Danced funeral of the Awu Yi

 

The different branches of the Yi, due to their dispersion over a wide territory and their isolation over a long period of time, have developed particular cultures that are manifested in numerous aspects of their life and society.

Among them, the branch that refer to themselves as Awu, that live in Shizong County of eastern Yunnan province, hold a spectacular type of funeral that is performed primarily by means of a dance known as "Bawu."

The main function of this dance is to express pain over the death of a person. The Bawu Dance also opens the way to the land of the ancestors for the soul of the deceased, and requests the ancestors' protection for the future.

The ceremony begins with the sad music of the suona, whose melody seems to clear the way for the soul of the deceased. Later on, the sound of cymbals, gongs and drums mark the rhythm to which the dancers will begin to dance and walk, while 16 people leave bearing the coffin covered with a cloth of many colors. When they return to the village, they must stop the dance and also the music.

When they dance the Bawu some types of old military weapons are used, as well as some of the weapons used for hunting. Usually two people start the dance, dressed also in old clothes, trying to represent their way of life in the past.

The Awu, particularly the women, zealously conserve their traditional dresses. When this type of danced funeral takes place, the splendor of the clothes is incomparable, as the dancers, with ancient weapons and dressed in attractive clothes, move in a rhythmic way, imitating the movements of a ritual fight. Their heads are covered with a red turban, their chests with a white blouse and red jacket, and their legs with a pair of blue trousers. In their hands, the strange weapons of past times shine in the sun, creating a magical effect.

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