Animism in Lisu religion


Traditional Lisu religion was characterized by totemism and animism, though after the arrival of Western Christian missionaries in the first years of 20th century, many Lisu were converted to different branches of the Christian faith.

Lisu totemism was not only their main religious character, but permeated also every aspect of their social life. The Lisu have no idea of an ethno-national identity, but of clan identity. The Lisu were traditionally divided in 19 clans that traced its origin to a feminine ancestress who mated with an animal. As in other societies, this animal was considered taboo to the people belonging to the clan. Their villages or cluster of villages were organized around the clan, all the members share a common origin and history. The Tiger clan was originated by the mating of a Lisu girl and a tiger; the Buckwheat clan when a woman got pregnant after eat buckwheat.

It is said that they are animist because the Lisu think that every single thing has its soul. Nature forces and phenomena, vegetal and animal world, everyday items, neighbor peoples; everything has its god, spirit or genius, in Lisu language called "ni", who directs its actions.

Some of the main divinities of the Lisu are:

Baijiani, the god of Heaven.

Haikuini, the god of the Hearth.

Misini, the god of the Mountains. One of their most important deities, as he governs the hunt.

Mijiani, the god of the Dreams.

There are also a lot of lesser gods, devils, and spiritual creatures of difficult definition, as the genius of their enemies Naxi and Leimo.

Every deity has its own rituals.

Their concept of the religion, that is, of the relationship between the people and their gods, is for the Lisu more practical than metaphysical. Once stated the existence of some supernatural powers that can influence the life of the people, the main question is to know how to avoid to disturb them and, in case of do it, to know how avoid the punishment.

As intermediaries in the difficult relation between human beings and spirits Lisu nationality have two kinds of shamans: the Niba and the Niguba.

The Niba enjoy better social consideration, they know the history and old myths of the Lisu, while the Niguba work in a more intuitive way. These shamans know more than ten different ways of know the will of the gods.

Human beings have also heir soul. A person starts to live when the soul joins the body. After the body die, the soul left. Bodiless souls can interact with living people, helping them or causing some harm. To avoid the dangerous actions of these souls, after death they perform some ceremonies to ask the soul to be a good one.

Lisu people consider that the dreams are very important, because dreams are a kind of communication between the spirits and the soul or between souls.

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