This tutorial considers the relationships between the visual art of Ñudzavui writing and the verbal art of Ñudzavui poetry and song. Although the nouns most commonly used to describe the Ñudzavui screenfolds are “book” and “codex” and “screenfold,” it would be far more appropriate to refer to these documents as “scripts” or as “musical scores.”1 Ñudzavui codices were written to be performed, not simply read silently as we do with our own books. As a result, understanding the contents of the codices is challenging because it involves more than simply learning to “read” codical images. Understanding the contents of the codices requires learning to “hear” codical images, to “listen” to the songs and dramas they record.

The close relationship between writing and hearing can be seen in one of the words the sixteenth-century Ñudzavui used to refer to their books. The Ñudzavui called their codices tacu, a word that encompasses the meanings of “book,” “to write,” “to paint,” and “to listen.”2 The screenfold, or tacu, was something that was written and heard aloud.

The relationships between image and performance, between seeing and hearing a painting, permeate Ñudzavui writing. This tutorial looks at the performative nature of Ñudzavui writing from two points of view. The first point of view is broad and theoretical, and considers Ñudzavui song as an idea. This viewpoint considers the relations between Ñudzavui conceptualizations of song (as a multicolored scroll) and the visual structure of a codex (as a multicolored screenfold). The second viewpoint considers the techniques and poetic structures of Ñudzavui oral performance. Where the first section looks at the composition of the screenfold as a whole, the second section looks at the pages of a screenfold up close, investigating how the patterned placement of figures on a page can be used to reconstruct the outlines of ancient Ñudzavui poetry.

Seeing the Sacred Song >

1 On the screenfolds and performance, see King 1990, 1994; Monaghan 1990, 1994; Byland and Pohl 1994, 9; Pohl 1994.

2 King 1994, 105; Jansen and Pérez Jiménez 201, 12-14.