A Dongba’s record of a prescription payment

First of all, many apologies for my extended leave of absence from Naxi blogging. Has it really been four months?

I’ve always wanted to translate some more examples of secular Dongba text as there are plenty of people who still believe the script to be not much more than a ritual tool. The following text (essentially a record of a prescription payment) was collected and published by Naxi scholar Yu Suisheng 喻遂生 in his Naxi Dongbawen Yanjiu Conggao 纳西东巴文研究丛稿 (pp 264-66). It is an extract from the notebook of an old Dongba priest, who would jot down notes to help him remember important pieces of information. The text is not dated, but is a good example of everyday use of the script.

In the book (read from top to bottom, starting from the left):


In IME (read from left to right):



Line 1

Naxi: he33 / hua33 / to21

English word for word: He / Hua/ board (Yu Suisheng gives no gloss for this line; I believe this character is used as a loan for ‘mixing together medicine’, ie. prescription, as Rock gives the meaning: “to put together; to mix, as medicine” in his Na-Khi English Encyclopedic Dictionary)


Line 2

Naxi: tʂhər55 / ɤɯ33* / tshe21 / ŋi21 / thɯ21

English word for word: generation / bull* / salt (loan for tshe21, ten) / two / to drink, used here as a measure word, indicating number of draughts, the Chinese tie

* the first two characters read together are phonetic loans for medicine, tʂhər55 ɤɯ33. Naxi script has its own character for medicine, with the same pronunciation


Line 3

Naxi: thɯ21 / se21 / me33,

English word for word: drink / mountain goat (loan for se21, auxiliary indicating finished action) / modal particle


Line 4

Naxi: dɯ21 / thɯ21 / dɯ21 / tʂu55 / ua33 / ɕi33 / iə21.

English word for word: large (loan for dɯ21, one) / draught / one / awl (loan for tʂu55 , string (of money – valued at about 1,000 copper coins)) / five / hundred / tobacco plant (loan for iə55, give)


Line 5

Naxi: he33 hua33* ɕɘ24 fv55 me33

English word for word: moon / white bird* / phonetic geba character ɕɘ24, chicken / mouse (loan for khv55, year) / modal particle

*these two characters are used together phonetically to represent ‘He Hua’, a name


Line 6

Naxi: tʂhua33 / ŋi21 / py33 / tɕɘ55 / iɘ55* / ua33 / tʂu55.

English word for word: rice / two / litres / scissors / tobacco* / five / strings

*the characters ‘scissors’ and ‘tobacco’ are used together as loans for tɕɘ55 iɘ55, money


English Translation:

Prescription for He Hua

12 draughts of medicine were drunk, 1,500 wen were given for each draught. In the year of the rooster, He Hua (gave) two litres of rice and 5,000 wen.


Extra notes:

There are 27 syllables and 27 characters (26 Dongba pictographs, and 1 geba phonetic). There are 15 phonetic loan characters, 58% of the total. 11 of those loans are of identical phonetic value, the other 4 are of similar phonetic value.

The most recent year of the rooster was 2005.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>