The Incas did not have a known alphabetic writing system. However, despite this, they developed many communication routes throughout the empire that included part of the current territories of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Chile and Argentina. How they did it? They used the oral route through a network of paths deployed by the most important points of the empire.
- What was the language of the Incas?
- Did the Incas have writing?
- How did they communicate?
- How did the quipus system work?
- What was the snap communication system like?
- What was the ‘Qhapac Ñan’ network of Inca roads like?
- Inca oral communication: myths and legends
- Questions and answers about Inca communication
The Incas did not have an alphabetic writing system but they did have the ‘quipus’, a set of ropes and knots that, when decoded, recorded a statistic or, even They communicated a message. The ones in charge of sending the message of the quipu was the so-called ‘chasqui’, which traveled the immense network of Inca roads ‘qhapac ñan’.
What was the language of the Incas?
- Quechua (runa simi) was the language official of the Inca empire. After the expansion of the empire throughout the South American continent, Quechua also spread throughout the conquered territories. It is currently spoken by more than 10 million people on the continent, which includes regions of Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Chile, Bolivia and Argentina.
- The Inca founders came from a highland region where a diversity of languages existed. Upon settling in Cusco, however, they assumed Quechua, the language of the peoples who inhabit that area. According to some chroniclers, the Inca royal family, in addition to Quechua, communicated in their own previous language. The people, on the other hand, did it in Quechua.
Did the Incas have writing?
- The Incas did not have an alphabetic writing system. However, it is presumed that they had a system of strings called ‘Quipu’, which could have served as a means of communication to remember stories and events in the empire.
- With the arrival of the Spanish, Spanish was violently imposed between the Incas and the Andean peoples of the continent. Over the centuries it replaced Quechua as the most widely spoken language. People learned the Spanish alphabet system.
How did they communicate?
- Inca communication throughout the empire was complex. The Inca ordered the construction and improve what was inherited by other cultures such as the Wari a wide network of roads called ‘Qhapac ñan’. This was used by the ‘Chasquis’ (messengers who traveled the empire on foot using relays) to send important messages.
- The ‘Quipus’ were used as the empire’s accounting system. However, recent research also suggests that it served as a system used to memorize important events in Inca history.
How did the quipus system work?
- According to research, the quipus were basically a record of numerical information encoded in a structure of ropes and knots of different colors. The ropes were made from llama and alpaca fibers.
- Deciphering the exact meaning behind the quipus is a difficult task that is still under investigation. Recent works suggest that they also kept stories and legends about the Incas.
- The person in charge of deciphering and manipulating the quipus was called ‘Quipucamayoc’. The quipus system consisted of forming several ropes that hung from a larger one. Each knot had its own meaning according to the spaces between them.
- Quipus have been found in huacas and urban centers throughout Peru including Cusco and Lima. The chasquis were in charge of taking them throughout the Tahuantinsuyo territory.
What was the snap communication system like?
- The chasquis were the people of the Inca empire in charge of transporting messages on foot from one point to another in the Inca territory using the Qhapac ñan road network and a well-organized relay system.
- Due to the difficulty of their task, they were selected for their physical strength and confidence. They were trained from children to know the shortcuts through the most difficult mountains.
- In order to carry out their task effectively, the Incas built colcas (stores with food) in key parts of their road network. So the chasquis could feed and recover energy.
- The good organization of the chasquis messaging system was such that the Spaniards continued to use this system during the colony because they believed that the message would arrive faster than when doing it with a horse.
- Generally the chasquis conveyed messages through quipus. For their task they had a pututu that announced their presence.
What was the ‘Qhapac Ñan’ network of Inca roads like?
- The road network that was deployed from Cusco to all the most important points of the Inca empire was called Qhapac ñan. This served to maintain communication between the different territories conquered by the Incas. It covered the territories of Ecuador (Quito) to Argentina (Aconcagua).
- It consisted mainly of two longitudinal sections that crossed the Cordillera de los Andes and the coast of the Pacific Ocean. It is estimated that the Incas built 60 thousand kilometers of this road network.
- The Qhapac ñan were made mainly of stone. The Incas improved the road network of other civilizations such as the Wari. The Inca was taken along these roads to other latitudes of the empire. The chasquis also used it to transport messages.
- Some sections of the Qhapac ñan survive to this day. Perhaps the most famous is the so-called ‘Inca Trail’ (route that connects Cusco with Machu Picchu).
Inca oral communication: myths and legends
- Inca communication was basically oral. The official language was Quechua, although in some territories of the empire other languages were used, such as Aymara, Tallán and more. The regions that adopted Quechua as their language, transformed the language into a diverse form.
- Like many cultures, the Incas cultured their traditions through oral tradition. Thus, their myths and legends passed from generation to generation through the oral route. Some of them survive to this day, such as: the Legend of the Ayar brothers and the Legend of Manco Cápac and Mama Ocllo, which explain the origin of the Inca civilization.
- Another example of the Inca oral tradition is El drama Ollantay, which was written during the colony but whose origin would come from the Inca oral tradition. This work recreates a love drama between an Inca general and the daughter of Emperor Pachacutec who does not approve of the relationship.
Questions and answers about Inca communication
1) What are quipus?
The quipus were an Inca system that recorded accounting in the empire. The quipus were wool ropes that, through knots and colors, recorded numerical data, although it is also argued that they had a message of historical events.
2) Did the Incas have writing?
The Incas did not have an alphabetic writing system. However, they had a well-structured oral communication system through the chasquis system and the road network of the qhapac ñan.
3) What was the Inca communication system like?
The Inca communication system was based on a network of royal roads (the qhapac ñan) that were traveled by messengers (chasquis) over more than 30 thousand kilometers.
4) Did the Incas have roads?
The Incas had a system of royal roads that reached more than 30 thousand kilometers along regions of the current countries of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Argentina and Chile.
5) What are the qhapac ñan?
Qhapac ñan means ‘royal road’. It was a network of royal roads built mainly on the Pacific coast and in the Andes Mountains. It covered more than 30 thousand kilometers and connected every corner of the Tahuantinsuyo empire.
6) What language did the Incas speak?
The Incas had Quechua as their official language. In addition, the Inca elite spoke the puquina. During the imperial era, hundreds of languages were spoken in the Inca territory (including the languages of the conquered peoples).
7) Who were the snappers?
The chasquis were the messengers in the Inca era. They were prepared to travel tens of kilometers at speed until they gave the relay and the message to another snap and so on.
8) How fast did the snaps run?
The chasquis stood out for their physical resistance and their ability to complete their section in the shortest possible time until they gave the baton to another chasqui. It is estimated that each chasqui traveled between 10 and 15 kilometers to its destination.
9) Were the quipus deciphered?
Research work to decode the quipus (Inca accounting system) has not finished and continues to be a mystery.
10) Where to see quipus today in Peru?
During the visit to Peru it is possible to see quipus in the Lima Art Museum (MALI), in the Larco Museum in Lima, in the Inka Museum in Cusco and more.
By Ticket Machu Picchu – Last updated, August 20, 2022