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The Lettered Mountain

A Peruvian Village’s Way with Writing

Frank Salomon and Mercedes Niño-Murcia

Publication Year: 2011

Andean peoples joined the world of alphabetic literacy nearly 500 years ago, yet the history of their literacy has remained hidden until now. In The Lettered Mountain, Frank Salomon and Mercedes Niño-Murcia expand notions of literacy and challenge stereotypes of Andean “orality” by analyzing the writings of mountain villagers from Inka times to the Internet era. Their historical ethnography is based on extensive research in the village of Tupicocha, in the central Peruvian province of Huarochirí. The region has a special place in the history of Latin American letters as the home of the unique early-seventeenth-century Quechua-language book explaining Peru’s ancient gods and priesthoods. Granted access to Tupicocha’s surprisingly rich internal archives, Salomon and Niño-Murcia found that legacy reflected in a distinctive version of lettered life developed prior to the arrival of state schools. In their detailed ethnography, writing emerges as a vital practice underlying specifically Andean sacred culture and self-governance. At the same time, the authors find that Andean relations with the nation-state have been disadvantaged by state writing standards developed in dialogue with European academies but not with the rural literate tradition.

Published by: Duke University Press


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pp. xi-xiv


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pp. xv-xvi

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pp. xvii-xix

One makes an ethnography by weaving research experiences together with threads of friendship. We are deeply indebted to many Tupicochans who shared their knowledge with us. For some fifteen years they have enriched our research with their kindness, generosity, and wit. Don Alberto Vilcayauri and his daughter...

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Introduction: Peru and the Ethnography of Writing

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pp. 1-30

Almost half a millennium has passed since Spanish invaders began building an empire of letters over the lands of the Inka state. As much as Spanish law strove to keep writing harnessed as the specialized language of command for legal and religious conquistador elites, the people called yndios quickly became actors...

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One: An Andean Community Writes Itself

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pp. 31-70

This chapter concerns the physical presence of texts in a modern village, the local way of producing texts, and the way local archives work. Visitors to Peruvian villages do not routinely see any of this. Indeed, they experience a first impression that these are alphabetically impoverished places. This mistaken perception results largely from misunderstandings...

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Two: From Khipu to Narrative

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pp. 71-124

Most of the lettered life sketched in chapter 1 resembles that of similar villages. As in many villages, literate and numerate life had as its historical context a long coexistence with the ancient Andean medium, the khipu. Exceptionally, Tupicocha retains its khipus, at least those pertaining...

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Three: A Tale of Two Lettered Cities: Schooling from Ayllu to State

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pp. 125-152

Across the dusty patios of rural schools all over Peru, in the 1990s, platoons of gray-uniformed infant soldiers goose-stepped in wavering squares. From toddler age upward, young villagers acquired the alphabet in what looked like a child-scale boot camp for citizenship. Since 2000, the Education Ministry has deauthorized military drill and promoted...

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Four: ‘‘Papelito Manda’’: The Power of Writing

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pp. 153-182

The sun rises on a day of faena (‘task, assignment’), that is, a collective workday ordered by the Community authority. Everyone is getting ready to answer the call. While some workers ready cement, sand, lumber, shovels, and pickaxes, one member in every ayllu packs notebooks, pens, a big bag of coca leaf, tobacco, bottles, and rubber stamps...

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Five: Power over Writing: Academy and Ayllu

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pp. 183-220

In chapter 4 we concentrated on the power of writing. Power over writing is a different matter. As Roger Chartier argues, performative power, such as the force of an authoritative text, becomes a fact through special linguistic rules and conventions that invoke power (1999:25–27)...

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Six: Writing and the Rehearsal of the Past

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pp. 221-260

When a lettered yndio picked up his quill to write a preface for the great 1608 Quechua Manuscript of Huarochirí, he started by asking what difference it would have made ‘‘if the ancestors of the people called Indians had known writer[s]’’ (Salomon and Urioste 1991:41)....

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Seven: Village and Diaspora as Deterritorialized Library

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pp. 261-284

In the dusty flea markets of central Lima, some low-end book dealers offer stacks of obscure publications from the country’s provinces, towns, and villages. These catchall volumes of local lore come from job printers in central Lima. They are contracted by villagers or townspeople who promote them as festival souvenirs...

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pp. 285-296

Unheralded and uninvited, Native South Americans became a part of the worldwide literate sphere nearly half a millennium ago. Strangely, this bothers many intellectuals. Far from welcoming Amerindians as peers in the republic of letters, they like to pose Native South Americans as lamentable exemplars of humanity denatured or defrauded by letters...

Appendix: Examples of Document Genres

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pp. 297-300


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pp. 301-310


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pp. 311-350


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pp. 351-368

E-ISBN-13: 9780822394341
E-ISBN-10: 0822394340
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822350279
Print-ISBN-10: 0822350270

Page Count: 360
Illustrations: 73 illustrations
Publication Year: 2011