Rite of passage for a young Chanka girl

me and yenifer in uranmarca
This is me in the home of Yenifer, a young Chanka girl in the small village of Uranmarca, site of the Inka way-station for travellers crossing the Pampas River. Yenifer’s parents asked me and my archeologist friend, Brian Bauer, to give Yenifer her first haircut. This is an ancient ceremony — as god parents, Brian and I both gave her funds to start her herd of animals. After we each cut one of her braids, Yenifer’s father put the hair on a small house made of straw in the middle of this room. Then the hair and straw were burned, a sign that her infancy was over. Being part of this event was just one of the many joys of doing fieldwork for my book, The Chankas and the Priest: A Tale of Murder and Exile in Highland Peru.

Cook? Victim? Poisoner?

chanka girl face
Is this young Andean woman a victim of Father Albadán’s abuse? Is she his cook, Francisca, whom he forced to work for him through fear? And if so, did she slip some fatal herbs into his soup one day? I chose this haunting image for the cover of The Chankas and the Priest to represent both Albadán’s victims and the woman who may have brought about his untimely demise. It was important to me that there be a native Andean person on the cover, rather than an image of the brutal priest who tormented the Chankas for a decade (1601-1611). It took my 10 years to write the Chanka portion of this book, and 2 years to write the Albadan portion — ultimately this work is my tribute to the Chanka people of Apurimac, Peru, who opened their homes and their archives to me.

New Discoveries about Khipus!

My recent fieldwork in the Andes has enabled me to understand the significance of the two most common colour patterns — colour banding and seriation — on khipus! Thanks to many people who helped me in the field, especially Mecias Pumajulka, the grandson of the last khipukamayoq in Anchucaya! Thanks also to National Geographic Society’s Global Exploration Fund for their support!

The Journal of Material Culture has accepted my article, “How Khipus Indicated Labour Contributions in an Andean Village” for publication. Here is the abstract:

New archival and ethnographic evidence reveals that Inka style khipus were used in the Andean community of Santiago de Anchucaya to record contributions to communal labour obligations until the 1940s. Archival testimony from the last khipu specialist in Anchucaya, supplemented by interviews with his grandson, provides the first known expert explanation for how goods, labour obligations, and social groups were indicated on Inka style Andean khipus. This evidence, combined with the analysis of Anchucaya khipus in the Museo Nacional de Arqueología, Antropología y Historia Peruana, furnishes a local model for the relationship between the two most frequent colour patterns (colour banding and seriation) that occur in khipus. In this model, colour banding is associated with individual data whilst seriation is associated with aggregated data. The archival and ethnographic evidence also explain how labour and goods were categorised in uniquely Andean ways as they were represented on khipus.

Mesias Pumajulka, grandson of last khipu expert

Mesias Pumajulka, grandson of the last khipu expert in his village