Shu nature spirits and Naxi ecological thought


According to Naxi myths the ancestors of men and Shu nature spirits were brothers from the same mother and different fathers. They separated the realms of their dominions, but latter men continuously trespassed to the Shu dominions, and enmity surged. Dingba Shilo was called to descent from heaven and restore peace and harmony between man and Shu nature spirits. To remember the need to preserve this harmony Sugv ceremony is performed every year on one dragon or serpent day of the second lunar month. During the three days that last this ceremony, that is celebrated with the village as unit and presided in turn for members of the different families, the people pray the Shu spirits to forgive all their transgressions and to provide good fortune.

The first day the Dongba that has been invited to perform it by the annual president, will arrange the ceremonial ground, he will set up the tress and branches that would represent the nature spirits and will draw the more than 100 pictures needed. The main activity of the second day is to expel the impurities. Later the Shu spirits are welcomed and locked in a room to not been disturbed. Then the people go to have their meals to the ceremonial ground. On the third day, when the proper ceremony is carried on, the people go to the ceremonial ground carrying their offerings, usually some grains of wheat, a hen that would not be sacrificed, etc. When all the offerings are ready the Dongba will narrate again the origin of the Shu nature spirits and their relationship with the human beings, he will remember the taboos associated with them and will ask them to provide good winds and rain, and a good harvest for the coming year. Then the ceremony ends. Some times, if some people or their domestic animals are sick, a minor ceremony would be performed.

The myths and ceremonies related with the worship of Shu nature spirits show that the Naxi people knew for long time the need to keep the equilibrium between man and nature to ensure the sustainability of the agricultural production in a region. As the Naxi myths emphasize man and nature are two brothers; that is, if men harm their Shu nature brother, they are harming themselves. A call for a moderate use of the natural resources, of not pollute their sources of water, of not fell trees indiscriminately, and not hunt in excess. The ceremony, called in their language "ceremony of the relation with Shu nature spirits" serves to reinforce in every person the need to keep the ecological balance, and to show to nature spirits the community compromise to this goal. It serves also to reinforce the will to preserve the nature before every other member of the community. As every time the ceremony is performed, their main myths and taboos related with nature are chanted, it serves as a collective compromise to protect the ecological balance.

A compromise really successful, as shown that before the "economic development" promoted after the 1949 revolution, most of the Naxi territory was covered of forests.

Most of this information is based on Li Jingshen "Ssugv" ritual and its social function. In Guo Dalie and Yang Shiguang. Research on Naxi Dongba culture. Kunming, 1991

Pedro Ceinos Arcones

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