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


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