Yi priests and witches in Paul Vial work


The French father Paul Vial was the first westerner to write a book about the history and culture of the Yi (known as Lolos in his time). His book, The Lolos: history, religion, costumes, language and writing (1) was published in 1898. He lived with the Yi of Yunnan for eight years. Here we translate his words regarding the Yi religious specialists.

"I translated the Pimo word by wizard. It would be reasonable to translate it by priest, if I didn't fear to desecrate this name. The Pimo preside over the birth, to the marriage, to the death and in a few other circumstances; it is, so to speak, the depository of the divine power and the social science. He is highly honored and his employ is lucrative; of the rest, he is a good agriculturist who only performs his religious tasks intermittently.

The true wizard is called Dipa. He is hated and is dreaded. He hides his art and his power; because, if he is only suspected, he will be hunted as a harmful being. It is believed that the Dipa has the power of the bewitchment; it is the wizard of the Middle Ages.

The Dipa has an enemy, the chema or witch of the good spirit. It is her that is put in charge of discovering the author, mind or man, of the misfortune that happens to the people. Every chema has her particular genius - zeza - of which she invokes the help. For it she possesses a kind of Basque drum, formed of a sheepskin spread on a circle of iron mingled of money and ornamented of bells. She hits it with a stick while calling the spirits and dancing; then she asks him the questions needed to make discover the author of the pain.

These witches are good women, rather soft than stern. Some facts would make me believe that they really have a genius to their service; but others permit me to say that the swindle is still a big part of their action."

(1) LES LOLOS: Histoire, religion, mœurs, langue, écriture. par Paul VIAL (1855-1917) missionnaire au Yunnan. Imprimerie de la Mission catholique de l'orphelinat de T'ou-sé-wé, Chang-hai, 1898, 72 pages.

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