Naxi Popular Festivals


He Pingzheng. Lijiang gu naxi ren de minsu jieqing yu yuanshi zongjiao de guanxi (Popular festivals of the Naxi of Lijiang and its relation with their original religion). In Zhao Shihong. Dongba wenhua yanjiu suo lunwen xuanji (Selected papers of the Office of Research on the Dongba Culture). Yunnan Nationalities Press. 2003. Pp 305-315.

Here I share some notes about this interesting paper, stressing information not so well arranged elsewhere. Information about Worship Heaven, Worship Shu Nature Spirits and Torch Festival, available in other sources, is omitted.

Naxi festivals are closely related to their religious beliefs; the time of celebration of these festivals is related to the seasons of their productive life. Some of these festivals were registered in their Dongba classics, providing an idea of the way they were celebrated in the past.

The New Year activities must include at least four religious ceremonies of great importance. 1. Worship ancestors. The whole family will pray before their altar at home and their graves in the mountain, inviting them to partake of the coming celebrations, in this way it is supposed that during the New Year all the family is reunited, including living and departed members of the family. 2. Worshipping gods, usually before an improvised altar erected at the home courtyard, consisting in three branches of pine. The people ask for good luck in the coming months. 3. Worshipping the Shiri or Mountain gods, when each of the main mountain goods is called, and asked to protect the people. This is an heritage of the time when the Naxi forefathers were nomad herders and depended of the mountains to get most of their livelihood: herding, hunting and gathering. 4. Worship of the Hearth god, with clear Chinese influences.

Worship of Heaven, the main ceremony of the Naxi, was performed in the old times, at least twice every year, almost in an identical way, in the first lunar month and in the seventh.  

The second month is considered the month of the gods, as they descend to the human world and roam among the people. Many festivals are held in this month.  The most important rituals of this month are worshipping the spirit of the mountains and worshipping the spirits of water, the first on the 8th day and the second in a nearby time. Shiri are the gods of the mountains; they govern all the animals that live in the mountains. When the people worship these gods, they pray them to protect the people and their domestic animals. Sanduo, the god of the Yulong Mountain, is the most important of these deities, and was also worshipped on this day. Worshipping of the Shu nature spirits was not necessarily performed on the 8th, though nowadays is the main festival of the Naxi in Baidi, celebrated on this day. Also in the second month a ceremony is performed to worship the god of the village, usually in a fixed place outside the proper village. In many places the God of Happiness is also worshipped in this month.

Ancestors are worshipped in spring, summer and winter. The spring ceremony is in the time of the Qing Ming Festival. The No spirits of the cattle are welcomed at family level on spring and autumn.  In spring the people of the family changes the old contents of the No spirits basket for new one. Just before starting the agricultural cycle of the year the God of Grain is worshipped, sometimes with a ritual held at village level, when one of the chiefs perform a ritual sowing. The God of Medicine is worshipped on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month, when the weather is hot and dry and the danger to get ill is considered higher. They make a straw puppet that hung on their door to keep away evil spirits, they drink the medicine wine and eat the medicine food 8usually containing garlic, considered a potent expeller of devils) and worship the God of Medicine at the hearth.

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