|Deang Religious Syncretism|
have been followers of Theravada Buddhism since the Ming Dynasty,
when they came under Dai rule.
they have retained a number of the features of their indigenous religions
in such a way that during the year both Animist and Buddhist festivities
are still held. Sometimes, components from both traditions are found in
important events, such as sowing, or when someone dies.
to one of their legends, Sakyamuni and the Goddess of the Rice held a
competition. Even though Sakyamuni won, he realized that, without the
products of the land, which depended on the intervention of the Goddess
of Rice, he would not get any offerings, so both deities reconciled. This
might explain why in every person's heart both traditions coexist. Buddhism,
used to solve the complex questions concerning human existence; and Animism,
used to ensure this very existence.
a Buddhist temple in almost every village. But these coexist alongside
a great number of nature sites, such as trees, that symbolize the different
deities of the Deang traditional pantheon.
as the Goddess of the Rice, who is worshipped all year round, during
every single harvesting period they worship another five gods in order
to ensure good crops:
- The God
of the Land, who is in charge of ensuring the productivity of the
to Deang traditional belief, if people are good, they will be rewarded
by going to heaven. If they are bad, they will go to hell. According to
Deang spiritual understanding, there is a world of yin and another of
yang, corresponding to traditional Daoist thought. The first is the world
of shadow and the second of light. When people die, they must travel from
the world of light to the shadow world crossing, envisioned as a long
river. This is why they bury their dead in boat-shaped coffins, which
will help their souls to cross this river and arrive at the world of shadow.
As for Buddhism,
its influence has been unequal among the different Deang branches. All
them, however, do share some common characteristics: villages have a temple
which is both a school and a place of worship; with monks who know how
to read the Buddhist writings in Dai language acting as teachers. Novices
study in the temples. Both monks and novices are fed by the villagers.
are also some differences among the Deang branches, or the three ethnic
groups included under the name "Deang", and we see that:
Rumei ethnic group, the religious Buddhist schools are
usually not very strict and there is harmony between Buddhism and the
Bulei ethnic group, the Buddhist schools are very strict
and many villages do not eat meat nor raise domestic animals. Many have
given up their traditional celebrations and do not even drive away wild
animals that enter their fields.
Among the Liang ethnic group, in some areas, like Zhengkai, the influence of Buddhism has been very superficial. In others, the most orthodox Buddhist schools have caused significant changes in their daily lives and culture.
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