Early stages of writing among the Pumi


During their researches on Pumi territory Yan Ruxian et al discovered that the Pumi who inhabit around Yongning in northwest Yunnan have, at least, two kinds of systems of signs widely recognized among them.

The first system of signs was used specially in the building of their wooden houses; it consisted in al least three series of signs marking the owner of the wood, the orientation in which it will be put building the house, and its position in a wall. The first kind of signs developed from the need to identify as the property of one family, the wood trunks that, once cut, are left to dry in the wild. Seeing the mark of a family other people will know that they can not take them away.


The second series of signs consists only in four signs that denote the four cardinal directions. Studying these signs the authors discover that they are indeed representations of the sun, as it is possible to perceive a trend to the use of a pictograph of the sun rising to denote the east, of the sun moving to the west to denote the south, and of the sun setting in the mountains to denote the west. The north instead, more difficult to relate to the sun activity, is represented in less uniform ways. The third series consist in a simple numeric notation to specify the position of every trunk in the wall of which it will be part. These signs are usually carved on the wood.

The second system of signs is used by their hangui shamans in their ceremonies. It is a very primitive system both in its conception, where "a man is painted as a man and a cow as a cow", as in its development, as the researches did not discovered more than 50 pictographic signs. Used as a mnemonic tool when the hangui shamans are performing their ritual and ceremonies, it can help to understand both the origin of systems of signs that lately developed in writing systems and that of pictographic systems used by an elite college of shamans as a mnemonic tool, something that seems relatively common in Yunnan, as the widely known pictographic sings of the Dongba priest of the Naxi nationality.

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