Between the Oral and the Literary: The Case of the Naxi Dongba Texts


This essay considers the orality of ritual texts written in the Naxi dongba script from southwest China. Historically, the inherent orality of these texts has been largely ignored in favor of seeing them as a kind of visual “hieroglyphics.” Here, a case will be made that the Naxi texts represent an intermediary stage between the “oral” and the “written,” questioning the existence of a stark divide between orality and literacy.



Fig. 1. Naxi dongba script for the creation hero, Coqsseileel’ee.

Image: Fang 1981:363.

Fig. 2. Naxi dongba script for tiger.

Image: Fang 1981:186.

Fig. 3. Naxi creation myth from the sacrifice to the wind ceremony.

Image: MEB 481-4 p. 29.

Fig. 4. Story episode: “Coqsseileel’ee shoots the magpie”.

Image: Mu and Yang 2003:3.

Fig. 5. Coqsseileel’ee shoots the magpie, Delivering the souls of the dead.

Image: DWYS 56:180.

Fig. 6. A dongba writes about his ailing hand.

Image: MEB 481-4, p. 23.

Fig. 7. The dongba wishes good fortune on the household.

Image: MEB 481-4, p. 24.

Fig. 8. An example of vertical composition.

Image: MEB 481-4 (24).

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