Mark Bender
Translating the Nuosu Book of Origins: A cosmographic Approach

Klipi teostus: Kikee Doma Bhutia 19.08.2021 2094 vaatamist Folkloristika

Lecture Series "Unraveling Tales: Exploring Intersections between Folkloristics and Literature" - 8th July to 26th August 2021

The “Nuosu Book of Origins” is a key ritual text/folk epic of the Nuosu subgroup of the Yi ethnic group (Yizu) of southwest China. The Nuosu number over two million people and have rich traditions of oral and written literature, the latter composed in an ancient indigenous writing system used by ritual specialists. Mark Bender worked with a constellation of academics and local tradition-bearers to translate a written version of the “Book of Origins” (Hnewo tepyy) that had been preserved by “wise man” Jjivot Zopqu into English, supported by a detailed introduction, notes, and version in Northern Yi romanization. The text demanded that the project utilize a “cosmographic” (Adamson 2012) approach that intersects fieldwork data with themes in the ritual/epic regarding origins, creation, hierarchy, and migration -- content that is framed within a “pluriverse” centered on the upland environments of southwest China. Spiritual and community sanction became part of the translation process, facilitated by the presence and participation of cultural transmitters and representatives, forming multiple dimensions of agency and representation. Communicated beyond the local community and disseminated via the “folklore process,” the text also places certain demands on audiences as they submit to engaging with the “thick” context engendered by the cosmographic translation method (Honko 2000). Published in 2019 by University of Washington Press, the translation of the “Nuosu Book of Origins” has become an international example of literature acknowledged as a new subset of Chinese literature – that of Chinese ethnic minority literature -- acknowledged in an age of competing Intangible Cultural Heritage projects and well-funded government agendas for heritage promotion under the rubric of the “China Dream.”

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