Naxi - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Most Naxi subscribe to an eclectic mixture of Buddhist, Daoist, and indigenous animist and shamanist beliefs. Traditionally, lamas and priests from the several local Tibetan lamaseries and Chinese Buddhist and Daoist temples were called upon to perform wedding and, especially, funeral ceremonies, along with indigenous Naxi ritual specialists. With the exception of the Yongning Naxi, however, few Naxi have played active roles in these organized religious institutions. In the early eighteenth century, the Naxi of Yongning converted en masse to the Gelug-pa sect of Tibetan Buddhism. The lamasery there is well-supported locally, and many men and women take the religious vows.

The Naxi recognize several thousand deities residing throughout the heavens, purgatory, and the human world. Following generally from the Buddhist and Tibetan Bon traditions, specific gods and demons are often conceived in pairs that represent conflict in the cosmos. Virtually all locations and major geographical features have deities associated with them.

Religious Practitioners. Traditional Naxi religious practitioners include ritual specialists, shamans, and diviners. The ritual specialists ( dobbaqs ) possess a voluminous literature of ritual texts, written in a unique pictographic script that few ordinary Naxi are able to comprehend. No new dobbaqs have been trained in the post-1949 period, and the remaining hundred or so are quite elderly.

Ceremonies. Traditionally, a variety of annual ceremonies were held in connection with critical moments in the agricultural and pastoral cycles. Some centered around individual families and others around larger social groups. The most important ceremony, the Sacrifice to Heaven (Meebiuq), was performed twice annually, in the first and seventh lunar months. Many of these ceremonies have been discontinued since the founding of the People's Republic of China. Many events of the Han ritual calendar are also celebrated.

Arts. While there is a tradition of visual arts associated with the dobbaq and Buddhist religions, the most common art forms are music, singing, and dance. Singing involves not only great technical skill, but a rare ability to improvise poetic verse.

Medicine. In contemporary Naxi society, modern Western medicine coexists with traditional Chinese medicine, Naxi and Han herbal traditions, and a belief system in which disease is ascribed to the influence of malevolent spirits. Diseases of the latter type are cured through exorcism or shamanic "soul-catching" journeys.

Death and Afterlife. Naxi ideas about death incorporate Buddhist notions of reincarnation, Han folk beliefs in the soul and ghosts, and the idea that the soul travels backwards along the road by which one's ancestors came to the present location, eventually to reside eternally with the ancestors in the north. Today, most Naxi follow Han funerary customs and burial procedures, but in some places bodies are still cremated in the manner of the old tradition. Traditional Naxi funeral rites are very elaborate, especially those for persons who have died "unusual" deaths, such as suicide.

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