Yi - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. In Yunnan, Guizhou, and Guangxi the Yi religion was a polytheistic one, mixing older beliefs with elements of Daoism and Buddhism. Both Catholic and Protestant missionaries had some success in making converts among Yi in Yunnan and Guizhou in the early twentieth century, and an indigenous church continues in some areas at present. In the Liangshan, religion was less affected by Chinese religions. It included belief in a variety of natural spirits, encompassing animals, plants, the sun, moon, stars, and other natural phenomena. Sacrifices to the ancestors and worship of gods and ghosts were an important part of religious activity. The bimo and suyi presided at religious ceremonies, explained religious concepts, and served as intermediaries between the human and the supernatural world. The bimo was responsible for carrying out sacrifices, whereas the suyi could control ghosts through magic, but sometimes these roles overlapped.

Ceremonies. There were various ceremonies for marriage, the onset and reconciliation of feuds, initiations, etc. Sacrifices were offered to the ancestors of the lineage and household and to other spirits. There were common ceremonies that were held as the need arose and special sacrifices that took place on calendrically fixed occasions. The Yi had a well-developed knowledge of astronomy, though it was mainly the bimo who could read and interpret the texts.

Arts. Cooking utensils were usually made of leather or wood. Tubs, plates, bowls, and cups were handcarved and then painted inside and out with black, red, and yellow colors. Typical patterns included waves, thunderclouds, bull's-eyes and horses' teeth. Wine cups were carved from cattle horns or hooves.

Medicine. In the past, the Yi dealt with disease through both ritual and the use of herbal medicines. If someone died of illness, the bimo would be invited to compound additional medicines to offer to the dead. There have been great changes in medical care since 1949, with modern medicine available at all levels in the Yi areas of settlement.

Death and Afterlife. The dead were believed to travel to the netherworld where they would continue their lives. A properly held sacrificial ceremony was necessary to satisfy and calm the deceased: An unsatisfied spirit would haunt the people and offer no protection to descendants and kin.

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