Writing systems in Lijiang

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Naxi ethnic people developed 2 different writing systems, Dongba pictographic and Geba Syllabic writing.

Their origins, and their chronological relationship is doubtful and much discussed by scholars which could be devided in 2 main group: one believed millenary origins of pictographic writing system (as J. Rock and some Chinese scholars), the other group supported that developing of Dongba pictographic writing system must be recent and it took its origins just since few centuries (Jackson).

Another division could be identified between scholars who believe that pictographic writing system (Dongba) must necessary older than Syllabic writing system (Geba) and other group (as Backot and Jakson) of studious supposed pictographic writing system must be younger then syllabic writing system, so they interpret Geba characters as very older then Dongba pictographs.

Naxi historical tradition attributes invention of writing both to ancestor Mou Bao Ha Cong (according to Mu Gong royal chronology and to Yuan Yi Tongzi) and to mythical Ye Ye (records of Lijiang prefecture, 1700: math n1 pg143), and in both case chronicles available however didn’t specify if writing system is Geba or Dongba.

Dongba tradition believed that Geba Syllabics system, whose name in Naxi language means “disciples” was tough from Dongba Shilo to his disciples, whilst pictographic system, whose Chinese name, traduction of Naxi, was Shijiu Lijiu, literally means “memory of wood, memory of stone”, was tough to ancient Naxi ancestors form a shaman, reincarnation of Dongba Shilo, who reside in the holy cave of Baidi; Baidi region is one of the most important for Naxi tradiction, in fact following some legends, Dongba young adepts could be officially consecrated only after a period of full initiation at the cave of Baidi, site most significant and sacred even if it’s not the only place where tradiction believes Shilo lived; (as Wenbi cave, near Lijiang).

Some Naxi culture scholars believe that pictographic writing system was developed precisely at Baidi, and from there was exported to Baisha, capital of Mu leadership of Lijiang region, which soon became the largest centre for production of manuscripts and headquarters of the most authoritative Dongba shamans, which were at the same time authors of manuscripts. (Mathieu, 2003: 144)

As in the case of Buddhism birth id India and its northern spread in China, Tibet and Japan (He Zhiwu note 2 pg 144; Mathieu, 2003: 144) Dongba pictographic system could have been originated in Baidi under particular circumstances, then from here could have been disseminated and, for various reasons, rooted in Baisha, centre of Mu administration, which had obvious interests in controlling Dongba tradiction as well as politics strategy to make their political centre such as well the centre of worship of the whole kingdom they ruled, thus Baisha become engine for dissemination of Dongba religion and manuscripts tradiction.

If this is true, then is also plausible to link if not the source, at least diffusion and spread of Dongba tradition and manuscript production to the same engine of Mu family and their capital Baisha, but such hypothesis doesn’t imply that Dongba pictographs birth was in Baisha, neither in Baidi, and it seems plausible presuppose that Pictographs corpus was just formed and structured before Mu shoving for Dongba spreading, so it seems more than likely that Mu leadership choose to re-use Dongba pictographs corpus as official religious language for their contemporaries manuscripts writing.

Following local historical chronicles (Fang Guoyu: 3, 4 pg 145) Mu Gao, sun of Mu Gong, visited Baidi sacred cave and anointed it to Shili, hermit shaman who resided there 500 years earlier, id est in 1050 about, date which coincides with Mu dynasty settling as leader of Mo So Zhao kingdom.

Some other sacred sites, associated to Shilo, but not associated to Dongba tradition, are known as “caves of tiger” whose name obviously could not have been raised to big feline presence in the region and 6 caves named “little caves of man” and “big caves of women”, actually called Guanyin caves, associated to fertility and health worship, pilgrimages destination and prayer sites. (Mathieu, 2003)

Extremely important are also “dragon pools and dragon springs”, consecrated site with its temple, whereabouts characterized by holy rocks (phallic symbols) to which people still turn prayers for longevity and fertility yet toady, while in thermal baths, ‘till 1949, women and young girls could not to dip in water (Mathieu, 2003: 145), discrimination evidently founded on so deeply rooted tradition that even today women have been reserved the farthest from source bathing area.

Chinese scholars classify this holy places and religious practises as “primitive religion” sites, Yunashi Zongjiao, and they impute their matrix and rituals complex to Bön substratum of Dongba tradition (Mathieu 5, pg 145)

Dongba manuscripts tradiction

It seems commonly accepted that Naxi manuscripts tradiction issued from Bön tradiction, as Donbga books nature is closely related to Tibetan books one: both consist of a series of pages with front and back cover, both bounded on the left side, both with text written in pictographs or Geba letters, both to be red from left to right.

