Sunday, April 17, 2016

Quellqa: Ancient Written Language of Peru – Part II

Continuing from the last post with more information on both the Quellqa and Quipo langauges of the Inca and what happened to the written script and why the Inca were illiterate when the Spanish arrived.
     According to Mariano Eduardo de Rivero (Peruvian Antiquities, 1851), "The ancient Peruvians possessed two kinds of writing. The first, probably the oldest, was a kind of hieroglyphic characters and the second in knots made ​​of yarns of different colors."
    According to Montesinos, this script writing existed in Cuzco in the time of the pre-Inca king Toca Corca Apo Capac, a fortieth sage and astrologist monarch. At this time there existed in Cusco a University where was studied the writing science.
“In undetermined times”, he wrote, “according to what Indians say, there was [in this university] letters and signs written on vegetal sheets (left), until all were lost a hundred years ago.” The chronicle then informed that under the reign of Titu Yupanqui Pachacuti, sixty second emperor, “wild people from Brasil and the emerged lands arrived. They were great warriors and because of them was lost the writing system.” Titu Yupanqui Pachacuti fought in a bloody battle, but he was defeated and died shortly after it. Cusco remained uninhabited and the secret of handwriting kept by the Inca elders was lost. Four centuries later, the Inca Tupac Cauri Pachacuti consulted the god Illatici Huira Cocha’s oracle, in order to reestablish the use of handwriting, but the god revealed that the cause of the great disaster that once affected the Empire “were the letters, that no one had dared resurrect since then, considering that precisely from its use had come a great misfortune.”
Tupac Cauri thus promulgated a law forbidding anyone to “ever use the ‘quilca’ or the vegetal sheets that served for writing, or use in whatever manner the letters, on pain of death.” The chronicle added that, from then on, no one dared use writing signs anymore, and that when a wise man did invent or resurrect them, he was deprived of his life. Since then, the system of quipus replaced handwriting, and appeared in Pacaritampu where it was taught to nobles for military exercises.
    Montesino’s thesis, long discussed but now refuted, asserted that a phonetic writing system existed in Cusco before the Empire and was then forgotten or prohibited and replaced by the quipus, unique system known from the Incas of historic descent.
    While some theorists may refute this,there is one certain fact that cannot be denied—the Quechua language in the time of Montesinos had a word meaning “writing,” and was “qilca” (quilca); and in Aymara the word “qellca.” Quilca was used to name the qilcacamayoc (writing) that works like a quipucamayoc (quipu knots) mode were responsible for writing and performing the quilcas (scriptures). Curious that there is a word for something that supposedly did not exist at the time of the Incas.
In both languages, the word for writing was not in reference to the quipo, but in referring to a written script. Thus, in Peru, in ancient times, it is certain there were two different writing systems: the qilca (or qellca)—script writing—and the quipu (knots).
    In addition, on the so-called Petroglyphs of Pusharo, an ancient rock art site is located in the Peruvian rainforest on the eastern slopes of the Andes north of Machu Picchu, and, according to some explorers, near the lost city of Paititi. The site is made up of an array of deeply incised rock carvings that cover up to a height of nine feet, a perpendicular rock face that is over 100 feet long and 75 feet high. Its location is on the south shore of the Palatoa River (designated on some maps at this location as the Porotoa, and known by others as the Palatoa Chico).
    These petroglyphs are thought by some researchers to be purely Pan-Amazonian in origin, and of mystic religious or shamanic significance to those Amerindians of past centuries who must have been their creators. Others believe that there is an Incan component that is now coming to light, and that the glyphs constitute parts of a map. Still others feel these glyphs constitute a testimony of an ancient pre-Columbian writing system whose existence seems to be verified by Indian traditionsk, but rejected by the established archaeological community.
    It can indeed be observed, in many places of the Pusharo wall, in sector I-A, the presence of often repetitive geometric figures that evoke ideographic signs from an ancient alphabet whose meaning would have been lost. In the wall, sector II, dozens of other glyphs seem to more directly refer to an ancient writing system. Some of those glyphs very often remind one of the t’oqapu (tocapu) that can be observed on Inca ceramics and fabrics.
A tocapu woven textile using symbols to represent some type of communication in ancient Peru
    As an example, the tocapu (tocapo) is considered a graphical communication system that the prehispanic Andeans used during the Inca era consisting of a set of squares with geometric decoration, generally polychrome, which appear on woven or embroidered textiles, painted vases and the Quero, a ceremonial wood vessel, causing some Andean researchers to assume that it is a lost writing system of the Inca, or pre-Inca. Other researchers have proposed that it was a kind of heraldry belonging to the Inca nobility meant to characterize dynasties or kings.  
    It was Victoria de la Jara who was the first researcher to set these figures in the written notation system, recording 294 figures with phonetic-syllabic meaning. It was also studied by Thomas Sylvester Barthel, a German ethnologist (relationship between societies), Mayanist (Maya language and culture) and epigrafista (the science of inscriptions on hard materials) known for his cataloging of the Rongorongo language of Easter Island, whose early inhabitants claimed the language was brought from the “mainland” to the east—that is, Peru. He reduced the characters to only 24, proposing the decipherment of some of them.
    However, like almost all new ideas in the sciences that run against the norm, “both proposals, the Barthel and Victoria de la Jara have not been accepted by the scientific community, which looks with suspicion and skepticism on the existence of a ‘lost writing of the Incas’.”
It is interesting that of all the chroniclers who have written, and all the later historians who have broached the subject, and all the histories that can be found about the Inca, that all agree on one point—the Peruvians had no written language when the Spanish arrived. To say otherwise, is simply a blasphemous statement in the eyes of the archaeologist, anthropologist, and historian. And any attempt to change that agreed-to “fact” brings only contempt. After all, in the sciences communities, changing one’s views is slow and far between—in fact, almost never, since it requires being shown wrong, having one’s lifelong pursuits in jeopardy, and placing all one's printed material of the past in question. Look at what happened to Thor Heyerdahl who challenged, and proved himself right, that winds and currents would not have allowed the Polynesian islands from being discovered and settled by people of China, India and Indonesia. They not only never foregave Heyerdahl, but called into question all his work and labeled him an adventurer not a "real" archaeologist. Of course, more modern studies of winds and currents of the world's oceans have proven Heyerdahl correct, but the established architectural and anthropological communities have not changed their stance.
    However, in our day and age, these long-held attitudes regarding early Peruvian script writing may be changing.
(See the next post, “Quellqa: Ancient Written Language of Peru – Part III,” for more information on how the sciences are possibly changing and looking at new insights into an early Peruvian writing system)

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