Pictographic writing among the Evenki

ethnic china

Pictographic writing among the Evenki

In Chi Zijian’s novel The Last Quarter of the Moon (English translation by Bruce Humes) there is a short story describing the creation of pictographs to write the Evenki language.

“Shiban had two great loves: creating Evenki pictographs, and making birch-bark handicrafts. He preferred to speak Evenki, and when he learned that the language didn’t have a written form, he decided to invent one.

Shiban like to sit next to the fireplace and invent pictographs. Once he imagined a new word, he wrote on his palm with a ballpoint pen. Shiban asked us to look at each pictograph, and if everywhere agreed it was appropriate, then he’d have Maksym solemnly carve it into a woodblock.

The pictographs he invented were concise. Take “river”, for instance. It was just one perfectly straight horizontal line; lightning, a curving horizontal line; rain, a broken vertical line; the wind, two wave-shaped vertical lines; clouds, a pair of linked semicircles; and a rainbow was a semicircle” (Chi 2013: 296).

These short paragraphs, maybe based, as other parts of the book, in real Evenki stories, show that for the creation of a basic pictographic writing only two things will be needed:

– A person with the will to create it.

– A tradition or news about traditions of the use of signs to express meanings.  

No doubt both situations could be found in 12th century BC China, when the primitive pictograms on which the Chinese writing is based were created.

 Searching for more information about the possible existence of Evenki pictographs I discovered this short notice about the Yukagir. “The Yukagir are believed to be the most ancient inhabitants of the East Siberian Arctic… Many of the Yukagir who survived the Russians occupation shifted to the Ewenki or Yakut language and merged with those nationalities” (Vajda. The Yukagir).

Vajda description of the Yukagir culture includes a paragraph about their pictographic writing:

“The Yukagir seem to have possessed a highly developed system of pictograms (symbolic pictures drawn on reindeer or elk hide) which predate their association with more southerly cultures. The Yukagir even wrote pictographic love letters to one another, some of which have been preserved. These pictographs seem to be of extremely ancient origin” (Vajda. The Yukagir).

Chi Zijian. The Last quarter of the Moon. Translated from the Chinese by Bruce Humes. Harvill Secker. London. 2013

Vajda, Edward J. The Yukagir. http://pandora.cii.wwu.edu/vajda/ea210/yukagir.htm accessed 20140515

To cite this post: Ceinos-Arcones, Pedro, "Pictographic writing among the Evenki," in Ethnic China, 28 enero 2021, https://ethnic-china.com/pictographic-writing-among-the-evenki/.
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