Regarding contents, corpus of Dongba manuscripts known at today is entirely dedicated to religious practice, and is divided into 3 main categories:

  • Ceremonial books
  • Index books (list of manuscripts necessary to execute ceremonies, list of specify prays to execute for each specify rite, rituals modality, which rites has to be performed to solve particular problems, origins of demons and evils and practises needed to propitiate and to expel them, etc…)
  • Divination books

Manuscripts for the most part of Dongba corpus are devoted to fertility propitiation (the oldest tradition), funeral rites, expulsion of demons, devils and spirits, as well as to religious traditions of peoples close to Naxi, as Daba tradition of Mosuo and Bimo tradition of Yi, ancestral exorcism, divination, astrology, surgeon and medicine, funeral, wedding practise.

In Dongba corpus, there’s 200 about Geba manuscripts group consisting in magical formulas, and these texts are incomprehensible also to Dongba (Mathieu, 2003: 146; see notes 6 and 7) who can barely read them but not to give any interpretation.

Presence of so much magical formulas and spells in Geba corpus seems to suggest that Geba scripture couldn’t be considered as phonetic transliteration system of pictographs writing system, and it seems also plausible that Geba manuscripts could not belonged to the same tradiction which pictographs manuscripts were dedicated to, otherwise some Dongba were able to understand contents and give some interpretation.

Referring to clear Tibetan origins of Dongba tradiction, then seems so obvious to realize that handwriting corpus doesn’t include all esoteric setting of Bön tradition, and Dongba included in their practises just 2 of 9 road of Bön tradition: Shen prediction way and visual world way. (Jackson), while the other 7 ways of Bön ethic doctrine weren’t contemplate, and this missing could arise from the fact the Dongba tradiction followers system has no priest class through which to maintain and pass complete doctrine (Mathieu n. 8 pg. 147), so is therefore conceivable that Dongba tradition has limited its practises just to the 1st 2 ways of Bön tradition, also the 2 oldest (Snellgrove, footnote 9 p 147), as it seems plausible to infer that Naxi tradition derives directly from Bön, it’s Bön simplified based, and as just argued from Rock (1939) and recently reaffirmed from Mathieu (2003: 147 and footnote 9 pg. 147) that Dongba tradition must be old as Bön tradition.

Classification of Dongba corpus is difficult, because during history were written numerous copies of manuscripts equally dedicated to various ceremonies and their local regional variations; Rock tallied up about 2000 complete ceremonies, whilst Dongba Research Institute Chinese scholars have halved this high number to 1000 (Mathieu, footnote 11, pg. 147) and Jackson found that Dongba complete corpus could rationally be made up of 133 ceremonies (Mathieu footnote 10, pg. 147).

It seems more rational accept impossibility at today about exact knowledge of whole rites and ceremonies of Dongba tradition, as is impossible to hypothesize total number of manuscripts wrote, as it seems plausible to accept that today’s rich collection, owned to various institution and organization, (cite 147 pg) represent just small fraction of books and manuscripts available and produced only in Lijiang before Cultural Revolution, as cording to He Pingzheng scholar, is conceivable that in just a single Baxi village could have been 10,000 books. (Mathieu, 2003: 147; 147 note 14)

Although Dongba pictograms iconology is not so difficult to learn, and at today production of handicrafts decorated with pictographs is widespread because of ethnic tourism development, deciphering of manuscripts remain inaccessible to non-initiated to Dongba tradiction and to few scholars who spent many many times in study Dongba texts and Naxi modern-spoken language.

Dongba rituals are recited sung in rhythm and rhyme bars, and in manuscripts large speech parts are omitted, so to exact reading is possible to reach just through mnemonic reading keys, iconology-keys (pictograms) or sound-keys (succession of some sounds non directly related to significant’s meanings), homophonies, allusion and abbreviations, (Rock, A. Jackson & Pan Anshi note 15 pg 148), characteristics which could afford to assume that Dongba tradition originally was based on oral transmission (Pan Anshi; Mathieu 2003: 148) as pictographs writing system of manuscripts tradition could absolutely not to be considered primitive, in fact, although pictographs graphic structure is easy and not drafted, its “pictographicty” [I mean pictographic + capacity]” respects both 2 fundamental functions of writing which 1st Naxi linguists call “tuhua”, alias to draw (a drawing of a tree to express concept of tree) and 2nd is “linguistic-rebus phonetic function”, id est way of using pictograms, just because of their pronouncing, to build words and part of speech.

Thus, it seems plausible to say that pictograms cannot be regarded as a kind of primitive icons, but they are linguistically specified.

