The Moso Naming Ceremony


There are three major rituals that demarcate the life of a person in Moso society. The first of them is related to birth, and signifies incorporation into that society. The Moso celebrate this rite, which they call "choosing a name", immediately after the baby is born. This ceremony occurs on the same day of the birth if the child is a male, or on the following day if it is a female.

A lama or a daba priest is usually in charge of this ceremony, because the Moso practice two spiritual traditions: the Vajrayana Buddhism that the Tibetans have brought to their lands, and their traditional religion, called daba, a type of shamanism that has also received influences from Bon, the pre-Buddhist religion of the Tibetans. The religion of the person in charge of the ceremony hardly affects the way it is carried out, although, as we will see later, the methods used to actually choose the name will be different.

When the ceremony begins, the lama or Daba reads the scriptures next to the fire. The mother or the female of highest rank in the Moso matriarchal family prepares a figure shaped from cooked rice that she places in the middle of a tray. In the center of that figure five pairs of chopsticks are inserted that represent the mountains and the pines. Surrounding the figure of rice a whole chicken, sausages, eggs and dried pork are placed on the tray. They burn incense around the offerings and then bring the incense sticks in before the priest who is reading the scriptures. This is a way of worshipping the gods and the ancestors. Later, the baby's mother or grandmother takes the child in her arms and, joining his palms in the Buddhist manner, places the newborn before the priest who will tap it softly on the head with a religious text while continuing to chant and pray. When he finishes his chants and prayers, he says out loud three times the name chosen for the newborn, and he anoints the head with oil, wishing the child a long and happy life.

Then the tray with the offerings is offered before the old men. They take up the chopsticks three times while reciting auspicious mantras for the newborn. This is considered an offering to the gods. Later it is necessary to carry out the offering to the ancestors. For this the mother or highest ranking female places some offerings in a bowl and offers them before the ancestors, naming each one of them. When finished, she burns incense over the offerings that are then thrown onto the roof of the house to feed the crows. After carrying out this activity three times she goes to worship the gods of the fire, making offerings to them on and under the hearth. Finally she offers a chicken leg, a piece of pig and some wine to the biological father of the newborn. What is left is shared among all the participants.

Before the proper ceremony has started, the priest has divined the name he will choose for the new born. In this the Chinese influence is apparent. To choose the name he keeps in mind the sign of the zodiac to which the mother belongs. Each sign is situated in a position that relates to the four cardinal points and the four secondary points.

Among the Moso it is considered that the rat and the pig belong to the North, the dog to the Northeast, the tiger and the rabbit to the East, the dragon to the Southeast, the snake and the horse to the South, the goat to the Southwest, the monkey and the rooster to the West and the cow to the Northwest.

The only difference between the ceremony directed by a lama or by a Daba is that the first will place in each direction the name of one of the four treasures of Buddhism and, combining them with the five elements (earth, wood, fire, metal and water) and the sex of the newly born, will provide a definitive name.

If it is a Daba who presides, he will keep more in mind the hour at which the baby was born, and its relationship with the five elements, in order to choose an appropriate name.

Once this ceremony is concluded the baby is considered to be a full member of Moso society.

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