1 Thanks to the support of the Urgent Anthropology programme organized by Goldsmiths College, University of London, and the Royal Anthropological Institute I was able to produce this video film DABA and the accompanying study guide concerning Na shamanism. The principal funding agency was the Anthropologists' Fund for Urgent Anthropological Research (Founding Sponsor: George N. Appell). The Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology of the University of Oxford gave me hospitality while I was writing this material. Paul Henley and the University of Manchester gave substantial help with editing of the film. I would like to express my sincere gratitude for their assistance.

2 Certain specialists of the Himalayan region refer to this kind of language as "ritual language". Cf., Nick Allen, "Sewala Puja Bintila Puja: Notes on Thulung Ritual Language", in Kailash, Kathmandu, l978, No. 4, P. 237-256

3 In l989, during my third session of fieldwork, there were four male daba (three were over 70, the other was 54). Only one of them knew the recitations and rites well, without ever having had formal teaching from a master. In certain villages there was also a person who, having often participated in the rituals, knew the procedures of various rituals and recitations fairly well, but he was not able to give much in the way of explanations.

4 The Na traditionally follow a system of nocturnal visits of man to woman. The matrimonial mode was imposed on the Na chief because of the change in legislation concerning the transmission of hereditary power under the Qing dynasty (l644-l911). This mode of sexual life was then adopted by two minority categories of the population: some of those who held a position in the political regime (before Communism as nowadays) and only sons of a rich household. In the second case, marriage was only envisaged when no female blood relation was available for adoption. Consequently, marriage is only a sporadic and exceptional phenomenon. As the only son of a well-to-do household, the fact that Dafa is married makes him one of these exceptions.

5 Unit of Chinese currency

6 All these spoken rituals are practised by the daba who recite them as if they were spells without really understanding the sense of the words. In l988, during my long stay session of fieldwork, the villagers told me that in the village of Wujié high up in the mountains above the Yongning basin, traditions were better preserved and that the people still called on the daba instead of asking the lama for help in times of difficulty. I went there and succeeded in recording recitations and legends. After the recording, the daba were unable to give me either explanations or translations. To begin with I thought it was because there was a lack of confidence between us and that they did not want to tell me anything. But even after attempts over a whole week, they still told me that they only knew how to recite.

My Na assistant also stated that he couldn't understand them at all. Even so I still recorded everything that they knew how to recite. On return to Yongning I told the head of the canton, a 30 year old man who loved the literature and the culture of his ethnic group, about what I had obtained during the trip. He immediately asked to listen to my cassettes. In spite of my explanations he did not believe me and insisted. The following day, in dispair, he confirmed what I thought: "It is true. I can't understand a word."

7 I was unable to obtain any information about the reason for the fear of a change in sex at the birth of a child.

8 When a lhe becomes too numerous, the members of the lhe build a new house, often beside the existing one. A branch of the lhe moves in. This is how a scission occurs. In each Na village there are always lhes descended from the same root. A unit made up of several lhes from the same "bone" is called sïzi. This has been translated here by "lineage". [Note: this is not the same as the standard usage of the term "lineage" in kinship studies.]

9 The seat of the canton local government is situated at WaRu, daba Dafa's village. Some of his guests are cadres.

10 The term "Mo-so" first appears in Huohan Shu, Chinese annals by Fan Ye, in the third century A.D. Different terms can be found later in various Han texts, such as Chinese annals of the dynasties and records from Yunnan province and its districts. In spite of changes in the characters, due to the different transcriptions used in each era, the pronunciation has stayed the same, that is Mo-so.

11 In China there are currently fifty-six ethnic groups officially recognized by the central government. The Han, the majority, represent 92% of the total population (according to the l991 census).

12 "Yongning" is a Chinese term which means "eternal tranquillity". This name for the place first appears in Chinese texts from the Yuan (Mongol) dynasty. Before that it was called Loudoudan. The Na call it "Hlidi" which means "that place".

13 The literal meaning of zhao is "chief" or "king"; figuratively it means "principality".

14 See Editorial Group, Naxizhu Jianshi (Short History of the Naxi), Kunming, Yunnan People's Press, l984, pp 1-15.

15 In order to confirm that these are in fact two dialects, further study is, I believe, necessary. The difference between these two "ways of speaking" may not be any greater than that between one of them and another recognized language from the same linguistic family.

16 See He Jiren and Jiang Zhuyi, Naxiyu Jianzhi (A brief study of the Naxi language), Beijing, Ethnic Minorities Edition, l985, pp 3-4.

I have heard that some Na shaman, in the eastern group, have transcribed their language by means of Tibetan letters to make simple notes. But I have never found writing of this sort.

17 Chinese phonetic alphabet.

18 One of the emperors of the Yuan dynasty. In l253, on the campaign to conquer the Kingdom of Dali, in western Yunnan, he stationed his army in Yongning.

