The Goddess of the Rice of the Deang

 

For the western reader that enjoys the safety of the basic aspects of his existence from the cradle to the grave, perhaps it is difficult to imagine the so different conditions of life that are experienced by a great part of the population of our planet. For millions of people who live day by day off agriculture or cattle raising, their survival still depends on a series of natural factors that will allow or not, the flourish and multiplication of their animals or plants.

This situation, far from being an exotic anomaly, it has been the humanity's general situation (included the West) until hardly some decades ago. It is not strange to see that one of the most important functions of the religion, among the farming peoples, is to develop formulas that allow the people to influence in some way that capricious nature of which people's life depends. In this way, the agricultural deities are not only the most important for numerous peoples, but rather the own idea of the existence of people spreads to be perceived, like Joseph Campbell (1) points out, as a recurrent succession of individuals more or less similar.

Although the Deang are nominally Buddhists, due fundamentally to the influence of their neighboring Daile, they still conserve at the present time a good number of vestiges of their primitive religion, of those perhaps the most attractive is the cult to the Goddess of the Rice.

In fact, they have a legend that tells how in remote times Buddha and the Goddess of the Rice struggled to demonstrate their power. In a moment when Buddha made a religious festival, the Goddess of the Rice disappeared. People, without rice, didn't want to celebrate the festival. Buddha was then forced to left in search of the Goddess of the Rice and to ask her to come back. This story is good to justify that religious syncretism of the Deang, in which their traditional deities share protagonism with the Buddhists ones.

The Goddess of the Rice, the most important of their traditional deities, is honored several times along the year; because they consider her to be closely associated with the different aspects of the agricultural cycle.

The plow is an activity that the men carry out, but before they begin, the women on the edge of the field sing aloud to the Goddess of the Rice:

"Oh, goddess. Come to protect our field; don't let the deer and other animals tramp it." (2)

Only when they have finished their songs the men begin to plow the earth.

The sow is carried out by the women, but before beginning to sow, they also carry out a solemn ceremony in honor of the Goddess of the Rice. During which the people meet in the field, the children play cymbals and drums, a chicken and a pig are sacrificed, songs are sung asking the grain to grow well, and a ritual meal is eaten. After this ceremony the women begin to sow the seed.

In the moment when they remove the weeds, it has already been built in each house a platform to honor the Goddess of the Rice. During the ceremonies that are carried out in this phase of production, it is necessary to read the name of the seven brothers and the seven sisters of the goddess. That altar, located on the main wooden cross of the house, is object of ceremonies three times every month, directed by the family head.

Autumn is harvest time, a task also of the women. During that time, offerings are continually made to the Goddess of the Rice; sometimes they build a kind of house for her, with a bamboo structure, and white paper. It is called: "The goddess's house".

Before the harvest, the ceremony of "Taste the new rice" is carried out. They take home the first rice that matures in the field, and they mix it with the old rice to make a ritual meal. Before eating it they offer it to the Goddess of the Rice:

"Goddess of the Rice, taste our new rice."

They offer also some rice to the ox and the dog, to thank them respectively for work the fields, and for protect them. Then they offer a part in the Buddhist temple, and in the end, the family finally has a chance to taste the new rice.

Before the thrash they get ready the offerings to the Goddess of the Rice. It should consist on the foods that she likes to eat: bananas, fruit, meat, fish, and sweets. Everybody, men and women, go to the field with the offerings for the goddess, singing:

"Goddess of the Rice, get up. Wash your hands, wash your face. Eat these bananas, eat this meat, eat this fish."

Then the women begin to thrash the rice. At noon they rest of work, and they pray to the Goddess of the Rice again. When they finish at night, they pray her again, requesting her to come back home with them.

Then they carry the grain to the warehouse and they also take there the house made for the Goddess of the Rice, that is kept there protecting their grains until the following year when they will request her help again.

There are two types of ceremonies in honor of the Goddess of the Rice. In the biggest, carried out in the Buddhist temple, the whole village participates. The smaller ones are celebrated at family level, before the altar that each family has in its house.

(1) Campbell, Joseph. - The masks of god.
(2) Yu Ru. - Deang zu wenhua shi (History of the Deang culture). Yunnan Nationalities Press. Kunming. 1999

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