Documentation of endangered Cosao “green codes” in Yunnan, China

Bai, Bibo
Xu, Xianming
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The Cosao people, a small ethnic group living in Yunnan, southwest China, have a population of 149 people, living in 47 households (2013).The local government grouped them together with the Hani nationality in 2004. Cosao has no ISO code yet for it has not been previously reported in the literature. The Cosao people,speaking a southern Yi language of the Tibeto-Burman language family in Sino-Tibetan language phylum , do not have a written language. According to their oral history, they moved around in the borderlands between China and Laos and practiced slash-and-burn agriculture in the tropical forest. They practice traditional religion. They observe certain plant traits, and use these traits to encode and decode meanings and feelings to communicate with each other. The locals call this phenomenon “green codes” because they use plants to deliver messages and communicate within the tribe. The indigenous elders indicate that they used to utilize approximately 400 plants to express meanings and feelings covering love, ethics, prayer, number, birth, offering sacrifices to gods and ancestors, etc. This paper describes the Cosao people’s unique green codes: the plant messages, natural and cultural traits, highlighting linguistic encoding and decoding, and their domains of usage. Data discussed in this paper were collected by digital recording equipment, interviews, observation and description. The findings will provide evidence that biodiversity is decreasing at an alarming rate with the destruction of the local forests. Facing an economic transition, cultural shift and increased mobile phone usage, the majority of the Cosao have become bilingual or multi-lingual, giving up their mother tongue and their unique green codes. The stories, culture and traditional knowledge about the plants are disappearing due to the development of rubber plantations and the deterioration of their ecology. Therefore, only a few Cosao elders can still recall some of the names of plants in their mother tongue. Some plants can only be found within a few dozen kilometers because of the loss of forests. Hence, it is extremely urgent that the endangered language and green codes of the Cosao people be documented.
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