19 The Na aristocrats in Yongning also claimed to be of the same origin. Even if it is true that Kublai Khan installed Mongol chiefs in the area, the present situation shows that over the course of history they were integrated into Na society, and not the contrary.

20 See CAI Hua, Une société sans père ni mari, Les Na de Chine, Paris, PUF, 1997.

21 According to the Chinese constitution, when a group demands official recognition from central and provincial governments, the People's Assembly of the province has only the right to grant the designation ren. This indicates that the group in question is still to be identified. In the Na case, to be recognized as Mo-so ren means that they are no longer considered to be part of the Naxi group. But only the National People's Assembly is supposed to have the right to recognize a zu.

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In July l997, I returned to Na country to study their own religion. I chose to stay in the Dafa4 household, whom I had met ten years earlier. Daba - Na shaman, was filmed mainly during this stay. Here is the description of the two rituals presented in the film.

Nati diji

This rite is called Nati diji. Nati is the name of an evil spirit who is particularly harmful to pregnant women, diji means "the house". The aim of this ritual is to drive Nati away so that he is satisfied with lodging in the newly built house and cannot cause problems for the pregnant woman.

Generally speaking, when a woman is six or seven months pregnant, her lhe sends someone to invite a daba who chooses by divination the day he will come. This ritual has three parts: preparation, prayers for the pregnant woman and the conquest of Nati.

In the courtyard of the lhe,at about ten in the morning, the daba begins to prepare diji, a symbolic house made of the following elements:

1) A square of turf, 8cm. thick and 30cm. wide. This forms the foundation of the house.

2) Twelve planks 5cm. x 5cm. x 40cm. The four planks at the four corners of the foundations are the pillars.

3) Two nets in the form of spiders' webs 25cm. in diameter and a triangular net, installed one on top of the other on a 50cm. bamboo pole, one horizontally and the others vertically. These nets are to keep Nati in.

4) A string to which chickens' feathers are attached, two by two, each in a different direction. This string represents chickens.

5) Lengths of bamboo pole stuck in the turf around the planks. They are offerings for the water spirit so that he does not harm the woman.

6) A strip of linen, l5 cm. wide and 2 m. long. It surrounds the lower part of the house and symbolizes the wall.

7) Small strips of coloured fabric 4cm. wide which represent the woman's clothes.

8) An artificial pearl symbolizing the woman's necklace.

9) A reel of linen thread to tie up Nati and his assistants: chosi, binggu and ladogudgu, as well as two evil spirits ji tsikwa (demon of the clouds). When the evil spirits attack human beings they use threads, but men beat them at their own game and use the same thread to catch them and then kill them. The reel also symbolizes the woman's necklace.

10) Two eggs. One of them represents the woman's soul. It must be brought back to the house at the end of the ritual. The shell represents the pregnant woman and the white and the yolk represent the foetus.

ll) Five small flags made of coloured paper to open the way.

Once Nati's house has been built, by about midday, the daba takes it into the main room of the house and places it on the shelf behind the high hearth. From then on access to the house is forbidden to strangers.

The daba prepares flour on a tray and makes a statuette symbolizing the pregnant woman and orders meat, walnuts and fruit to be put on another tray as offerings to the good spirits. Then he puts several little fish in a bowl of water which will help the pregnant woman to cross rivers.

Also on the shelf behind the hearth, daba starts the ritual of the service of offerings to the good spirits. After mixing milk and water with pine needles in a little cup, daba starts the prayers. Here are the dialogues between the daba and the members of the lignée, and the prayers: 

Daba: Your sign is ox, isn't it?

Mother of the pregnant woman: Yes.

D: Your name is Tsier what?

M: Tsier Qidgu.

D: Good. Throw these three bowls against the garden wall, in a clean place, not by the road. You ought to know that. Go on.

Today, I pray for your lhe, for Tsier Qidgu, sign of the ox, for your birth orientation, your month, your life, the date you give birth.

Sit down here, with your back towards me.

Pregnant woman: Shall I take off my jacket?

D: No.

Holding the statuette symbolizing the pregnant woman the daba recites the prayers: Today I pray for your lhe, for you, for the dangerous months and days.

Addressing Nati: An evil soul on the left and a demon on the right, when you sleep you will have nightmares and when you sit up you will feel anxious, so go to see the little statue of Jidudzener.

Tsier Qidgu, a girl with the ox as her sign, is only 3.3 pounds, the statuette is 66.6 pounds; this person is only a shell and the flour has substance; the bird is less good than the nest, the person is less good than the replacement. Go and see the statuette rather than Tsier Qidgu, sign of the ox. Go and see the statuette clothed in gold and silver wearing a necklace of pearls instead of this woman. I have already prayed for her, that she be liberated once, twice, three times, four times, five times, six times, seven times and seventy-seven times. From head to foot, from her clothes, from her belt, may all the evil go towards the statuette.

