Thursday, February 1, 2018

Writing in South America – Part III

Continuing from the previous post regarding information on the Rongorongo of Easter Island, claimed by its first inhabitants to have been brought from the mainland to the east (South America), the writing’s interpretation and historical memory of the first inhabitants of the island, which at one time, supported a relatively advanced and complex civilization.    Thomas S. Barthel, Professor of Ethnology at the University of Tübingen in Germany was the first scholar to identify anything in the texts that has been considered correct by other linguists: He showed that two lines in the Mamari tablet encode calendrical information.
    He also wrote "The 'Talking Boards' of Easter Island, an article for Scientific American, 1958, 198, pp61-68. He also wrote “Pre-contact Writing in Oceania,” State and Perspectives of Scientific Research in Easter Island Culture, 1971, Courier Forschungsinstitute Senckeberg 125. Frankfurt am Mein: Senckenbergische Naturforschende Gesellschaft, pp73-112).
The 150-foot long, four-foot high nga Stone 150 miles from Cuzco in the middle of nowhere has numerous characters and similarities with Rongorongo 

Many linguists have tried to make connections between Rongorongo and other writing systems, such as that of the Indus Valley script by Wilhelm de Hevesy, and the Indus-Gangetic script on a rock face 150 miles north of Cuzco in Peru, referred to as the Inlga stone, which shows a clear connection between the two ancient characterizations of the languages of the Andes and of Easter Island. In addition, in other locations in Peru, Alpheus Hyatt Verill, zooligist and explorer (Old Civilizations of the New World, Tudor Publishing, New York, 1938), has shown other writing examples to connect the language patterns.
    Rongorongo has never been fully translated and defies all attempts, yet similar signs have been found as grafitti on rock faces across Peru and even into Northern Argentina according to the researches of Bernardo da Silva Ramos (done for the Brazillian government but then denounced by the government for what his findings implied: the book was printed at private expense in 1939 as 'Inscripcioes e Traducioes da America Prehistorica')
    In addition, Thor Heyerdahl adds that the widespread belief that the splendid ancient walls in Peru that some claim date from the late Inca period has been disproved, and that the walls were built by ancient craftsmen of Peru, such as those who built Tiahuanaco, where excavations of the earth-covered pyramidal mound at Akapana have shown it to be a terraced pyramid from long before the age of the Incas. And most importantly, that the walls are made of accurately hewn and artistically jointed blocks, just as is found on Easter Island.
Left: Megalithic block wall uncovered on Easter Island is identical to the walls that have recently been uncovered at (Right) Tiahuanaco in Peru along the Bolivian border south of Lake Titicaca

Returning to Rongorongo writing, “Kohau rongo rongo,”which means “chants” or “lines” of recitations in the Rapa Nui language, were probably chanted by chieftains or scribes, is one of three scripts of Easter Island, the others being the ta'u and Mama scripts.
    All three scripts are read in reverse, that is, in boustrophedon or boustrephedon (Greek) meaning “bottom to top,” and defined as "turning like oxen in ploughing,” which is an ancient way of writing manuscripts and other inscriptions.
Reading Rongorongo is a “back and fortyh” process, neither left to right, nor right to left, but both

Rather than going from left to right as in modern English, or right to left as in Hebrew and Arabic, alternate lines must be read in opposite directions. The name is borrowed from Greek, meaning "to turn" because the hand of the writer goes back and forth like an ox drawing a plow across a field and turning at the end of each row to return in the opposite direction (like the print head of certain old dot matrix printers).
    Actually, for someone used to this style, both writing and reading goes much faster since the eye, or hand, does not have to whip back to the margin when the end of a line is reached, and was used in Greece and surrounding countries between 800 and 600 B.C., as well as the Hittites a thousand years earlier.
Since the Rongorongo writing is written on wood tablets, it has been suggested that the name is possibly a derivative of the term Kohau-Rongo-Rongo "talking wood"

The three scripts mentioned earlier associated with Rongorongo writing, i.e., “Kohau rongo rongo,” “ta'u” and “Mama scripts,” may not be all that existed, for it is said to have been more specific names for the texts based on their topic. For example, the kohau ta‘u ("lines of years") were annals, the kohau îka ("lines of fishes") were lists of persons killed in war (îka "fish" was homophonous with or used figuratively for "war casualty"), and the kohau ranga "lines of fugitives" were lists of war refugees. Some authors have understood the ta‘u in kohau ta‘u to refer to a separate form of writing distinct from Rongorongo.
    Barthel recorded that, "The 'ta‘u script' recorded their annals and other secular matters,” but this seems to have disappeared. Assuming Rongorongo proves to be an actual script or writing among linguists, it would be one of very few independent inventions of writing in human history. And for those who insist that it came from the Marqueses or elsewhere to the west, there is no homeland likely to have had a tradition of writing in all of Polynesia. And, according to scientists, neither in South America; however, they are completely unfamiliar with the Book of Mormon and the ancient writing of the Nephites.
    Thus, scientists claim that Rongorongo “appears to have been an internal development.” Given that few if any of the Rapa Nui people remaining on the island in the 1870s could read the glyphs, it is likely that only a small minority were ever literate, or that of those who went to the island originally, and were later forced into slavery by the Peruvians, that the leaders of the society anciently were all killed off and none survived to continue the writing and its purposes, except perhaps among a very few—perhaps those who were keeping the written record.
    Indeed, early visitors were told that literacy was a privilege of the ruling families and priests who were all kidnapped in the Peruvian slaving raids or died soon afterwards in the resulting epidemics. Oral history suggests that only a small elite was ever literate and that the tablets were sacred.
A Partial List of those attempting to decipher the Rongorongo writing

There have been numerous attempts to decipher the Rongorongo script since its discovery in the late nineteenth century. As with most undecipherede scripts, many of the proposals have been fanciful. Apart from a portion of one tablet which has been shown to deal with a lunar calendar (which is the calendar used by the Hebrews and obviously by the Nephites), none of the texts are understood, and even the calendar cannot actually be read. It was Moroni who closed out the Nephite record by writing: “and also that none other people knoweth our language; and because that none other people knoweth our language, therefore he hath prepared means for the interpretation thereof” (Mormon 9:34).
    There are three serious obstacles to decipherment: the small number of remaining texts, comprising only 15,000 legible glyphs; the lack of context in which to interpret the texts, such as illustrations or parallels to texts which can be read; and the fact that the modern Rapa Nui language is heavily mixed with Tahitian and is unlikely to closely reflect the language of the tablets—especially if they record a specialized register such as incantations—while the few remaining examples of the old language are heavily restricted in genre and may not correspond well to the tablets either.
(See the next post, “Writing in South America – Part IV,” for information on the Rongorongo script and its interpretation and the historical memory of the first inhabitants of the island)

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