Dog and snake in Lahu symbolic universe

 

The Lahu never eat dog (1). They have several myths that remember the contributions of dogs to human welfare. In one of them, the ancestor of the Lahu was fed with the milk of a bitch (not far from the she wolf that fed the ancestors of Rome). Other myth, widely spread among peoples with the same cultural strata, tells how a dog brought the five cereals to the human beings. They try to show their kindness to dogs. They never eat them. If somebody eat dog, he must wait three days and change clothes before enter into a Lahu village. On New Year, before they eat the first meal, Lahu people feed their dogs. It is a way of thank them for the kindness of their ancestors.

They have a kind of Sunday every 12 days. It is every serpent day. The Lahu follow the Chinese calendar of 12 animals, naming days, years and hours according to this cycle. In their serpent Sundays, they never work, and do not leave their house or village. This is to commemorate Zhanuzhapie death. Zhanuzhapie was a hero in the Lahu mythology, who trusting in his strength, disobeyed Esha orders.

The fact that the Snake Day is the day considered sacred, as the Sunday to the Christians and the Sabbath to the Jews, make us think that the snake has a paramount importance for the Lahu. This importance is manifest in two taboos the Lahu keep regarding snakes.

If a snake enters home, they think is a soul who returns. If they find a snake blocking the road, they come back home.

The snake represents a force that can not be understood, a beast that come from the realm of the hidden world. Its presence at home is tolerated as a strange circumstance, and is considered a spiritual phenomena. Its presence blocking the way is an unavoidable sign that the spirits consider the journey must not be continued.

Esha is the main god of the Lahu. In some accounts is a male god, in other a female goddess (2), though Du Shanshan (3) considers that Esha is a couple of deities, one male and one female, who together created the world and all what exist. Lahu people don't work on Zhanuzhapie death, for fear to irritate Esha and avoid a disaster.

Zhanuzhabie was the stronger of the men. One day Esha ask him why he doesn't offer as sacrifice part of his crop. Zhanuzhabie answered that he alone worked his fields, and that he didn't need the help of the gods. This answer enraged Esha who sent to Zhanuzhapie one disaster after other, until killing him.

It is interesting to pay attention that the dog and the snake, two of the animals more important in the Lahu symbolic universe, are both also the animals more intimately related to the shaman and his travels (4)

Is this a vestige of shamanic religious experiences?

They say that Lahu name means "those who eat roast tiger", but they have some taboos about the Tiger Day. They don't sow seeds and don't plough in Tiger Day.

Chicken also has an important symbolic meaning to them. They usually receive their guests with chicken. But it can not be a white chicken; because it will means that the host doesn't want to have relations with the guest.

Ox and Sheep days are not considered auspicious.

Horse, Sneak, Tiger, Rabbit, Pig and Roaster days are considered suitable to start the New Year.

(1) Guan Yanbo.- Lahuzu. In Fang Sumei.- Zhongguo shaoshu minzu jinji daguan (A Panorama of the Taboos of Chinese National Minorities). Guangxi Nationalities Press. Nanning. 1996
(2) Xiao Gen .-Love Through Reed-Pipe Wind and Mouth-String: The Lahus. Yunnan Education Publishing House. 1995
(3) Du Shanshan.- Chopsticks Only Work in Pairs: Gender Unity and Gender Equality Among the Lahu of Southwestern China. Columbia University Press. 2002.
(4) Amarigo, Pablo.- Ayahuasca Vision The Shaman's Bible.

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