Etymology of Naxi Dongba pictographs


He Baolin. Naxi xiangxing wenzi shiyong zhujie (Explanations ofr the use of the Naxi pictographic writing). Yunnan Peoples Press. Kunming. 2007

The Dongba pictographs is maybe the main cultural characteristic of the Naxi people. Though 50 years ago it was a dying tradition has become in the last years the main of their ethnic markers. It is the same that most of the Naxi lay people are unable to read the pictograms, they are the pride of all Naxis. In most of the bookshops and tourist centers around Lijiang there are many books available dealing with the Dongba pictographs, some of them bilingual.

The book of He Baolin is particularly interesting because it deals with a big number of pictographs, building around most of them a kind of etymology of the Dongba characters. While in some books the reader “see” for himself the way in which the Dongba characters were built, here Mr He Baolin leads the reader with his knowledgeable explanations. In this way is easier to distinguish the simpler characters, but the more complex way that added phonetic elements or cultural related meanings to some of them can also be understood.

With a clear design, a good quality calligraphy and a size that allow the reader to perfectly visualize even the most complicated pictographs, the book is divided in 21 chapters dealing with Heavens, time, earth, directions, animals, plants, shapes, appearance, denomination, names of peoples, actions, labours, instruments, food, buildings, clothes, culture objects, gods and spirits, religion, place names and numerals.

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