Another datum which seems to confirm complexity of Dongba pictographs writing system consists in number of 1.000 total different pictographs extracted from manuscripts, and they present subtle but noticeable stylistic regional-local differentiations, (Mathieu 16, pg. 148), but all this 1.000 significants appears sufficiently standardized to be regarded as a genuine and evolved writing system, as already documented Zherkhin region manuscripts, near Enya, which Rock collected and traduced discovering strong Phonetic-syllabic use of pictographs. (Rock, 1939 etc…; Mathieu, 17)

Geba writing system analysis seems to show it originated from 4 different sources:

1. Chinese characters

2. idiosyncratic graphemes and graphs

3. Yi characters

4. Dongba pictographs simplification

Whilst Dongba pictograms result spread in whole Lijiang region, Geba wrote documents result focused in the southern area of Naxi territory, in Lijiang city and in surrounding plateau zone, finally in Judian/Weixi region; both Dongba and Geba writing systems wasn’t adopted by Mosuo and Na of Yuanyaun (Mathieu, 2003: 149, and map 3)

Scholars generally agreed in hypothesizing Dongba pictographic writing system as indigenous of Lijiang region, however are divided in identifying chronological term of its “invention” and can’t reach any complete theory about to explaining its modality of development and its genesis.

There are also some interpretations and theories about Dongba – Geba relationship and about their genesis processes: debate around such issues results closely linked to understanding and studying of history of Naxi manuscripts and could be summed up in following 4 assumptions:

1. Evolutionary theory (He Limin, Chinese scholars)

It’s argued that pictographic is oldest and 1st stage-developed writing system derived from ancient rocks and animist artistic practises; Geba is 2nd stage-developed writing system derived from pictographs system in next era

2. Migratory theory (Li Lincan; Naxi scholars)

It’s argued that Naxi manuscripts distribution reflects migratory fluctuation of Mo-so tribal groups

3. Bön theory (Joseph Rock, Bacot)

According to this theory Geba system is ancient, older then pictographic system: Geba writing would have been ancient Bön tradiction writing system, known and used by Naxi before they migrated to north western Yunnan; pictographic writing system had to have developed during historic period subsequent to Yunnan allocation.

4. Matrilineal theory (Jackson)

According to Jackson theory Geba writing system was in use in Lijiang autochthonous matriarchal social system, and thus preceded pictographs writing system, which developed and spread in 1700 about, in the wake of Lijiang region annexation to Qing Empire, with imposition of patriarchal social system.

Concerning 1st hypothesis, evolutionary theory, its based on archaeological evidences discovered between 1991 and 1993 in Jinshanjian valley (He Limin), where was founded numerous sites which presented rich testimonies of rock art whose images are directly connected to Naxi pictograms iconology, therefore these findings were taken as evidences to demonstrate that pictographic writing system was autochthonous Naxi people production, originated from primitive religious practises of Naxi ancestors.

Scholars argued that complex writing system could not be very old, and following Marxist evolutionary theories claimed that Dongba pictographs should be developed and disseminated during Tang era, historic moment when Naxi society had to have reached sufficient stage of evolution-development which enabled politic and cultural emergence of Naxi tribal congregations, previously obscured and subdued from Tibetan and Nanzhao occupation; such stage of evolution was sufficiently developed to permit creation of priestly class and permitted developing of pictographic and iconic primitive writing system.

In major evolutionary phase, Naxi could switched from pictographs to phonetic writing system, more advanced system, which had to be developed during Mu Bao Ah Cong domain, during Song dynasty or during Mongolian domain, when Naxi society reached high level of civilization, which was matched to farming and irrigation techniques conquest in Lijiang region ( Mathieu, 2003: footnote 20 pg. 151)

Proponents of evolutionary theory assumed as irrefutable proofs some Geba characters iconography, clear and visible to all simplification and stylization of some Dongba pictographs, and justify the lack of Geba manuscripts diffusion because of never ended evolutionary process, a situation which made it impossible to replace all pictograms in Geba phonetic characters. (Mathieu 21)

Other evolutionary theories joined evolutionary model: one of them identify in Geba system such point of connection with Yi scripture and asserts that Geba and Yi system was both evolution from primitive common pictographic/iconic writing system, as it seems showed by some connection between Dongba tradiction of Naxi and Bimo tradiction of Yi people, as because of some similarity between some characters of both writing systems; finally, others scholars presupposed Geba as Ba writing system of Sichuan evolution.

At today it seems impossible and un-satisfied to accept any of those hypotheses, fist because they consider pictographic as just primitive and iconic writing system, at the same time ‘because these theory based on conjectures derived from Marxist evolutionary theory model not effort by any historical concrete documentation. (Mathieu, 2003: 150)

Anyway analysis of rocks paintings in Jinshanjiang region and parallels between Geba and Yi/Ba writing systems, and with ancient Chinese characters wrote on bones for oracles practises, resulted very important to consider, and it seems good dedicating a most complete and criticism analysis.

Limin work could be analyze beside Hans Janses study of Ojibwa rock paintings, another case of painting art in caves due to local priest practise who registered their rituals and annotated important events, using figures depicted as mnemonic keys.

