Echoes of the Naxi culture


Not many researches have been published in western languages about the scarcely known ethnic groups living in the Zang-Yi corridor of western Sichuan. In China, due to the fact that most of these ethnic groups are officially classified as Tibetans, its study has been kept out of the major state sponsored ethnographical projects.

The intrinsic interest of the cultures of these ethnic groups, however, has made its study a potent attraction to some of the leading scholars of China. From the linguistic field, thank to the studies of Sun Hongkai (1) and his school we know that most of these not recognized peoples (12 according to some sources) speak languages related to those of the Qiang and share a good number of cultural features. The Qiangic branch of the Tibeto-Burman languages is now firmly established.

We know also from the times when Joseph Rock (2) was arranging its materials about Naxi culture and history about the relation between the culture of the Naxi and that of the Qiang nationality.

In a new paper recently published Yang Fuguan (3) proposes that these peoples must be considered to belong to the same family that the Naxi (in fact he considers the Naxi nationality to be composed by five ethnic groups whose cultures and languages are related to whom he calls collectively Naq)

He introduces a new batch of facts asserting his theory that can be broadly divided in:

- Relationship between the Naq and the Na Mu Ji in the history and ethnographies.

- Relationship of their religious and cultural customs.

- Relation in their folk literature and artistic works.

Of these facts maybe the more understandable for a no specialist are those related to myth, religion and ceremonies. Among them can be highlighted the similarities between Naq and Na Mu Ji, as both have:

- Illustrated scrolls to guide the souls of the dead.

- Washing of the horse ceremony to take the soul out of the purgatory.

- The existence of a kind of priest devoted to formal rituals and other, usually female, dedicated to divination practices.

- Myth of the recreation of the human beings after the deluge and the celestial marriage of its only survivor, and of the names of the main protagonist of these myths.

We hope that the interest that these leading ethnologist from China (Yang Fuquan is the Vice-president of the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences) are taken in the culture and language of these ethnic groups will allow a broader knowledge of their cultures.

(1) See The Nationalities of the six valleys and their language branches. In Minzu Xuebao, Kunming, 1983.
(2) The Muan Bpo ceremony or the Sacrifice to heaven as practiced by the Na-khi. Monumenta Serica, vol, XIII, 1- 1948
(3) Yang Fuquan.- Reflections on the relationship between Na Mu Ji and the Naq ethnic groups. In He Ming and Li Zhinong "Review of Anthropology and Ethnology in Southwest China. Social Sciences Academic Press. Beijing, 2009

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