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Essays on symbolism in Dongba mythology

The book begins with a short theoretical introduction to myth and symbolism and the symbolism in the Dongba myths. In Dongba traditions there is a rich amount of symbols related with nature worship, reproductive worship and deities worship. He emphasizes his discussion of reproductive symbols in this chapter.

Following chapters provide the reader with in deep analysis of  different Dongba symbols. In this way in the second chapter we learn about the symbolism of the turtle,  which according to some mythic narrations, was the first living being that appeared in the world. To Mr. Bai the symbolism of the turtle is closely linked among the Dongba with the symbolism of the frog, which occupies a relevant position in activities related to divination. The symbolism of the frog is then also studied in this chapter.

The third chapter deals with the symbolism of the mountain among the Naxi. Among the mountains the most important is Junashiluo mountain (associated with the Tibetan Kailash by some researchers) that is considered, as the Kunlun Mountains of Chinese mythology, the point of communication between the celestial and earthly realms. Bai Gengsheng gives five main functions to Junashiluo Mountain: celestial column, stair to heaven, axis mundi, limit of the world, and mountain of the spirits. Each of these functions is discussed in the chapter. A comparative account of the symbolism of mountains among the Naxi and neighboring peoples, especially the Tibetan and the Han completes this chapter.

The fourth chapter deals with the symbolism of the tree in Dongba culture. From the mythical tree Hanyibada, present in all the Dongba myths, the chapter studies the origin of the tree symbolism, the background in which explain this symbolism, its presence in Naxi everyday lives, the process in which this symbolism was moulded and its relation with neighbor traditions.

The fifth chapter deals with the symbolism of the stone. Here it must be remembered that trees and stones were considered alive in remote times, characterized as “when trees can walk and stones can talk”. There is an interesting description of the ways adopted to worship stones, and of their symbolism related to their color and shape, which will show which deity they represent. The relationship between sacred stones and reproductive symbolism, common to other peoples living in the area the Naxi inhabit, introduces new and interesting concepts.

The sixth is a short chapter dealing with the symbolism of the eyes, studying specially the symbolism of the horizontal and vertical eyes that appear in their creation myth. The sacred sea (studied in chapter seven) is seen in Dongba scriptures as a symbolism of the big creative magma. The book ends with two short chapters discussing the symbolism of colors and of the bridges in the Dongba mythology of the Naxi.

Bai Gengsheng.- 东把神话象征伦 (Essays on symbolism in Dongba mythology). Yunnan Peoples Press. Kunming. 1998. 258 pp.


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