Ojibwa priests also copied their rock paintings on tree bark, with obvious aim to create such “portable database”, so as to preserve religious rites and possibility of access during nomadic wondering and tribal fluctuations; similarity between Ojibwa and Baidi rock/tree-bark arts and Naxi name for pictographic writing system Shijiu Lijiu – Memory on wood memory on stone, should be pointed out.

Indeed many of Baidi and Lijiang region rock paintings and drawings presents similarities with Ojibwa rock art and other Yunnan artistic founds, especially in Cangyuan region, which artistic production dates from the beginning of 1st Millennium a. C. and it presents with images very close to Dongba pictographs iconography, with the muzzle of animals very realistic depicted, in contrast to stylized representation of human figures whose faces are always viewed as in front of perspective, whilst those animals are in profile perspective, then attention devoted to headgear representation, (in Dongba human pictographs corpus, headgears distinguish tribes and clans affiliation) dedication in designing hands with five fingers, order and iconography of numerals, pictograph of sun.

This artistic rock production appears so closely linked to Bönpo and Buddhist practise of hermit in caves searching for soul purification and spiritual optimization and rising, indeed Buddhism has great tradition of rock art and inscriptions on rocks, as the use mnemonic of sacred images and scrolls used as mnemonic “reminder” during recitation of oral formulas and prays.

Rock art is also closely linked to Mongols, who painted and engraved on rocks both for/about religious practices of sacrifices ceremonies to Mountain Dragon Spirit, and for civil using of scripture, as for their low promulgation.

Mongols, between XIII and XV century used to utilize as writing support for documents pieces of tree-bark or animals skins, all common aspects to the nomadic Moso tribe characteristics of Yuan age, whose we both know about sacrifice to heaven rite practice and about rocks artistic production linked to the same rite executed on the mountains top. (Mathieu, 2003: 187)

This series of cosmological, archaeological and historical data, evince close connections between rocks shamanic traditions of ancient tribes in Lijiang region, visual arts as mnemonic keys in Bön and Buddhist tradiction, in Mongols culture, all evidences common also to pastors/hunters groups Moso already in Ming period.

Regarding migration theory, according to Chinese scholar Li Lincan, distribution of Naxi manuscripts would reflect and be directly linked to Moso tribal groups migratory fluctuation, ancient ancestors of Naxi, allocated in Mu Li region (today’s Pumi and Mosuo), and subsequently migrated in today’s Lijiang area, where they produced pictographs writing system.

Following this hypothesis it could be explained why, in Mosuo territory, wouldn’t never found any manuscripts; moreover, Muli peculiar geographic position, seems to be confirmed by iconography of some pictographs, such as those indicating north and south cardinal points, then pictograms for river, mountain and home.

Li Lincan argues that the region where pictographs scripture was developed must be characterized by fluvial setting, where stream and river course run from north to south, and whose orography was typical of rounded mountains which so few suit with arrowed tops of Yu Long Shan mountain range; plus Lincan argues that Dongba pictogram for house represents absolutely unmistakable architectural type, not widespread in Lijiang, but recognizable in Enya region, again today’s Muli, area where are verified other geographical and environmental features in pictograms as just illustrated before. (Mathieu, 2003: 152 and footnote 27)

Lincan analysis results very interesting, and certainly it could be argued that part of Naxi ethnicity had to have their origins between tribal groups which from Muli region migrated and allocated in Lijiang area, but subsequent deductions seems not based on objective data (Mathieu 2003: 153; footnotes 29, 30 pg. 153), and regards architectural style and pictographs analysis for home/house Lincan neglected to mention that in Naxi or Dongba pictographic dictionary (Rock, 1962; Fang & H., 2000; Janekovic, 2003; Zamblera, 2007) is possible to count other 22 pictograms synonyms for house/home/habitation, and between them just 3 of these are ichnographically due to Lincan highlighted pictograms, moreover, considering history of Naxi architectural typology, counting Chinesization it must been affected by.

Lincan is in complete contradiction, because on one hand claims that some pictographs representing Naxi origin’s region and recognized it in Muli; simultaneously maintains that writing, as in Muli were not found any manuscripts, was “invented” after migration to Lijiang, so how could it been possible that iconography of such pictographs could be influenced by Muli’s geography? And why Naxi coined those pictograms with Muli’s geography just after allocated in Lijiang?

Question unresolved!

Of other thickness is Bön pre Buddhist theory formulated by Bacot and by Rock: in contrast with contemporary Chinese scholars they hypothesized that Naxi could have been developed Geba writing system in very ancient times and used it before pictographic system, probably they used to write in Geba already during migration process from north-eastern Tibet, and they supposed Geba to be very ancient Tibetan pre-Buddhist writing system (Mathieu, 34, 35).

