Bai Myths and Literature

 

The Bai have a culture very elaborated with important works of history, religion, astronomy and medicine.

Their most important myth is "Creation of the world" (1), which three sections well differentiated: Primordial times, Creation of the world and Creation of Man. In the primordial times trees and stones can walk; oxen, horses, pigs and dogs can talk. The earth was flat without lakes and mountains. The creation of the world is, for them, the work of Panggu and Pangsheng, who turn themselves into heaven and earth respectively. The Creation of Man is the work of Guanyin (Buddhist goddess of mercy) who hide inside a golden drum a couple of brother and sister, who after survive the flood, will create the human beings.

We see that this myth is full of influences of different times and cultures, especially evident along the "Creation of the world" poem are Chinese and Yi influences.

They have hundreds of old songs, that they like to sing and dance when celebrating their festivals. One of the oldest is "Tending the sheep", that depicts the introduction of sheep among the Bai, and the relations between the Bai King and the Shu King.

They have many historical songs and poems, most of them originated in the times of Nanzhao Kingdom (748-925). "History of the Bai", "Anecdotes of Nanzhao", and "Kingdom of the Southwest.", are some of the best known. "Burning the Torches Hall" tells how Pilouge, the first king and founder of Nanzhao Kingdom, killed his opponents feigning he want to invite them to a banquet. Some of the oppressed peoples still celebrated during the Torch Festival, the memory of their formed kings killed by Pilouge.

Given the abundance of deities that the Bai people have, the called Benzhu or Local Lords, an abundant body of legends has been created around them. They are, perhaps, the most interesting section of the Bai literature. Most of the tales related to the Benzhu religion, register the heroic actions of people who played an outstanding contribution to the development or safety of their community. In most of them the fantastic elements are mixed with he historical ones.

Dragons are important part of the folklore of the Bai who live around Erhai Lake. They remember hundreds of tales about big and small dragons, the Dragon King, Dragon Princess, and the mother of Dragon King. "Carving a dragon" is a beautiful history that shows us that, although the Bai also celebrate the Torch Festival on lunar June 24th, it has for them a different meaning than for other peoples.

The story "Tuchaoxian the hunter" and their heroic fight against the snake that terrifies the world, still move the children in the Bai villages.

They have a rich repertory of love tales, fables, trickster and Buddhist tales, animals' tales and fables.

The Bai literature is one of the richest among the Chinese ethnic minorities.

(1) Zhang Wenxun.- Bai zu wenxue shi (History of the Bai literature). Yunnan Nationalities Press. Kunming. 1983

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