Axi Fire Worship

 

In the first days of the second lunar month, the Axi people (a Branch of the Yi Nationality) living in the Xishan area of Mile County celebrate the Fire Worship Festival.

According to their legends, long, long time ago, the people did not know how to get fire. In these times, their lives were full of hardships; without fire they can not get warm in winter, nor cook their foods. In the darkness of the night wild animals were a continuous threat. One day the hero Madeng, picked up some dry wood, started rubbing two sticks together and started a fire. From then on the lives of the Axi change completely; they did not fear cold, nor wild animals anymore; cooking their food brought great improvements to their health; they avoided sicknesses and enjoyed longer lives.

To commemorate Madeng, deified as God of Fire, every year the Axi people carry on the Fire Worship Festival. Though this festival was forbidden during the Cultural Revolution, in the last years has become more and more important for the people of these mountains; and every year several thousand people peregrinate to Hongwan village, where the tradition is supposed to have been more thoroughly preserved.

During the previous days some minor ceremonies are held in other villages, as the tradition is in process of being recovered in more and more villages. From the early hours of the morning of the third day of the second month, the people living in the villages surrounding Hongwan, dressed with their traditional clothes, start to walk the mountains paths that lead to this big village. More and more people arrive around noon. Most of them have friends or relatives living in Hongwan, to whom they pay a visit, having lunch together.

     
   
     

In the morning, out of sight of the visitors, the pimo and some ritual specialists, sacrifice a pig and a chicken to Madeng. After lunch, some Axi men half-naked, with the body painted with the colours of the earth: black, yellow and white, dance in the main street. Then, at the shadow of a sacred tree, they perform again the creation of fire, rubbing a big wood pole with a wood with a hole in the center. The new fire is welcomed by everybody.

In the fields near the village many improvised restaurants and stalls with popular games have been set up for the fair. A level place is reserved to the dancing, wrestling and jumping over the fire ceremonies, now more than a show for the visitors than a traditional entertainment for the local people.

In the Axi Fire Festival some fertility elements are also present. The action of rubbing the pole with the holed wood is a symbol of the holes that will be done to the earth in the next days, and also of the sexual intercourse; the grotesque penis that some of the dancers show with pride, points out also to the relationship of this festival with old fertility cults.

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