22 May 2009
The story of the Yi archives
Human beings use the spoken word and written texts to pass on knowledge. In keeping with the theme of story-telling, here as a part of knowledge transfer, I thought I'd point to the material copied by one of our completed projects: Preservation and digitisation of Yi archives in public and private collections in Yunnan, China. This material is endangered not only from the physical conditons of its storage but also from its history of neglect and unfriendly government policies. The Yi archives contain the history and culture, religious beliefs, etc of minority groups in China.
Texts from the Yi archives, originally, were written for a local audience. They preserve a body of knowledge that is peculiar to the Yi that informs and explains aspects of how they view the world and the afterlife. Their oral literature, as tales or fables, are embedded with traditional wisdom, their clan histories re-tell the past, relating it to the present, and their religious practices help them make sense of the world and their place within it. These stories, histories and rituals belong to the Yi socieites from which they grew. They contain knowledge that connects the generations to each other and to the world as they experience it.
Here is a page recording the beginning of a sutra to pray for fortune:
It is important to preserve what remains of these written records as this will save also the language they are written in. Preservation of the language will in turn allow further study of the Yi people and Yi culture. Texts copied by the project include almanacs, sutras and practices used in ritual, the histories of families and records of oral stories. Traditionally the Yi texts are kept by priests who have responsibility for recording, saving and using them. These records are fast becoming all that is left of the story of the Yi people. For this reason the Project had a strong focus on making them widely available, to facilitate and encourage further research.
This page is from an almanac: