I believe we must learn the meanings of pictorials that are untouched by the colonial hand.  To my understanding, “Stories in Red and Black” is an account of the history of different indigenous Mexican civilizations, as recovered by historians so far. With continued research, more will continue to be recovered, and hopefully we will eventually have a comprehensive history of these people.


Response 1

La Mission Response (#1)

            In many (recent) cultures homosexuality is not accepted by any means, rather it is considered taboo or even sinful. Catholics are raised to believe that love and love-making are reserved for relationships between one man and one woman. I have learned that during the Roman Empire it was not uncommon for a man to sleep with another man; even Julius Caesar had male partners. However, it has since become much less acceptable in our society. As this idea solidified throughout the years, homosexuals were forced to hide their true feeling for fear of being ridiculed or prosecuted. Recently there has been an increase in expressions of homosexuality, especially in America where homosexual marriages are legal in many states. America has established itself as a country where people have many rights and are free to fight for the rights they do not have. As homosexuality has become more prevalent and public, many people/groups have resisted accepting same-sex relationships. Gays in America are still made fun of in many social situations.

In La Mission, Jay (the father) is clearly a very religious, manly man. He is truly shaken and disturbed upon learning that his son Jess is gay. He literally doesn’t know how to act. However what he doesn’t realize is that his son has been gay all his life, therefore Jay should not have to change how he acts. The first time we saw that Jess was gay on screen (when he kissed his boyfriend) I was also disgusted like Jay. I instinctively looked away during all the “gay” scenes. However, seeing how Jess was treated by his peers and elders made me think twice about my views on homosexuals. What people must force themselves to understand is that being gay is not a choice. As hard as we try we cannot change how we feel. If his feeling tell him that he likes a man, he cannot change that. Many gay men try to hide their true feelings by sleeping with women to divert the attention, some gay men go so far as getting married to a woman to try to prove to others (or even themselves) that they are not gay. Recently, many married men have been “coming out of the closet” because today’s society is becoming more accepting of gays.

That, however, is not the case in most countries. According to the article “What it’s like to be Gay in Tajikistan” being gay was a crime in Tajikistan until 1998. However, even though it is decriminalized, homosexuality is not even remotely accepted. It is not uncommon for a gay man to be murdered. And when this does happen, the police cover up the crime. Worse yet, if the police find out you are gay, they blackmail you. They threaten to tell your family/friends about your orientation if you do not pay them a certain amount. They are of course forced to pay the amount. In the case of Ravshan Uzakov, the blackmailing persisted until he could no longer take it. Uzakov ended his own life at the age of 23.

Hopefully homosexuals in America continue to fight for their rights. When they succeed other countries will likely follow order eventually. Although I don’t like watching men kiss, I can understand that it’s just the way they are, not a choice they’re making or a disease they posses. Even though I may still look away, I accept the fact that they are gay.



Article used:       What It’s Like to Be Gay in Tajikistan