Thursday, August 3, 2017

illiterate women's secret writing

I once saw a copy of a page filled with the strange, elegant scratching of Nüshu, a secret writing system used for centuries by women in the Hunan Province of China and still one of the least known writing systems in the world. Only boys were allowed an education and to participate in the public world of ideas and communication. Girls were kept at home and taught the skills required to run a household. When they were old enough for marriage, they had to leave their mothers and sisters forever and travel to the faraway home of their husband to live under the rule of his family. When a girl left her home for marriage, there was great crying and wailing among the women in her family.

Illiterate, the women developed a secret way of writing in order to communicate with their lost daughters. They borrowed some characters learned over time from the Chinese and made up many more. Like Chinese, Nüshu is written top to bottom, right to left in columns, but the writing looks very different from written Chinese. The characters are not square. They are elegant, feminine, elongated like the legs of cranes, with thin swift strokes connecting the vertical lines, binding women together outside the rules.

Grandmothers and mothers taught their girls the secret writing by making up and singing a verse, then writing it on the hand of the girl. Verse after verse, day after day, slowly the girl came to share in the mother-language of secrecy, a connection, of loyalty and love. Forbidden paper and ink, the mother would give her departing daughter a beautiful book of Nüshu she had sewn, stitch by stitch, to comfort her and bind them together forever, the characters themselves little signs of their eternal connection. For years after the girl went away into marriage, her mother made up long verses of steadfastness, stitching them in Nüshu into her little books and secreting them to her daughter.  
 ~An excerpt from Without a Map by Meredith Hall

It's true; I wikipedia'd it. Isn't this the most beautiful thing you've read today?

1 comment:

Jo-Anne's Ramblings said...

Oh this was a great post