According to the anonymous seventeenth-century author of the Quito Manuscript, ancient Andeans once possessed a writing system (qillqa) that they replaced with knotted strings (khipu) as part of the religious and sexual reform of their nation. The manuscript's redactor, Fernando de Montesinos, added to the text his own speculations about Andean writing, which he linked to the Tree of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. For both of these authors, ideas about indigenous “writing” were not neutral, but were intertwined with arguments about the moral and cultural merits of Andean civilization. This essay explores how each author's claims about writing and knotted strings—qillqa and khipu—were intrinsic to their political and theological aims, fitting into a larger discourse about the justification of colonial rule.

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