Picture-Writing

 

 

 

Search  Inquiry Net

Back ] Home ] Up ] Next ]

Breech Clouts, Breech Cloths
Buffalo Skull
Buttons
Canoe Decoration
Drums and Shields
Indian Graphic Arts
Indian Names for Months
Indian Moccasins
Navajo Loom
Painted Paddles
Peace Pipes
Picture-Writing
Sign Language
Painting the Tepee
Pottery
Teepee Plans 10'
Tweezers
War Bonnets
Willow Bed

Scout Books

Site Contents

by Ernest Thompson Seton

 The written form of Sign Language is the picture-writing also called Pictography and Ideography, because it represents ideas and not words or letters. It is widely believed that Sign Language is the oldest of all languages; that indeed it existed among animals before man appeared on earth. It is universally accepted that the ideography is the oldest of all writing. The Chinese writing for instance is merely picture-writing done with as few lines as possible.

Thus, their curious character for "Hearing" was once a complete picture of a person listening behind a screen, but in time it was reduced by hasty hands to a few scratches; and "War," now a few spider marks, was originally a sketch of "two women in one house."

To come a little nearer home, our alphabet is said to be descended from hieroglyphic ideographs.

"A" or "Ah," for example, was the sound of an ox represented first by an outline of an ox, then of the head, which in various modifications, through rapid writing, became our "A".

"O" was a face saying "Oh," now simplified into the round shape of the mouth.

 
Some Indian Scout Pictographs

"S" was a serpent hissing. It is but little changed today.

We may also record our Sign Language in picture-writing, as was the custom of many Indian tribes, and we shall find it worth while for several reasons: It is the Indian special writing; it is picturesque and useful for decoration; and it can be read by any Indian no matter what language he speaks. Indeed, I think it probable that a pictograph inscription dug up 10,000 years from now would be read, whether our language was

 

understood or not. When the French Government set up the Obelisk of Luxor in Paris and wished to inscribe it for all time, they made the record, not in French or Latin, but in pictographs.

It is, moreover, part of my method to take the child through the stages of our race development, just as the young bird must run for a send-off, before it flies, so pictography being its earliest form is the natural first step to writing.

In general, picture-writing aims to give on paper the idea of the Sign Language without first turning it into sounds. In the dictionary of Sign Language is given the written form after each of the signs that has a well-established or possible symbol. Many of these are drawn from the Indians who were among the best scouts and above noted for their use of the picture-writing. A few of them will serve to illustrate.

 

Numbers were originally fingers held up, and five was the whole hand, while ten was a double hand. We can see traces of this origin in the Roman style of numeration.

A one-night camp, a more permanent camp, a village and a town are shown in legible symbols.

 

An enemy, sometimes expressed as a "snake," recalls our own "snake in the grass." A "friend" was a man with a branch of a tree; because this was commonly used as a flag of truce and had indeed the same meaning as our olive branch. The tree is easily read; it was a pair of figures like this done in Wampum that recorded Penn's Treaty.

 bbrg166.gif (5687 bytes)

"Good" is sometimes given as a circle full of lines all straight and level, and for "bad" they are crooked and contrary. The wavy lines stood for water, so good water is clearly indicated.

bbrg167a.gif (7556 bytes)

The three arrows added mean that at three arrows' flight in that direction, that is a quarter mile, there is good water. If there was but one arrow and it pointed straight down that meant "good water here," if it pointed down and outward it meant "good water at a little distance." If the arrow was raised to carry far, it meant "good water a long way off there." This sign was of the greatest value in the dry country of the South-west. Most Indian lodges were decorated with pictographs depicting in some cases the owner's adventures, at other times his prayers for good luck or happy dreams.

The old Indian sign for peace, three angles all pointing one way that is "agreed," contrasts naturally with the "war" or "trouble" sign, in which they are going different ways or against each other.

An animal was represented by a crude sketch in which. its chief character was shown, thus chipmunk was a small animal with long tail and stripes. Bear was an outline bear, but grizzly bear had the claws greatly exaggerated.

When the animal was killed, it was represented on its back with legs up.

Each chief, warrior, and scout had a totem, a drawing of which stood for his name or for himself.

 

A man's name is expressed by his totem; thus, the above means, To-day, 20th Sun Thunder Moon. After three days "Deerfoot," Chief of the Flying Eagles, comes to our Standing Rock Camp.

When a man was dead officially or actually, his totem was turned bottom up.

bbrg168a.gif (2044 bytes)Here is a copy of the inscription found by Schoolcraft on the grave post of Wabojeeg, or White Fisher, a famous Ojibway chief. He was of the Caribou clan. On the top is his clan totem reversed, and on the bottom the White Fisher; the seven marks on the left were war parties he led.

The three marks in the middle are for wounds.

The moose head is to record a desperate fight he had with a bull moose, while his success in war and in peace are also stated.

This inscription could be read only by those knowing the story, and is rather as a memory help than an exact record.

See Also:

Pictographs

Pictographic Stories

Pictographic Correspondence

Pictography & Sign

The Birch Bark Roll

 

 

   

 

 


Additional Information:

Peer- Level Topic Links:
Breech Clouts, Breech Cloths ] Buffalo Skull ] Buttons ] Canoe Decoration ] Drums and Shields ] Indian Graphic Arts ] Indian Names for Months ] Indian Moccasins ] Navajo Loom ] Painted Paddles ] Peace Pipes ] [ Picture-Writing ] Sign Language ] Painting the Tepee ] Pottery ] Teepee Plans 10' ] Tweezers ] War Bonnets ] Willow Bed ]

Parent- Level Topic Links:
Native Skills ] Totem Poles ] Indian Sign Language ] Indian Ceremonies ] Indian Dance ] Indian Songs ] Birch Bark Dances ] Birch Bark Songs ] Birch Bark Plays ] Indian Games for Boys ]

The Inquiry Net Main Topic Links:
 [Outdoor Skills]  [Patrol Method [Old-School]  [Adults [Advancement]  [Ideals]  [Leadership]  [Uniforms]

Search This Site:

Search Amazon.Com:

When you place an order with Amazon.Com using the search box below, a small referral fee is returned to The Inquiry Net to help defer the expense of keeping us online.  Thank you for your consideration!

Search:

Keywords:

Amazon Logo

 

 

Scout Books Trading Post

Dead Bugs, Blow Guns, Sharp Knives, & Snakes:
What More Could A Boy Want?

Old School Scouting:
What to Do, and How to Do It!

To Email me, replace "(at)" below with "@"
Rick(at)Kudu.Net

If you have questions about one of my 2,000 pages here, you must send me the "URL" of the page!
This "URL" is sometimes called the "Address" and it is usually found in a little box near the top of your screen.  Most URLs start with the letters "http://"

The Kudu Net is a backup "mirror" of The Inquiry Net.  

2003, 2011 The Inquiry Net, http://inquiry.net  In addition to any Copyright still held by the original authors, the Scans, Optical Character Recognition, extensive Editing,  and HTML Coding on this Website are the property of the Webmaster.   My work may be used by individuals for non-commercial, non-web-based activities, such as Scouting, research, teaching, and personal use so long as this copyright statement and a URL to my material is included in the text
The purpose of this Website is to provide access  to hard to find, out-of-print documents.  Much of the content has been edited to be of practical use in today's world and is not intended as historical preservation.   I will be happy to provide scans of specific short passages in the original documents for people involved in academic research.  

 

Last modified: July 03, 2013.