The daba places the statuette in a basket, the bottom of which is covered with buckwheat, then he says to the woman: Don't move. I haven't finished.

Then he takes two eggs in his right hand and continues his litanies: Do not look at this woman, the egg replaces her. Blood for blood, breath for breath and flesh for flesh. The eggshell replaces the body of the mother, and the yolk the foetus. Everything is ready. See the egg instead of the woman, that she may be rid of all possible illness.

The daba puts the two eggs in the basket with the statuette and takes a thread saying to the woman: Turn to me and hold the thread taut.

I pray for your tranquillity and your security, if there are rumours about you, I cut them like this thread, if there is an unkind word, a curse, a sorrow, devils, I cut them ...

The daba puts the thread cut into little pieces in Nati's house and says to the woman : It will soon be finished.

The daba continues: If there is the river in front of you, the fish replace you, if there are mountains in front of you the deer replace you.

The daba says to Nati: Do not look at this woman. If her body is worth a thousand yuan5, I have given twice that. In front of the river, take the bridge, in the mountains take the path, go there and may everything leave the path free. Demon Nati, leave Tsier Qidgu in peace.

To the pregnant woman daba says: Touch the buckwheat with your hand. (Buckwheat is considered to be a purifying agent.)

After these prayers, the daba throws maize all around the inside of the main room to chase away the evil spirits which might have crept in, and the uncle and the brother of the woman take away Nati's house and the other objects. Holding the basket (containing the buckwheat, the statuette and the two eggs) and a bunch of burning sweet chestnut leaves, the daba makes three circular movements over the pregnant woman's head to remove all ill omens.

Then, at about two o'clock in the afternoon, they go into the garden to conquer Nati. During this time, the pregnant woman must stay in the main room so that Nati cannot see her.

When the place for the ritual has been chosen in the garden, the daba, playing his cymbal and his little drum, orders the members of the lhe to throw buckwheat and to blow conch shells towards the four cardinal points in the direction of the sky, which is where the good spirits live, in order to call on their aid. These good spirits are Tabumila dwchu, Tsiesipi Yongkesong who are particularly powerful subjugators of Nati, Mabudziru who is the daba founder, dga who gives the power of the shaman to the daba and Abodgu who is the creator of Man. Then daba pronounces five recitations for each of which he prepares ritual objects.

The first is dgo dzi. As he recits the daba places dgo in a basket full of brown rice. The second is dga dgin. Through this recitation, the daba acquires the shaman's power and becomes able to communicate with the ancestors and with the good spirits and thus conquer the bad spirits. After this recitation, the daba makes statuettes with flour which symbolize the four good spirits already mentioned, then he places them around dgo in the basket with dgo. Then the daba pronounces hinnago, the third recitation whose function is to acquire the protection of the good spirits so that all goes well for the household. The fourth recitation is Kwaiçuyi which is used to shield the pregnant woman against any possible accident. After this recitation the daba takes Nati's linen thread to tie up Nati himself. The last is Jïda cho which follows a series of offerings to the good spirits and also to the bad spirits.6 Apart from Kwaiçuyi, the four other recitations are in fact prononced during every ritual that the daba carry out.

Let us now look more closely at the offerings which the daba prepared before reciting jïda cho. First of all, eight balls of dough representing all the kinds of nourishment to be dedicated to the water and mountain spirits. The daba sends them in eight directions: east, west, north, south, north-east, north-west, south-east and south-west where these two spirits can be found. Then comes Jïda, an important offering. She is about l5 cm. high and 5 cm. in diameter. The four balls of dough which are stuck on her are thrown into the water in the direction of the four cardinal points. Her upper part is dedicated to the spirit of the sky, and her lower part to the spirit of the earth. She sits on a fragment of tile. A little tea and a little milk are poured out before her. The tea is intended for the plants and foliage and the milk is for the water spirit who may be living in the mountain lakes. Three little pieces of butter stuck on the top of Jïda are dedicated to the sun and the moon.

The offerings which are placed in Nati's house are first of all fishes, swallows, squirrels, martens, white monkeys, foxes and stags as well as doema, slabs wrapped in white fabric, symbolizing the twelve astrological signs (normally, apart from the doema, there should be nine of each of these objects, but the daba has restricted himself to three of each), and then there are statuettes representing all the farm animals and poultry. Then the daba places the statuette and an egg whose shell represents the pregnant woman and whose inside represents the foetus. He addresses prayers to Yonkesong so that he will bless the baby and so that he does not change its sex as it comes out of its mother's belly.7 Lastly, as he puts in Nati's replacements and Nati's helpers: chosï, binggu and ladobudgu, the daba starts to persuade Nati to go into his house: It is a house of gold and silver and pearls. It is a raiment of gold and silver.

