TODAY -

The Manipuri Letter Kok

James Oinam *

The Letter Kok
The Letter Kok



The first letter of Manipuri alphabet is kok. It means (human) head. The letter looks like a ladder with a diagonal line in the middle. It resembles what is called scalariform (meaning ladder-shaped) cave paintings of early man.

In this article, I would like to focus on three things that seem pertinent to this letter:
(1) cave paintings (focusing primarily on TED Talk delivered by researcher Genevieve von Petzinger);
(2) patterns in Manipuri script; and
(3) some notes on Chinese rectangle-shaped letters.

Cave paintings: Genevieve von Petzinger who has prepared a log of geometric symbols of cave paintings in France and Spain has discovered that only a few symbols are found all over the world. Symbols like circle and triangle are widespread.

However, the use of divided rectangular image is said to be rare. She thinks the fact that only a few geometric shapes occur all over the world means they meant certain things. If they were just 'doodles', they should have varied a lot. (Similar geometric shapes are noticed in the African continent where humans are believed to have evolved.)

It must be such 'meaningful scribbles' that ultimately led to letters we know today. For example, the English letter 'A' is painting of a head of an oxen drawn upside down. In northern Spain where divided rectangle cave painting has been found, some scholars have speculated that they represented clans or families.

According to some scholars, the paintings were done as a some kind of ritual; the cave providing the environ for the engraver to enter into a trance. Genevieve von Petzinger thinks more research is required before anything can be established.

So one possibility is the letter/word kok (as in makok, which means head (human and other animals) or simply leader as well as front, being ahead of everyone) represented the head of family or clan, the original settlers. The sound 'k' in kok also appears in words like 'khorjei' (meaning pen), which shows its meaning if fluid, encompassing many things related to 'head'. (Unlike Hindi or Bengali script, there is no separate letter 'kha' in Manipuri.)

The order in Manipuri characters: The letter kok is the first letter of Manipuri alphabet. The first day of the week Nongmaijing, according to Chingtamlen, should be Langmaiching. This later word being compound word of langba (bright, representing god), mai (face, or by implication the head), and chingba (to draw).

This symbolically meant putting the life force (god) into human face (body). This is the beginning of the story human civilization according to Manipuri mythology.

The following days of the week are also named after various activities undertaken to establish human civilization on the earth (or land). Also, the number one in Manipuri is called 'ama'. According to Chingtamlen, this is primordial entity from which all the matters evolved (cosmic origin belief).

If we keep these two things in mind (how the names of the days of the week and numbers are named), it will be out of place if the first letter of the alphabet does not stand for some kind of starting point.

It is generally believed that Manipuris practice ancestor worship. For a society like this, to assign first place to a letter that stood for the beginning or head of the clan, or the beginning of the entire population (or clans) would be quite understandable.

Rectangles in Chinese letters: In Chinese language, man is sometimes denoted by a square which is merged into a larger picture to form 'complex' or 'abstract' words like 'create' or 'ancestor'.

When you are drawing a concrete object like an apple, it is easily done. But drawing an idea like 'ancestor' needs putting together concrete images that may together convey the message. (For example, to write 'all or whole', two people are drawn side by side.)

Also, the letter or word for 'man' has two parts: a divided rectangle (a pictorial representation of land/paddy field) and legs below it (representing the power who tills the land, in other words 'man', in contradistinction to woman who looks after home).

So another possibility is the divided rectangle of the letter kok may be related to land and the head of the family (probably the man, as distinct from woman) who tills the land, and by implication the original settlers perhaps.

References

https://ted.com/talks/genevieve_von_petzinger ...
http://www.noahs-ark.tv/chinese/bible-evidences-chinese-language-characters-words-creation-genesis.htm
https://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/mar/11/cave-painting-symbols-language-evolution
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A


* James Oinam wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at jamesoinam(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on December 20, 2017.


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