Joseph Rock emphasized also the close similarity of Geba characters with some Lolo (Yi) and Chinese characters, so postulated that in religious texts writing in Geba was replaced by using pictograms, more functional to religious practices and therefore fell into disuse.

Many Geba characters seems really derive from ancient Chinese ideograms wrote on bones for divination and oracle rites, a practice well highlighted from archaeological documentation also for Qiang culture tribal groups already during Zhou period, and both historical and linguistic researches had underlined importance of relations and contribution of Qiang culture both for Tibetan and Naxi people genesis.

Other scholars have suggested for Geba birth some relationship with Ba scripture, writing system of south-western Sichuan tribes groups, bordering with Qiang tribes groups, so spread in south-western Sichuan and northern Yunnan (Mathieu, 2003: 155)

According to Rock hypothesis, pictographic system should have been developed after Geba scripture development, in situ in Lijiang region, (Rock guessed it was occupied nearby 24 a. C., during western Han dynasty, cfr Mathieu, footnote 40) that because to his scientist and botanist eyes whole vegetable and animals kingdom dedicated pictograms resulted to be local and native species, excepted 4 pictographs respectively for unicorn, rhinoceros, camel and elephant; Rock hypothesized that Naxi coined such news pictograms when and because they entered in contacts with Mongols.

Jackson matrilineal theory also according about Geba as 1st writing system for Naxi people, but contrary to Rock and Bacot point of view, Jackson hypothesized that Naxi adopted this writing system from Mongols, so he argues that pictographic system must be dated after 1723 patriarchal reform, when Naxi kingdom was annexed to Qing empire, period characterized by the highest cases of females ritual suicides ²ju ¹vu, situation which required an increment of specialist shamans necessary to execute right funeral rites, phenomena which provided incentives to Dongba for developing their shamanic tradiction and ritual practices, as it could be confirmed by numerous manuscripts devoted to suicide funeral ceremonies dating after XVIII century.

Jackson also argued that oldest manuscripts of Dongba pictographic production must be dated at 1700 – 1703, and because of stylistic analysis he refuses Rock’s dating of “Naga manuscripts” at 2nd half of XVI century, and he attributed their writing to more then one or two author (Pan Anshi & Jackson, 1998, footnote 42 pg. 156) whilst Rock assigned Naga manuscript to the hand of 2 famous Dongba the brothers Dto la).

Jackson refused XVI century dating also because of excellent preservation status of manuscripts, but this discrepancy could be explained with diffused tradition for Dongba to write multiple copies of the same manuscripts, and that these copies was integral version, which comprehended also date and title, so in Dongba literary corpus could happened that of some texts, maybe “appeared” in XVI century, was produced many many integral copies during years, and each one of the later copy had the original earlier date.

Matter of Dongba manuscript’s copies moreover evinces other inconsistency for Jackson’s theory, as in example about stylistic analysis, from which he deduced that exactly alike manuscripts could not be assigned to the same Dongba, and this is far-fetched because it is known that the same Dongba executed (and still today executes) plus copies of a single manuscript, also for sale them to common devoted people who bought Dongba books as lucky amulets, common practice also known for Buddhist and Taoist books and inscriptions. (Mathieu, 2003: 157; Zhu Baotian and He Zhiwu, Dongba Research Institute)

Dongba texts study by Jackson although suggestive, results incomplete because it analyzes only a part of literary Dongba production, the one dedicated to suicide-funerary ceremonies and for suicides death-spirits propitiation, so his work ignores other hundreds of manuscripts devoted to many ceremonies.

Finally, postquem dating of pictographs tradiction to Qing empire annexation is incongruous with very archaic Naxi language used in the same manuscripts (He Zhiwu) whose vocabulary, whose language and whose composite structure all result already uniformed and standardized. (He Pingzheng, Dongba Research Institute)

Dongba pictograms language also contains numerous foreign loans as Tibetan’s and Chinese’s archaisms (45 pg. 158), and shares many common characteristics with Daba, Dibba (Pumi), Bimo and Yi (He Zhiwu) and hence Dongba liturgy should brought to the ancient feudal centre of Lijiang region.

Regarding dating back to XVIII century of documents it must be underlined that this apparent “birth” of manuscripts production could have been in truth such proliferation due to general cultural and social rebirth happened after conclusion of terrible Muslim revolution in Yunnan, which entailed dire period of destructions, including Lamaism monasteries and temple of Yongning and Lijiang regions, so considering that manuscripts was archived and conserved in temples, they also should have been destroyed too.

Regarding Rock’s dating to Naga manuscripts corpus, we know that it derives from interpretation of magic formula reported in the same manuscripts, which it records “the 7th cycle of the year of the water cock”, nomenclature which due both from Tibetan or Mongol standard, respectively referable to 1393 year basing on Tibetan calendar, or to 1630 basing on Mongols calendar.

