Qiang - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. The area is characterized by shamanism and animistic beliefs. White stones are found on rooftops and altars throughout the corridor. In some areas, this practice has been elaborated into what has been called the "White Stone Religion." Elements of Chinese Buddhism and Daoism are found in many areas; other areas, especially those under the control of Tibetanized rulers, have been strongly influenced by Tibetan Lamaism. Many spirits are recognized, although the spirit of heaven is especially revered. There are many myths, which trace the origin of mankind to the union of a daughter of the heaven god (or goddess) with an earthly man/monkey.

Religious Practitioners. In many areas there is a distinctive and highly systematized tradition of shamanism associated with goatskin drums and the recitation of long oral texts. These specialists may also compete with Buddhist and Daoist practitioners. In Lamaist areas, monasticism is relatively unimportant; among the Jiarong, lay priests ( tekben ) account for less than 10 percent of the adult male population. These individuals, who usually have no monastic training, are able to read scriptures and perform simple rituals.

Ceremonies. Major ceremonies are held, often three times a year, in sacred groves or pastures located above the villages. These usually start with the burning of juniper branches and the invocation of spirits, and may include blood sacrifice. These ceremonies often end in camp-fire outings, which are the scene of trysts. In some areas a springtime agricultural festival was attended only by women. Mountain people show great respect for the supernatural world; in many areas, juniper branches are burned daily on rooftop altars. Once suppressed, religion is experiencing a revival; in Li Xian, a Buddhist cult started by Qiang is starting to attract pilgrims from the lowlands.

Arts. Circular dances accompanied by exchanges of song between men and women are found, and the exchange of "mountain songs" is an important part of courtship. The mouth harp is traditionally played by women to serenade their lovers, while in some areas men play a double-barreled "Qiang flute." The best-known handicraft is embroidery, usually in the form of intricately patterned waistbands and cloth shoes.

Medicine. Illness is attributed to spirits, and is treated by exorcism and/or reading of scriptures. Traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicine is also used.

Death and Afterlife. After death, the body is kept in the house for several days of mourning, after which it is removed, sometimes through a hole in the wall opposite the door. QLB people traditionally cremate the dead, burying their ashes in communal plots or placing them in caves. Bodies of children or people who die away from home are not mourned, but thrown into rivers. Earth burial is becoming popular in some (especially Qiang) areas, cremation being reserved for inauspicious deaths. Traditional beliefs about afterlife are unclear, although the spirits of ancestors are sometimes invoked.

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