Spiritual Traditions of the Buyi


The Buyi, like us all, have no way of knowing the exact mechanics of nature, but experience that nature intimately everyday. For them, living close to it, nature seems like an ever changing will that can, at its whim, provide them with pleasant lives or transform their existence into a living hell. Subject to these conditions, the Buyi believe that all that exists in nature has a soul: the sun, the moon, the wind, the rain, the lands, and the forests. They pay special spiritual consideration to the fish and the dragon, as they believe that their ancestors had a consanguine relationship with them. They also revere the ancestor of each of their clans.

Their sacred writings are the "Mojing". This book is a collection of songs that should be sung during each of the religious ceremonies of the Buyi. The longest are the songs sung after the death of a person.

The Buyi have a type of priest or shaman who carries out these religious ceremonies, known as "Bumo". These Bumo have usually not abandoned their basic economic activities. When they don't have to carry out religious activities, they are busy with their own work.

One of the most important religious ceremonies is "to bring the souls of the dead out of purgatory". This ceremony is of such magnitude that sometimes more than 10,000 people gather for it. It lasts for seven days and seven nights. Simpler ceremonies are carried out in honor of several deities, such as the God of Water, the God of Fire, and the God of the Village. All the males of the village must gather for these ceremonies.

Besides these Bumo that direct the most important religious ceremonies, there is another kind of religious specialist, known as yaya, or women shamans. They carry out ceremonies of divination, as well as the expulsion of spirits. Usually these yaya only discover their powers after suffering a serious illness, after which they are able to distinguish the presence of the demons around themselves and others.

The many different activities of Buyi life, such as love and matrimonial relationships, medicine, or the legal system, are all imbued with a deep religious character. Their songs, dances, art and literature, all should be understood as a manifestation of their religious beliefs.

They have strict penalties for adultery. If a woman and a man maintain relationships outside of their marriage and a child is born, the child is not allowed to survive. The Buyi believe that, after her death, the mother will become a type of ghost known as Duyang. This ghost can cause great nuisance to people, including illness. To expel her, the yaya must carry out complicated ceremonies.

The arrival of Chinese culture during the 16th and 17th centuries, bringing with it the new traditions of Buddhism and Daoism, did not intrude very deeply into traditional Buyi religion, although in some villages there are temples in honor of Guanyin, and some people use Daoist methods of divination.

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