At this point the spoken ritual ends. The daba gestures to his helpers to blow the conch shells again, while he plays his drum and cymbal. At the same time, another helper removes the strip of linen from around Nati's house and spreads it downwards before diji to make a bridge. Another helper puts a tile, on which sweet chestnut leaves are burning, and a little flag, in front of the bridge, and he puts jïda at the end of the bridge. Then he takes another piece of tile, on which he ignites a little oil, which is taken behind the house of the lhe, to the place where the fox has his earth. The Na think that behind each house there is always a fox's earth which may cause disaster to fall on the inhabitants. Each time a ritual is carried out, the fox's earth must be destroyed.

Then a helper throws jïda onto the wall of the garden. This signifies the accompaniment for the return of the good spirits and, at the same time, the opening of a path for sending away Nati. The daba then says, I am going to send Nati's house away. If there are black clouds, may they disperse so that he has a way. If the storm blows, may it cease an instant to let Nati pass.

But Nati is in no hurry. Then the daba turns towards Nati: Hesitate no more. To the left there is a house of clay, and to the right a house of wood. There is nothing to keep you there. Forget them. Go! If you meet people in the day or Luçitsi [the daba does not know who or what this is] at night, do not worry and continue on your way. After the sunset, there is the moon. After the moon, a very bright star. Go fearlessly.

And still Nati fears the wild wind and the downpour. The daba says to him, Now there are white clouds in the sky, so there will be no rain, and there is only a breeze so there will be no gales. Go!

But Nati still does not want to leave. So the daba invites him to play a game. They will each produce dough balls and the one who takes out balls of the same colour will stay. The land where the daba is sitting is human beings' land, the land where Nati resides is demons' land. Man, represented by the daba, begins the game. He takes out one, two, up to the one hundred and thirteenth ball and they are all white. As for Nati, his first ball is white, his second is black, his third is red. So the demon has lost the game. The daba says to him: You have lost, you must carry away all illness, all filth, all that can provoke death, in short all ill omens.

The ritual ends with a helper carrying Nati's house away up the mountainside to put it high up in a tree.

In general, each household chooses a tree up the mountain behind the village for perching Nati's house after the ritual of Nati diji. It must be a fruit tree, often a sweet chestnut or a pear, and it symbolizes the prosperity of the household in spite of Nati.

Busï nin

Busï means "branch of sweet chestnut", nin means "to tame". Traditionally, it is the title of an annual ritual organized at the level of the lineage and intended for carrying out the service of offerings to the ancestors of the lineage.8 This ritual takes place on a day during the lunar month corresponding to October, chosen by the lineage. During the ritual, a daba who knows the names of the ancestors of the lineage is invited to recite their names so that they return to share the Na New Year feast with their descendants. The aim is to honour the ancestors so that they only do good to their descendants and never cause harm. For without offerings they would be angry and would harm their descendants. Before l958, each lineage owned a piece of land and the harvest served to feed a pig. Each household of the lineage took turns to look after the pig. On the appointed day, all the households belonging to the lineage gathered at the house of those who had raised the pig that year, to carry out this ritual.

From l958 to l980, the popular commune, having taken control of all the land, distributed the annual ration of grain. This put an end to the traditional form of this ritual in the majority of the Na villages. Since then until the present time, each lignée carries out this ritual as best they can. The following description is based on the ritual presided over by daba Dafa at his home on 21st October by the lunar calendar (i.e. 20th November) l997.

On the eve of busïnin, daba Dafa calls together all the members of his lhe in the main room of the house, in order to distribute a task to each -- person in preparation of the ritual. He has invited a villager who often accompanies him as an assistant bidza when he carries out rituals -- for others.

On the morning of the day of the ritual, the members of the household start by setting up a tripod, a cauldron and a high table on which the ancestors' vessels are laid out. After having lit the fire under the tripod, the daba purifies, over the fire, branches of sweet chestnut which have been cut down in the mountains and washed in the stream by one of the members of the household, and from which the bark has been removed at the cut end. Then the daba plants them along the edge of the pavement in front of the main house. A black stone from the river is placed at the foot of each branch. These stones, considered to be the hardest available, symbolize the foundations of the house. Durable in all weathers, sweet chestnut wood is considered to be the best building wood. The stones and branches together represent a house. In front of this house a door serving as a table is laid out, on which all the offerings are placed.

There is a legend concerning this house. In the beginning, during the annual ritual such a house was not built. At the beginning of the ritual, therefore, the ancestors mingled with the living. At the end of the ritual, they no longer wanted to return to Sibuinawa (the place where they reside). So Abodgu, creator of human beings and of all the rules of life, ordered that such a house should be made to separate the dead from the living.

The bidza prepares the tea and fries beancurd, with which the daba carries out the first service of offerings (breakfast) to the ancestors who are still in Sibuanawa. At the same time he tells them that today the household is to kill two pigs as offerings.

