The Dongba Culture Unveiled. Mu Lichun


Mu Lichun.- Dongba wenhua jiemi (The Dongba Culture Unveiled) .Yunnan Peoples Press. 1995. 425 pp.

This is one of the most interesting books about the Dongba culture, not only for the scope of the researches the writer endeavor, as for the vast knowledge he displays about his own culture, and the deepness of the reflections contained in it. Mainly based in the oldest Dongba Scriptures and his own fieldwork, Mu Lichun tries to unveil the oldest stratum of the Dongba culture. He examines the four main totems of the old Naxi: snake, frog, bear and monkey, and their relationship with later ancestral and Shu nature cults. He emphasizes the important of the Sv life god, showing how the main ritual changes in the life of a person are related with his or her acquisition, preservation, and disposal of this Sv life god common to the family. The angle he uses to explore different aspects of the Naxi culture provides the reader with new and original insights in their traditional culture: birth, coming on age, marriage and death.

The material culture of the Naxi is also examined in detail, providing new information about their older meaning and symbolism that enrich the value of its surviving to modern times. The guardian of the gates, Lv and Se, are depicted with all detail, their relationship with the yin-yang, with the tiger and the yak, with the creation of the world and of the first human beings, is perfectly explained. The meaning of the most important ceremonies of the Naxi is enlightened with reference to their oldest purpose. Especially interesting is the reasoning that shows how Worship to Heaven, the quintessential ceremony of the Naxi, evolved from a ritual of the matriarchal society with the maternal uncle as protagonist to an state ritual in which the emperor, as uncle of the Mu family tusi, were venerated.

The way to paradise and the symbolism associated with this final travel of the soul, is also carefully unveiled, stressing the importance of the wood substitutory carvings that were preserved in a cave, as well as the ancestral ways in which the parents transferred their power and wisdom to their descendants, including information of the ritual eating of the dead mother body.

The reading of this book is full of new ideas, new information and new angles to study the most popular themes of Naxi culture. Notes about the  meaning of the Naxi New Year, marriage and funeral customs, the symbolism of the crow, the magpie, or the white stone among the Naxi, the relationship of the Dongba religion with outside religions, and the symbolic meaning of some Naxi everyday objects, made this book an authentic encyclopedia about Naxi Dongba culture..

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