Dulong Ethnic Group: Knots and Carvings to Record and Time

Dulong people have no writing letters. Before the founding of the PRC, they used to record things and exchange information by carvings in the wood, and count time by knots.

The carving method was widely used for Dulong people. Wooden boards of various kinds of signs were used as ordinary letters and books, to record and convey the landlord’s orders, common people’s debts, gift lists, etc. Carved boards from the landlord’s government are larger, like a wooden sword, about 20 centimeters wide and 70 to 80 centimeters long, with thinner edges, a slanting point and a handle at the bottom. Boards of different contents consist of different gaps, lines and graphics. For instance, on the board conveying the landlord’s tax demands, there is a big gap on the top left edge and several small gaps at the bottom, which means a chief supervisor will come, with several attendants, while a big and two small gaps on the right side means that a headman will come and two villagers should go to greet him. 

The boards used by the folk are relatively smaller, used to record debts and gift items. For instance, if a family has no ox to offer to the ghost and they want to borrow one from their relatives or friends, they should measure and record its size first. That is: to measure the circumference of its chest with a piece of thin bamboo first, then to measure the length of the bamboo with the fist to see how many fists long the piece is, and lastly to carve the number of fists respectively on the edges of a board. The board is cut in two, each side having one. When the ox is returned, the same procedure of measuring will carried out. The margin is supplied with grain. After the returning, the two boards are put into the fire, no any more quarrels.

It is also popular to count time with knots. Knots are made on a thin flax rope, one knot representing one day. While going out, one knot is tied every day, and on the way home, one knot is untied every day. In this way, time and the journey are accurately calculated. The New Year per year is the happiest moment for Dulong people. But since there is no fixed date for the festival, every year people have to set the date beforehand, which is also by the use of knots. If it is agreed that the New Year is in 10 days, many ropes with 10 knots will be made and sent to friends and relatives. One knot is untied each day, and after the last one is untied, the festival comes. People butcher pigs and oxen, singing and dancing, to celebrate the New Year.