Meanwhile, the others set out two big jars of solima (Na beer) decorated with sweet chestnut leaves for the ancestors, a wooden vase in which some gold and silver and grain has been placed and a piece of bamboo pole hung with strips of coloured fabric. These fabric strips symbolize clouds and wild ducks which can bring riches to the house. The vase is accompanied by a tray containing a piece of bocha (boned and salted pork), tea, brown sugar, salt and a few banknotes. All these things signify that the household is rich. Then wheatcakes and ricecakes, yellow wine and fruit are added.Pine needles (incense), intended for the heavens, are burned by the bidza in a little hearth set up by the foot of the wall of the main building.

The second phase of the ritual begins after breakfast. The daba pronounces a recitation to purifiy all the foods and all the objects used. The bidza makes circles over all these objects with fronds of cypress. The men kill two pigs and shave off the bristles in the garden using boiling water.

The daba, holding a long bamboo pole, directs the members of the household during the ritual. If anyone makes a mistake, he hits the culprit with the pole. The men bring the two dead pigs into the courtyard and lay them with their heads facing the main building. They place a yuangen (a type of turnip) in the mouth of one of the pigs. This means that food is not lacking in the house. While the daba continues the purification recitation, the bidza inscribes circles with azalea leaves over the pigs. Then he cuts off half the ear of a pig and puts it in a plate at the end of the prayer. Now the offerings laid in front of the "house" include cooked and raw food which represents the lunch offered to the ancestors.

Meanwhile two men bone the pigs, and two women spin linen thread to sew up the boned carcasses. Other women salt the fat and put it back into the stomach of the pig. Once the pigs are boned they are generously salted so that they can be kept for years.

A man lays the sternum of a pig with the offerings. This means that those who serve the offerings are born of the same bone as those who are served, therefore they are naturally consanguineous relatives. The bone is considered by the Na to be the vehicle of the hereditary characteristics of the individual.

When everything is ready, the bidza adds pine needles and alcohol to the fire in the little incense burner, and two men blow in the conch shells; at the same time the daba starts to evoke the ancestors so that they come from Sibuinawa. He recites the names of the ancestors starting with the oldest generation. Each time he pronounces a name, the bidza puts a piece of each food and a little beer in big plate. The number of generations that he evokes is eighteen. Then he throws grains of wheat. This symbolizes the offerings made to the ancestors. At this point, the ancestors are considered as already having returned. The bidza throws tea and -- alcohol on the burnt incense to provide drink to quench the thirst of -- the ancestors.

Then the members of the household begin to cook meat, fish and vegetables in the cauldron in the main building. When it is all cooked, it is the daba himself who carves the meat and puts various foods on the offerings table. He orders his assistant to paint the stripped stalks of sweet chestnut with the pigs' blood. By this act the members of the household testify before the ancestors to the fact that they have actually killed the pigs as offerings to them. Without this act, the ritual would not be considered as truly solemn, it would be as if the pigs had not been offered to ancestors, who would then be discontented.

These offerings represent the dinner offered to the ancestors. While he indicates to others to play the conch shells and to throw alcohol on the incense intended for the heavens, the daba recites the names of the ancestors again. After each name, the bidza puts a little of all the sorts of food and drinks on a large plate. But this time, the daba only recites the names of the three most recent generations of ancestors starting with the most recent. At the end, the daba adds alcohol and a little piece of meat to the plate, which symbolizes the provisions given to the ancestors. Then the youngest child of the household lights the lamp on the offerings table, and all the members of the household prostrate themselves before the ancestors. After this recitation, all the members of the household touch the purified wheat and drink the beer which has also been purified. This bestows the protection of the ancestors on each one. This gesture also signifies a farewell to the ancestors.

Lastly the household sends the ancestors back to Sibuinawa: a man plays the conch shell, the daba throws grains of wheat towards the table of offerings to open the way. A young man pulls up the branches of sweet chestnut while another carries the large plate of food; they both climb onto the roof. The first man wedges the branches under two slabs of stone on which the second man empties the food. The branches and the food represent the house and the nourishment sent to the ancestors at Sibuinawa. After this, the sooner the food is taken by the crows the better, crows being considered good birds who take rations to the ancestors.

It should be noted here that the household throws a bowl of food in front of the main door, for the ancestors who have suffered a violent death through suicide, murder, accident etc. They are not considered to belong among the ancestors.

In the courtyard, two members of the household bring the boned pork back into the main room. Then a procession is formed to bring in the riches. At the head of the procession, blowing into the conch shell, the bidza carries the vase of riches, a young boy also plays a conch shell, and another man carries the tray with the boned pork, tea, brown sugar, salt, alcohol and money; the other members of the household follow.

When the procession arrives inside the main room, the tray is placed in front of the spirit of the lower hearth. The bidza puts the vase back in its place on the sïtu, a sideboard in the corner opposite the door of the main room, he takes flour out of a leather bag and throws some on the walls and the pillars, and then two spoonfuls on the fire in the lower hearth. This gesture signifies that he is closing the house so that the riches of the household are not lost, but also so that the evil spirits cannot enter the house. The evil spirits are particularly frightened of white dust.

