Indigenous Record Keeping and Hacienda Culture in the Andes: Modern Khipu Accounting on the Island of the Sun, Bolivia

Abstract: How did khipus—knotted cords that encode information—function within the economic systems of the postcolonial Andes? Best known as the method by which the Incas recorded administrative data, khipu use continued into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Few studies of modern khipus, however, have analyzed how khipu cords were integrated with the institutions of the modern state, such as the hacienda. This article examines a set of modern khipus from the Island of the Sun in Bolivia. These khipus, which contain dried potatoes and beans, are the first ever known to include agricultural produce. Our analysis demonstrates how the circulation of khipu styles within the Island of the Sun was linked to hacienda production, underscoring the intimate relationship between khipus and hacienda culture. Modern herding and crop khipus did not arise out of a generalized Andean consciousness but were products of specific historical and economic circumstances.