Totemism among the Li


Among the numerous beliefs of the Li of Hainan, there are still remains of their primitive totemism. According to their myths, each clan was originated after the marriage of a woman (reflect of their primitive matriarchy) and an animal.

Perhaps the animal more frequently worshipped by the Li is the snake, since according to different local legends, in old times Leigong, the God of the Thunder, laid a snake egg on the Li Mountain. From the egg come out a woman called Limu (the mother of the Li) who fed herself with the wild fruits of the forest and lived in big nests in their trees. Many years later she married a man who arrived beyond the seas. Their descendants were numerous; they filled the mountains and started the agriculture.

The ox is for the Li, like for many other indigenous peoples of the south of China, a key piece in their symbolic universe and their economic life. Their value doesn't come only given by its work in the fields, but it also substitute people in the sacrifices to the gods. Whenever there is a wedding or a funeral, an ox is sacrificed. In each house there is a precious stone that they call "soul of the ox."

Every year, the eight day of the third lunar month, they celebrate "The Oxen's Festival." That day, oxen can not be killed; they stay at home without work, and are given to drink liquor filtered through the stone "soul of the ox". That protects the ox and it guarantees the future crop.

Those named Fu among the Li of Jiaxing call themselves "children of the ox" as they consider this animal as their protective god.

The "najiaxila" bird is another of their sacred animals. According to the legend, long time ago an ancestor of the Li had a daughter, whose mother died after her birth. A najiaxila bird took care of the daughter, feeding her every day with grains that it brought in its own mouth, until she grew up. To remind forever the kindness of this bird that has become for them a protective god, women tattooed its feathers in the body.

There are also legends of a woman that arrived in a ship, and in the mountains she married a dog giving origin to the Li.

In some villages the people revere the dragon. Those named Shi among the Jiaxing Li call themselves "the children of the dragon."

People living in some Gai villages consider the cat as their ancestor. They never eat cat's meat, nor kill cats. When a cat dies they bury it with a lot of ceremony. Usually two unmarried young girls 12-13 years old, bury the cat under a coconut tree. They think the cat is their ancestor and therefore a sacred animal. They cry when a cat die, and they think that after its death its soul can maraud around their village.

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