Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Practical Uses of Dongbawen No. 1 - The Dongba's Phonebook

One of the common misconceptions about the Dongba script is that it's not really a living, working writing system. Phish!

Whilst tactically avoiding instant inebriation at the hands of the Dongba priest He Xiudong's self-brewed paint stripper (baijiu) one afternoon, I discovered his phonebook. Now, He Xiudong can't write Chinese, so everything he notes down is in the Dongba script - including the phonebook. This means all the names are noted in Dongba, and Chinese names are transliterated phonetically.
You can see here that the most common family name is Ho (Chinese 和 he), the Naxi character for which means 'ribs'. Ho is a traditional Naxi family name (and incidentally the name of all the Dongbas at the research institute).