This is how busïnin ends. The members of the household clean up the courtyard and start preparing dinner so that they can invite guests to a feast. These are usually friends from the same village.9

At the end of this description it is worth noting that it was as head of the household and not as daba that Dafa Luzo presided over this ritual as seen in the film.

Ancestor worship is particularly important for the Na. They always make an offering to the ancestors before they partake of any food or drink, which means several times each day. Each year, after the wheat, maize and rice harvests, they make offerings to the ancestors which are more formal than the everyday offerings so that the ancestors may taste the new grain.

The living look after food for the ancestors, who in turn protect the living so that their prosperity is ever greater. The ancestors, or at least their souls, are thus separated from the living but at the same time in daily contact. There is reciprocity between them: the fortunes of the living and their ancestors are interdependent.

As we can see, the crux of this film is that Dafa Luzo wishes his son rapid success in his apprenticeship as a daba. But the essential question is: will the son succeed? If his son cannot succeed him, the fact that the household will be less prosperous is only a secondary consideration; the more serious being that, with no daba, it would become particularly vulnerable to the demons who would seek revenge on all the daba who, in the past, from one generation to the next, fought against them so zealously. Thus for a lhe which includes a daba, there is a parallel in regard to continuity; not only does the lhe need descendants, but it also needs a daba successor for each generation.

The relations between daba and lama

The daba and lama share certain rituals; for example: those for divining; calling back a terrified soul; curing; service of offerings to the mountain spirit; funerals etc. When a daba falls ill, he may call on a lama, and vice versa. However, as far as relations with the ancestors are concerned, all the prayers for sending the soul of the deceased to join its ancestors in Sibuinawa, can only be carried out in the daba ritual; for the two religions do not send the dead to the same place. The traditional Na religion treats the deceased as a member of a kinship group, i.e. a member of a lhe, while Buddhism treats the deceased as an individual, with kinship playing no part. When I ask the villagers the question: As the daba and the lama do not send the deceased to the same place who do you think will succeed?, they reply with a smile saying: We don't know. But both religions suit us.

When a daba dies, his household sends for a lama to carry out the funeral. But on the death of a lama who has taken his vows, a daba cannot be asked to participate in the funeral ceremony.

Each Na household has a special room for statuettes of various Buddhas, posters of the Dalai Lama and Banchan Lama, silver or bronze bowls for use as lamps, and other Buddhist objects. The room is usually nicely decorated. The more well-off the household, the more elaborate the decoration. Dafa's household is well-off, but they only have a few lamaist objects placed on a little table in the corner of a room where many other belongings are stored. During one of his lessons to his son, Dafa Luzo clearly expressed his anxieties. Remarking that lamaism has developed rapidly in the area in the last few years and that the number of daba is falling, he hopes that in general the daba can gain ground. However, he shows not the slightest intention of training the children of others, at least not up until the time of my last stay.

In order that Na shamanism as presented in this film can be understood in context, here is a short presentation of the characteristics of Na society.

Who are the Mo-so?

Before the l950's, four groups of agricultural peoples living on the borders of Yunnan and Sichuan provinces were called Mo-so10 by the Han, the ethnic majority of China.11 Each of these groups called themselves by their own name and continue to do so. The first group call themselves Naxi (approx. 210,000) and resides in Yunnan in the town of Lijiang and the surrounding areas. The second group call themselves Na (approx. 30,000) and lives in the Yongning12 basin and surroundings in the north of Ninglang district (in Yunnan) and in the west of Yanyuan district (in Sichuan). The third group, the NaRu (approx. 7,000) reside in the districts of Muli and Yanbian (in Sichuan). The last group call themselves Nahing (approx. 3,000) and lives in the south of Ninglang district and in Zhanzidang village in Yongshen district (in Yunnan).

Originally, the Mo-so descend from one of the branches of the early Qiang, an ancient population of the Tibeto-Qin plateau in north-west China. At the end of the second century A.D., the Mo-so were already living in the Yanyuan region. During the fifth century, they also appeared in the Lijiang area, and during the eighth century, they spread further south to the Bingchuan region, to the east of Lake Er (Erhai) where they founded Yuexi zhao13 (also called Mo-so zhao), one of the six celebrated principalities of Yunnan. In 738 A.D. the Nan Zhao principality conquered the five other principalities, thereby forming a kingdom. After this, there is no further mention of the Mo-so in Chinese texts, nor is there any evidence in reality of their presence in the Erhai area; from then on they are only to be found in the places where they live today.14

When using their own names, these four groups share a common syllable na the meaning of which, as a name, is unknown. In their spoken language, as a general term, na is always used as an adjective of quality and means "black". As for xi, Ru and hing these terms all denote "people" or "human beings".

