Volume 25, Issue 2
  • ISSN 1387-6732
  • E-ISSN: 1570-6001
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In 2006, a narrative of the Desana people included a system of graphic symbols reported as a historical Indigenous invention used during intertribal warfare to count the number of enemies and pass warning information. This paper outlines and evaluates the Desana graphic system. The Desana people are described, and their timeline of mythical events is compared to historical accounts of the region. Contemporary Desana spoken numbers are then characterized as a quinary system with a restricted extent that differs significantly from the graphic writing system as presented in the cultural narrative. Implications for the development of writing systems generally and numerical notations specifically are explored. We conclude that the numerical symbols represent cultural diffusion of both European decimal numerals and the idea of writing. However, these were influenced by, synthesized with, and ultimately transformed through their contact with Indigenous cultural practices and concepts, making them an authentic Desana invention.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): Desana; numerical symbols; writing system
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