The Historical Sources *
Since the Indians had no writing, we do not possess any document written in the language that was spoken on the Andean plateau at the time of the Spanish conquest. The first chroniclers reproduced as best they could in their own language the sounds that they heard. As a result, we find the same word written in three or four different ways -- which does not help to make our investigations any easier.1 Modern authors have themselves adopted sometimes one spelling and sometimes another with the utmost capriciousness. There is, of course, an international phonetic system,2 but it makes for difficult reading, and we have decided not to make use of it. We shall use instead the traditional and standard Spanish spelling.
In the absence of written documents, the Spaniards could be taught only by word of mouth. The Indians had, to be sure, a kind of aide-mémoire, the quipu,3 made of knotted cords, of which we have spoken in chapter 9, but it was only a very imperfect instrument. By the use of it, however, the official historians of the empire at the time of the Incas kept a record of past events and transmitted it to their successors. We know that, in addition, every province had its local historians, although we cannot say precisely whether these were special functionaries or merely tribal chiefs. Sarmiento de Gamboa tells how the Inca Pachacutec called all these historians together in the capital, questioned them at some length, and had the principal events of the reigns of his ancestors____________________