We are rapidly revising Angel Rama’s concept of the “lettered city” (la ciudad letrada) to include indigenous writers and their texts. So far, however, Andeanists have focused mainly on those who wrote in Quechua or used quipu, a distinctively Andean form of record keeping. This article argues the importance of including indigenous writers who wrote in Spanish, particularly native Andean notaries (escribanos de cabildo).
Viceroy Francisco de Toledo ordered such notaries into existence in the 1570s as part of his ordinances concerning Indians. One of Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala’s most widely reproduced drawings depicts this very figure. He is labeled both “escribano de cabildo” and “quilcaycamayoc” (paper keeper), suggesting a possible connection between these writers and the quipucamayoc who kept Andean quipu archives.
Burns uses evidence from the Cuzco region to flesh out these men’s activities, examine the archives they made, and raise questions about their connections to quipu literacy. Andean notaries are presented as a kind of double-edged sword — as crucial intermediaries vis-à-vis the Spanish colonial bureaucracy who might work both for and against their communities’ interests. The archival traces of this Andean notariate oblige us to rethink our notion of the “lettered city” as an urban phenomenon centered exclusively on elite Spaniards.