Linguistic classification

The Jingsha river, the upriver Yangzi, divides their region in two. Those living on the east side of the river, the NaRu, the Na and Nahing, understand one another. However they and the Naxi, who live on the west side, do not understand each other and Chinese (spoken and written) serves as a common language. For the time being, Chinese linguists consider that these are two dialects of the same language.15

Their languages all belong to the yi branch of the Tibeto-Burmese family. The western group uses the dongba pictographic script, and another written form geba, which only the shaman know how to use. The eastern groups have no written form of their language.16

Official Identification

In l958 the central government organized investigations in order to identify various ethnic groups. The authorities in each province were put in charge of identifying their inhabitants. In Yunnan, as the Naçi (Naxi in pinyin17) are the biggest group, their name was authorized by the central government to cover the three Yunnan groups. Consequently all Na, Naçi and Nahin living in Yunnan province are classified as Naxi.

Whereas the NaRu and Na living in Sichuan are identified by the provincial government of Sichuan, confirmed by the central government, as being part of the Mongolian ethnic group. This designation is only justified by the fact that they claim descent from those who remained in the region after the departure of the army of Kublai Khan.18 Since this official identification, villages belonging to the same ethnic group but located on different sides of the provincial border, are classified as two distinct ethnic groups.

For example, in the north of the Yongning basin, less than one kilometre apart, certain villages became Naxi and others Mongolian. However, these "Mongols" have nothing in common with the Mongols in Mongolia: no-one there knows a single word of Mongolian.19

Who are the Na?

The political system and the agrairian system before l956

Before l956, the area in Yunnan inhabited by the Na was governed by a Na chief called zhifu (head of the prefecture). He was appointed by the central government from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) onwards. During the Ming dynasty, power was handed down from maternal uncle to nephew, and from father to son from the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) until the Guomingdang era (l911-l949). In l956, in the Yongning region, fields, moors, fallow land and pastures where entirely divided amongst the inhabitants. The land was divided into two types, that of the Office of the zhifu (prefect), and that of all the households.

The kinship system and the visit system

In Na society, past and present, women and men can freely engage in sexual relations with different partners and change partners whenever they wish. The man visits the woman at night in the house where she lives with the sisters and brothers of the different generations of her lhe, and in the morning he returns to the house of his own lhe, the only economic unit where he works, produces and consumes.

Between partners there is no economic bond. The children born of these sexual encounters belong invariably to the mother's lhe, whose members bring up the child with no intervention whatever from the genitor [presumed biological father], who is often only "identified" by his resemblance to the child. Sometimes he is not even known as the women have different partners. In fact, I have never found in the Na language, a term which covers the notion of father, as their kinship terminology is strictly consanguineal and matrilineal. Inheritance is collective, with property and possessions passing down from all the members of one generation to all the members of the next.

As a form of sexual behaviour, there are two types of visit, the hidden visit and the open visit. Apart from these two forms, cohabitation (or concubinage in the traditional sense of the term) and marriage also exist in this society. Cohabitation is an auxiliary measure undertaken only if attempts at adoption fail, in order to perpetuate a household which lacks a member of one of the sexes, and especially when a household lacks a daughter. Marriage was imposed indirectly following the change in legislation concerning the transmission of hereditary authority under the Qing dynasty. However it should be underlined that the majority of the Na population live only according to the visit system, and that those who cohabit or marry also practise the hidden visit at the same time.

The particularity of this society is therefore the fact that the institutionalized form of sexual behaviour is completely dissociated from any economic bond. The elementary kinship and economic unit is the purely matrilineal and consanguineal lhe. It is composed only of the brothers and sisters of each generation. The Na thus represent the most extreme case of matrilineality that has ever been observed in anthropology. Diametrically opposed to marriage society, it constitutes a visit society. Strictly speaking it is these two categories of society which represent the true elementary structures of kinship, which can be illustrated by the diagram suggested by Claude Levi-Strauss for the kinship atom: and by that which I suggested for the Na kinship model.20

Claiming Identity

For more than two decades, the Na living in Yongning in Yunnan province have lodged demands with the government at every level, from local to central. They request recognition as an ethnic group distinct from the Lijiang Naxi. The Yunnan provincial assembly has already agreed that the Na from Yongning should be called Mo-so ren (the "Mo-so people") but not Mo-so zu (the "Mo-so ethnic group") 21. Ratification by the central government is necessary for recognition as an ethnic group.

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The religious life of the Na is guided by two types of coexistent beliefs: their own religion, whose priests are called daba, and Tibetan buddhism.

The majority of daba are men; before the l940s, there were a few women daba. In general, they work on the land. They proceed individually with their rituals, without any formal organization, and at the request of the villagers. When a daba is asked to carry out a ritual, he is paid, in money and in kind, according to the means of the household which has engaged him. The daba are respected members of the community but have no political power over others.

