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Sons of Heaven, Brothers of Nature
The Naxi of Southwest China

Being the main author in www.ethnic-china.com, and having written about several dozens of books related with China ethnic groups, it is a little awkward to write about my own book.  Sons of Heaven, Brothers of Nature: The Naxi of Southwest China surged by the perceived need to fill a demand: The supposed demand of more information about the Naxi by the thousands of international tourists that every year visit Lijiang and other Naxi territories. Being the presence of the Naxi and their culture ubiquitous to most of them: their architecture, as expressed in Lijiang and some small villages; their music: their art, their pictographic writing and the mysterious priests known as Dongbas, and not being available any general introduction about them, I thought that this book was needed.

It is supposed that anthropologists and ethnologist are the best fitted to write books about the ethnic and indigenous groups, because being these ethnic groups their main object of study, nobody seems better prepared to do it.  And, if we consider the birth of anthropology in the last decades of 19th century, during about one hundred years it was so: the most famous anthropologists produced academic writings, where they postulated new theories or reformulated old ones, but simultaneously they wrote books about the indigenous people object of their study in a language that made its reading available to the general reader.

Unfortunately in the last decades it was not so anymore. While the same concepts that justified the birth of the anthropology were reformulated to fit some postmodernist theories, the role of the anthropologist as global propagandist of the ethnic group he was studying disappeared.  Unfortunately disappeared just in the moment when acculturation processes were wiping out entire cultures in our planet. Now is really difficult to find a general introduction about an ethnic group.

I think this kind of book is not only important, but a necessary work. First as a recording of aspects of culture quickly disappearing, that will allow the knowledge of these human creations to be passed to future generations. Second because the development of the tourist and travel industries carry each year more and more travelers to ethnic lands, and the lack of available descriptions of the cultures they met make difficult the ethnic understanding. Third because the own persons belonging to the ethnic groups are becoming global readers, and are really interested in know not only about their culture, but how the other sees and values their culture.

With these ideas in my mind I started to research about the culture of the Naxi people in 2010. After two years of work I see that the main aim of create a general introduction about the Naxi culture available to the general reader has been achieved. I think that the main virtue of this book is its availability. That means that is easy to get (is present now in Amazon and soon in other digital collections as well as in Lijiang and around as a printed book, both in its digital and paper versions at a reasonable price), it is easy to read, as the main aspects of the Naxi culture are plainly described, and it is easy to understand, as the more complex aspects of their culture are carefully explained.

But beyond this availability that was its main and original aim, during the two years of working in the book, many ideas that were latent in the books I read and talks I have with the more than one hundred people involved in the book, took their own shape in a way that the pure description of some cultural and ethnic characteristics of the Naxi become peppered with new ideas that try to give light to some of the less understood aspects of their culture. So, if in the first chapter is suggested that when we talk about the Naxi we are talking at least about of five well differentiated branches or ethnic entities, in the second some data are provided trying to establish a relationship between the Naxi and the legendary Kingdoms of Women of Chinese chronicles, and some emphasis is put in the detailed explanation of the process in which the Naxi lost their ethnic autonomy and become part of the administration of the Chinese empire. In the same form, in the rest of the chapters of the book the reader would find that in the purely descriptive paragraphs of the book, are included some ideas not previously expressed in the literature about the Naxi..

Sons of Heaven, Brothers of Nature: The Naxi of Southwest China is not the definitive book about the Naxi. Just the contrary is only an introduction to them, written with the love and respect that in the last twenty five years has characterized my relationship with the indigenous peoples.

Ceinos Arcones, Pedro. Sons of Heaven, Brothers of Nature: The Naxi of Southwest China. Kunming, 2012.

Other materials related with the book available in www.ethnic-china.com

Contents: The contents of the seven chapters dettailed in this document: 1. The Naxi of Southwest China. 2. Echoes from the past: Naxi History. 3. Gods and Dongbas: Naxi Religion. 4. Naxi Culture 5. Naxi life cycle. 6. Naxi Yearly cycle. 7. Music, Arts and Literature.

Introduction: The role of the Naxi as preservers of ancient cultural heritages can be attributed to the isolation of some communities and to the writing of a surprising amount of sacred books, maybe thousands of them treasured in the hands of their religious specialists, known to the outside world as the Dongba Classics.

Glossary of Naxi terms: Arranged mainly according to their pinyin transliterations, with other variants included.

Alili: One of the most famous and popular dances of the Naxi, daily performed in Lijiang and other places.
Baba: A kind of flat bread usually made of wheat with a salty or sweet filling.
Bimo: Traditional priest of the Yi that live east of the Naxi. They use books written in a syllabic language. Older denomination of the Naxi ritual specialists, also called biuq.

Reviews of this book:

Duncan. In www.sinoglot.com.

The book serves then as a great overview of this fascinating people: open the chapter on Naxi religion and you are treated with a systematic breakdown of the Dongba pantheon, with dense quotations from secondary sources. This over-reliance on secondary sources does not serve to hamstring the book, but instead to elevate it above the typical “I saw this…” style of travelogue that so plagues English-language China publishing.

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sons of heaven
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