Hani - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Traditional Hani beliefs were a combination of animism, polytheism, and ancestor worship, but these beliefs varied by region. Early Buddhist and later Christian missionaries had little impact on the Hani. In Xishuangbanna, ancestor worship and animism were important. In Honghe the people worshiped several spirits. The "Heavenly Spirit," a female deity called "Ao ma," was viewed as the creator of all things. The Hani worshiped trees in the "holy hills" as guardian spirits and offered annual sacrifices to them. The Hani viewed certain events as unlucky—for instance, a new family or wild beast coming into the village, a dog climbing onto the roof of a house, a tree knocking down the village gate, or a fire in a neighboring village. The Hani believed that the unluckiest event was the birth of twins or a handicapped child. The villagers would then kill the children, chase the parents out of the village, and burn their house and possessions. If the parents were wealthy, they could hire a beima to conduct nine days of great sacrificial rites, in which case they would be allowed to remain in the village. However, no one in the village would have relations with them for one year, and they would thenceforth be excluded from village religious activities. The Hani believed in spirits of heaven and earth, spirits of the hills, protective spirits of the village and home, and obscure supernatural forces of the netherworld.


Religious Practitioners. There existed among the Hani a group of religious practitioners. A zuima directed the religious activities of a village. A male from the oldest household in the village usually held the position, and it was passed down from father to son. Every year the zuima would perform planting and harvesting ceremonies, and in return the villagers would give him a day of free labor. There were male beima who performed incantations and exorcisms. Male and female nima were in charge of predictions and medicinal herbs. Both beima and nima were paid for their services with chicken, rice, wine, cloth, and money.

Ceremonies. Religious activities and agricultural activities were often linked. In the spring, the zuima would lead the people to a river to make sacrifices to the spirits, asking for the grains to be abundant. Before the harvest, a village would engage in a ceremony to chase out ghosts. The first day, the villagers would sacrifice chickens and repair the roads around the village to facilitate the ghosts' exit. On the following morning at dawn, the whole village would make as much noise as possible in order to dispel the ghosts. Every village would then place a strip of bamboo outside the village gate, symbolizing the ghosts' departure. In Honghe the Hani also celebrated the Chinese New Year and the Duan Wu and Mid-Autumn festivals.

Medicine. The Hani believed that disease was tied to certain spirits that could be controlled or exorcised through sacrifice and wizardry. Since the 1950s, the Chinese government has constructed county-level hospitals, disease-prevention clinics, and mother-infant health stations. At the district and village levels there are cooperative health services.

Death and Afterlife. Funerals differed from area to area. In Xishuangbanna, the whole village would stop work to attend and assist in a funeral. The head of the household of the deceased would sacrifice a pig for the spirit and invite all to a feast. If it was a poor household, the other villagers would contribute. The villagers buried their dead in the forest in graves without markers. In Honghe, upon the death of an elder, relatives and friends would bring chickens, pigs, rice, and wine as presents for a memorial ceremony. The son-in-law would be required to kill a cow in offering. Before the funeral, youths would gather in the room of the deceased and ask a beima to preside over placing the body in a coffin and sending the dead one's soul "on the road." To find an appropriate burial site, an egg was rolled until it broke. The family then buried the body in this spot. Some tusi leaders and wealthy families adopted the Han Chinese customs of hiring a geomancer to determine an auspicious site and using stone or brick tombs.

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