Rock wrote he based on Chinese calendar, but he’s certainly wrong, because in Chinese calendar the 7th imperial cycle of the year of the water cock doesn’t exist! If it would, it should corresponded to 1573 year, the year of Mu Zong emperor death, so it would have been the 1st cycle of Shen Zong emperor, thus discarding Mongols calendar adoption, it would be possible that Naga manuscripts quoted by Rock would have been integral copy (dating included) of ancient original text of XIV century, so up again 2 centuries before Mou allocation in Lijiang region, contemporaneous to Song era. (Mathieu, 2003: 162)

Though discarded Mongolian calendar reference, Mongol culture influence in Naxi/Dongba genetic matrix is clearly visible, as appears form analysis of some Dongba manuscripts dedicated to Sacrifice to Heaven ceremony, where some aspects as Mee lu ddu zi who figure, one of most important Naxi ancestors should be identified with Mongol god named Abughan (57), whose position in cosmogony was between the sky and the earth, (58), or again as the social position occupied by the Ka, the Naxi feudal lord.

Moreover Dongba corpus presents some pictographs which iconography demonstrate evident and important cultural exchange with Mongolia: in addition to pictographs for rhinoceros, unicorn and elephant, 2 other notable symbols representing respectively a gentleman/lord or imperator Ka, and the one who represent the capital Kadiu.

Ka word directly derived from Mongol word Khan, and both pictograms Ka and Kadiu used as iconographic substratum the same pictogram Gelo, which in Naxi means the man of Mongol nationality, Mongol. (59)

Mongol contact influences are clearly visible in development of those pictograms and, moreover, from reading Dongba manuscripts we have knowledge about Naxi social organization before Ming dynasty..

We know that in central Lijiang region cohabitated 4 tribes: Per tribe literally “the white”, Na tribe literally “the black”, Boa tribe or Pumi and Wu tribe or slaves, and we also know about Naxi’s 4 tribes neighbouring which was the Gelo tribes or Mongols at north, the Lebv or Bai at south, the Tibetan at west and Han at East.

Rock, basing on sentence about Gelo depicted as people of northern border, then presupposed that in the moment of “creation” of terms Ka, Kadiu and Gelo, Naxi people was allocated in such region of north-eastern Tibet bordering with Mongolia, but if it was exactly true, we couldn’t understand why Naxi bordered with Bai at south, so it seems more plausible and useful to interpreting Rock deduction with not so exactness, as if the author was telling about Naxi “more significant neighbouring”, and not about exact geographic contacts.

Closer analysis of terms dedicated to just mentioned tribes seems to suggest social stratification of Naxi society, and this impression find confirmation in feudal Lijiang documents, at least until XVI century, (Xu Xiake, footnote 64 pg. 165) in which we could deduced that in Lijiang there was a social pyramid based on 3 classes.

Thus, Naxi should have developed their pictographs writing system before social stratified system affirmation, and contacts with Mongols influenced Naxi society, phenomena mirrored by introduction of some new pictograms; thus pictographic scripture must have been developed in a period surely before XVI century, dating that rejects Jackson postquem iphotesis. (Mathieu, 2003: 165)

If Naga/Dongba Dtola brothers manuscripts corpus dating basing on Tibetan calendar would be accepted, then pictographic writing system must be already in use also in XIV century.

Geba, politics writing system

Shijiu Lijiu religious writing system

Iconographic parallel between ancient Yi writing and Geba scripture doesn’t seem to produce any certain data through which concretely relate these 2 writing systems, first of all because, although both scriptures basin on characters and symbols which seems to share commons origins with ancient oracular/bones Chinese signs, most of Geba and Yi symbols don’t correspond, mainly because Geba scripture was a syllabic system whilst Yi system was ideographic.

Such better and profitable comparison between Geba and Yi system could be done by analyzing their usage, although there isn’t any historical document wrote in Geba (in addition to some manuscripts, which we also know from Rock’s attestation, who said to have in his private collection some Geba manuscript dating back to Ming time) we have some inscription on monuments and few stele, as Lijiang stele, founded in 1934 by Fang Guoyu, which engraved triple inscription in Chinese, Tibetan and Geba languages, a memorial inscription which celebrated construction of a bridge, dated to 47th year of Wanli Ji Wei, id est in 1619 year (Mathieu 2003, pg. 166 footnote 67)

So, while Geba characters analysis let hypothesize close relationship with ancient Chinese characters, Geba did not shows any relation with Tibet, but for common aspects of Geba/Dongba manuscript and Tibetan books manufacturing: so in few words we have some documents in Geba in close and clearly visible relationship with ancient oracular Chinese writing, and with manufacturing (of manuscripts and books) of Tibetan look, thus Geba scripture system had to be developed BEFORE book/manuscript pattern, so it seems plausible argue that Geba tradition and writing system must be antecedent to Sanskrit and Tibetan languages, and had its origins in Chinese rather then Tibetan settings. (Mathieu, 2003: 168, 169)

