The script of Lisu bamboo books

 

Officially is considered that the Lisu had no written language prior to the creation of a Lisu script by the missionaries working in the Nujiang River during the first decades of 20th century, mainly used by religious activities.

Some years later the missionaries working with the Lisu in Wuding County developed a new Lisu writing, also with religious purposes.

It is less known the fact that some years later, maybe as a response to these foreign attempts to create a Lisu script based in faraway traditions in foreign lands, Wang Zepo a Lisu from Weixi County, created his own Lisu script. As most of the Lisu characters were engraved in bamboo, the books written in this script are also known as "the bamboo books of the Lisu." (1)

Most of the bamboo books of the Lisu had also a religious purpose, but, as opposed to the foreign scripts, are books related to the Lisu traditional religion, with titles as "The creation of the world", "The Tale of Kamaba", "The orphan and the dragon princess", or scriptures praying for water or good harvest.

Most of the 243 characters developed by Mister Wang Zepo are completely original, though most of them were inspired by the scripts known to him: Chinese characters of the Han Chinese and Dongba and Geba scripts of the Naxi people. In some Lisu characters the similarity with these other systems of writing is evident, but most of them have been developed to form as a whole a completely different script. He created also some completely new characters, most of them pictographic.

Cucumber (pu in Lisu), for instance, is represented as the cucumbers hanging from the vine.

     
   
     

The Bamboo scrip is a syllabic scripture. Every syllable of the Lisu language can be written with one of the characters developed by Wang Zepo.

(1) All the information about the Bamboo books of the Lisu of this short note has been extracted from the book of Gao Huiyi Lisu zu zhushu wenzi yanjiu (Researches on the script of the bamboo books of the Lisu). Published by Huadong Normal University Press, Shanghai, 2006

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