According to Yunnan annals of Ming dynasty, Yunnan Tongzhi, the writing system in use at the time of Mai Zhong, alias Mou Bao Ah Cong was used and engraved on a stele in Baisha township, and it was called Fan Zi, and it resulted impossible to comprehend (Fang Guoyu & He Zhiwu; Mathieu, 2003: pg. 166 footnote 68); closer analysis to Fan Zi name is helpful, as with “Fan” term Chinese refer to barbarians tribes of western borders, and by “zi” term Chinese used to mean “scripture”, “writing system”, thus it could be easily hypothesized that the scripture mentioned in this register was Geba, but unfortunately from the stele, which is still present in Baisha, was completely removed any inscription; however, by “Fan Zi” it seems probable that author couldn’t refers to a pictographic system, and basing on 1619 Lijiang Stele, in Geba, it seems possible to presuppose that Baisha Stele was in Geba too, thus Geba could have been used as official court language.

If it’s true, then moreover it seems possible to consider Dongba pictographic writing system as religious sectional scripture, used for redaction of religious manuscripts (Mathieu, 2003: 166, 167)

A look to northern Yunnan writing systems during Song time depicts similar situation as just rebuild for Naxi/Geba/Dongba: for example it is well known that Dali’s politics elite used 2 different kind of writing system, Chinese and Sanskrit scriptures, respectively for politics-administrative documents redaction and for religious text production, and is also known that Chinese characters was utilized for writing and expressing Bai language, as in Mesopotamia Akkadian empire adopted Sumerian cuneiform script, or Japanese still today used Chinese ideograms by Kanji system. (Mathieu 72)

Another inscription from Dali Kingdom, dated to 971 a. C., common all the scriptures of the region, affirming that ” […] all southern tribes be in the habit to write from left to right (73) […]” thus is good for Geba but couldn’t be true for Dongba.

Following and resembling all these attestations it seems plausible assuming that, at least for Song time, Yunnan was characterized by tribal groups which possessed their own native writing systems, all associated by commons and close origins with ancient Chinese scripture adapted for expressing locals languages (Mathieu, 2003: 169), used as official court scripture, all with left-right orientation in common.

Geba would set so well and homogeneously in such mosaic, and basing on Yi and Bai scriptures similarity, that is was tribal groups of Nanzhao kingdom writing system, in which is known existence of indigenous writing system, as registered in Man Shu (the book of the southern barbarian), when is reported that ” military command of Nanzhao, that also included Lijiang region with men of Bai tribes who talk a Chinese-linked language, promulgated dispatches and orders wrote destined to locals tribe engaged for battle”. (75)

Geba manuscripts where found in “hot regions” of Nanzhao kingdom, as in the northern capital Lijiang, in the border regions of Weixi, Ludian and Jiudian, gateway between Nanzhao and Tibet.

Regarding Geba manuscript interpretation and traduction, it is impossible even for Dongba, so baggage of information that could be provided is partly accessible, but is clearly visible close link between Geba manuscripts and Shenrab worship of Bön tradiction, which in Dongba tradiction coincides with Shilo, another further testimony that lets assume that Geba writing system must be antecedent to Dongba pictographs scripture.

Assuming Geba priority to Dongba pictograms, like the other ancient languages of Yunnan, the first originated during 1st chinesization process of local tribes group, whilst Dongba pictographic/manuscripts tradiction was reprised and developed during feudal age.

Geographic distribution of Dongba manuscripts seems to be directly linked to feudal Naxi borders, as Dongba tradiction directly following expansionist policy of Mu dynasty (Naxizu Jain Shi) and Mu’s feudal control. (Mathieu, 2003: 185 – 220 and footnote 16)

Questo articolo è estratto dall’introduzione alla traduzione dei due manoscritti ²lv ²bar ²lv ¹za ³sa ²kv ³čung e ²lv ²bar ²lv ¹za ³sa ³ma ³čung dedicati alla cerimonia funebre Dongba ²Har ²la ¹lun ³kho, alias, Zamblera S., 2007 “The Romance of Kameju Miky” pgg. 6 – 14.

La maggior parte delle note sono state omesse per ragioni di spazio.

Bibliografia essenziale

Burling Robbins, 1967 “Proto Lolo Burmese” Indiana University, Bloomington

Cai Hua, 2001 “A Society Without Fathers or Husbands: The Na of China” Zone Books – New York

Craham Thurgood & Randy J. La Polla, 2003 “The Sino Tibetan Languages” Routledge

De Lancey ScottClassical Tibetan

Limonta Gianni, 2000 “YunnanCina” Leonardo Arte

Han Carolyn, Cheng Jaiho, Ji li, 1997 “Tales from Within the Clouds: Naxi stories of China” University of Hawai’i Press, Honolulu. Printed in Singapore

和品正He Pinzheng, 宣勤 Xuan Qin, 2004 “东巴常用字典 Naxi Dongba Pictograph Dictionary” Yunnan Fine Arts Publishing House

Gatusa Lamu

1998 “Matriarchal Marriage Patterns of the Mosuo People of China” (http://www.second-congress-matriarchal-studies.com/gatusa.html)

2003 “Yunnan Through Foreign Studentss’eye: volume 1, Tourism and Development in Yunnan” Yunnan Fine Arts Publishing House

Gatusa Lamu, Yuebo Li, 2000 “Lugu hu, mu qin hu: Mosuo wen hua tan mi – The Lugu Lake, mother lake: an Exploration of the Mosuo ethnic culture

Gatusa Lamu, Yang Erche Namu, 2003 “Zou hui nu er guo

Goullart Peter, 1957 “Forgotten Kingdoms” Readers Union, John Murray, London (http://pratyeka.org/books/forgotten_kingdom/)

arshall H. I. Reverendo, 1922 “The Kharen People of Burma: a Study in Antropology and Ethnology” University of Columbus – Ohio, Vol. 26 n° 13

Mathieu Christine, 2003 “A History and Antropological Study of the Ancient Kingdoms of the Sino-Tibetan Borderland Naxi and Mosuo” Mallen Studies in Anthropology, vol XI, Edwin Mellen Press, Lampeter Ceredigion, Wales – UK

McKhann Charles F.

1995 “The Naxi and the Nationalities Question” in Harrel, Steven (ed.) 1995; Cultural Encounters on China’s Ethinc Frontiers, University of Washington Press, Seattle, pp. 39 – 62

1998 “Naxi, Rerkua, Moso, Meng: Kinship, Politics and Ritual on the Yunnan – Sichuan Frontiers” in Oppiz Michael & Hsu Elisabeth (eds.), 1998 “Naxi and Mosuo Ethnography”, Volkerkundemuseum – Zurich, pp. 23 – 45

McKhann Charles F., Yang Fuquan, Zhang Yunling, 2003 “Icon & Transformation, (Re)Imaginings in Dongba Art Exhibition and Catalogue” Published by Sheenan Gallery Press, Withman College Walla Walla

Parry N. E., 1932 “The Lakhers” Macmillan and Company Limited, Osmania University

Rees Helen, 2000 “Echoes of History, Naxi Music in Modern China” Oxford University Press

Rock Joseph Francis Charles

1939 “The Romance of 2K’a ²me ¹đu ³mi ²ći” in B.E.F.E.O. Tome XXXIX – 1939

1952 “The Na-Khi Nāga Cult and Related Ceremonies part I” Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente (Is. M. E. O.) Roma

1952 “The Na-Khi Nāga Cult and Related Ceremonies II ” Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente (Is. M. E. O.) Roma

1963 “A ¹na-²ćin – English Encyclopedic Dictionary, part I” Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente (Is. M. E. O.), Roma, distribuito da Herder Editore, Roma

1972 “A ¹na-²ćin – English Encyclopedic Dictionary, part II: Gods, Priests, Ceremonies, Stars, Geographical Names” Istituto Italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente (Is. M. E. O.) Roma

Ticozzi Sergio, 2000 “Religioni Cinesi, primo quaderno – la religiosità popolare” PDUL Edizioni Studio Domenicano, Bologna

Tucci Giuseppe, 1949 “Tibetan Painted Scroll” ripubblicazione 1999 SDI Publications, Bangkok – Thailand

Yang Erche Namu & Christine Mathieu, 2004 “Leaving Mother Lake: a Girlhood at the Edge of the World” Back Bay Books –

Zamblera Stefano

2006 “Dizionario Dongba – Italiano con postille in Cinese ed Inglese“, non pubblicato

2007 “La musica e le Danze Naxi ” (https://www.xiulong.it/pubbl/musicadanzeNaxi.pdf )

2007 “Introduzione alla cultura Naxi Dongba ” in Chabuduo Dongxi Zazhi 2, pp. 14 – 23 (https://www.xiulong.it/pubbl/introduzioneNaxiDongba.pdf )

2007 “The Romance of Kameju Miky“, with coincise Dongba – Italian dictionary

Zhu Baotian, 2001 “Selections from the Naxi Manuscript Collection: Annotated Catalog of Naxi Pictographic Manuscripts” (http://international.loc.gov/intldl/naxihtml/catalog.html)

Stefano Zamblera

羞龙 – Xiulong

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