As the Na language has no written form, when they practise their rites they only use recitations, the words of which are often unintelligible even to themselves. What they know with certainty is the function of these recitations.2 The villagers told me an anecdote about daba writing: "Long ago, the daba had their canons written on parchment [pigskin]. One day, when they were on a journey, their masters got hungry. As they had no food, they cooked their books. That was when they lost their writing."

Also, the interpretations of these recitations differ from one daba to another. With the result that two daba from different villages never appear together for the same ritual. For example, a young daba had been invited to take a funeral and I asked my friend daba Dafa to come with me to discuss the ritual with him on the spot. His "live" explanations and commentaries would help me to understand the meaning of what happened at a funeral, during which several complex rituals are carried out simultaneously. But Dafa refused outright, because, he said, his presence would be an inconvenience to the young daba. However two daba from the same village can participate together in a given ritual.

The instruments which the daba use during the rituals are: a hat; a cymbal from which hangs a bunch of the teeth of boar, tiger, deer, and elephant with eagle's and owl's claws; a drum; and one or two batons, 30cm. long and 2.5cm. square in section. On the four long surfaces are engraved the following designs; a man, a woman, an ox, a horse, a goat, a pig, a dog, a tiger, a leopard, a lion, a deer, a fish, a flower, grasses, a tree and benevolent spirits.

The daba's most important instrument is called dgo. It is a wooden sculpture about l5cm. long and 5cm. in diameter. The dgo of different daba come in different forms, but the symbolism is always the same: the power of the shaman.

Only a daba who possesses such a statuette may accept three disciples, who first learn to recite the prayers and who act as assistants to their master during rites. When the master becomes too old, he carries out a ritual during which, sitting with their eyes closed, the disciples must recite the prayers. The one who sees the dgo during his hallucination inherits all the competence of his master.

The master hands over the dgo and a leather armour. Thenceforth, the new daba can carry out rites and instruct disciples. After this rite, the other disciples can also preside over rites, but they are not allowed to train disciples. However they may pass on their knowledge to their maternal nephew or their maternal niece (extremely rare). It sometimes happens that if a daba is married he hands down his learning to his son.

According to the daba in the village of Dapo, in the Yongning basin, on the day that the disciple acquires the dgo, his master orders the disciple's brother to kill a russet bull and a black hen, with a view to a ceremony including a feast to which representatives of each lhe [unit of kinship consisting of brothers and sisters of the same generation] from the surrounding villages are invited.

In another version, according to a daba also living in the Yongning basin, a white cockerel is killed because the dgo descends from a white eagle.

A daba from Labai provides a third version. On the day when the master hands down his power to his disciple, he asks him to carry out a complex rite before the elders of the villages and before the daba. After this examination, a black bull is sacrificed. After this, the master takes his disciple up to the snow-covered mountains and secretly hands over his power. This is how knowledge is passed down from one generation to the next.

In the Yongning basin, at the present time, the lhe of the daba (who died in l995) of Dapo village possesses a dgo. At Waru, Luzo Dafa holds one. At Labo there is also a daba who has one.

It should be mentioned here that during my fieldwork I never saw or heard of a daba instructing three disciples, but only of such and such a daba teaching his nephew (or his son).

Events in China since l949 have had a important influence on the Na. In l956, land was distributed to each household. In l958, as in the whole of China, the Na of Yongning came under the system of popular communes. During this period of more than twenty years, the production brigade, as the local administrative unit, managed the villagers' work and distributed grain at the end of the year.

Placing the land under the control of this administrative organization strengthened the hold of the government over the peasants. From then on, religions were viewed with more and more suspicion. Later, during the Cultural Revolution they were completely forbidden. During this period, daba were considered to be demons who lived by exploiting others, comparable with landowners and rich farmers and were reproached at meetings organized in the villages by the production brigade. At the request of the villagers, the daba sometimes organized rituals in secret. But if they were discovered, they were violently criticized in public. As daba Dafa says, "Carrying out rituals was considered a worse crime than theft."

In l980, after the fall of the extremists, the land was redistributed to each household. At the same time, religion was allowed again. But it was first of all limited to the "great religions"; Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam. The religions of other ethnic groups continued to be considered as superstitions and regarded with disapproval.

Until l992, during my fourth session of fieldwork in Yongning, the consequences of a quarter of a century of prohibition were that the villagers were no longer familiar with the daba's rituals and that the daba were few and elderly.3 For this reason the daba themselves remain discreet about their activity and the cadres are very careful about what they say about the daba when they want him to carry out rituals. For example, the same year, I made contact with three daba. One of them told me that six days later he was going to carry out rituals for a lhe and invited me to attend. On the appointed day I tried to make contact with the head of the lhe, a cadre in the district administration whom I had met during my third fieldwork session. When I found him, he warmly welcomed me into his house to partake of a meal. He encouraged a long discussion. In the meantime, he cancelled all the rituals which had been planned.

During the period of liberalization in China in the l980s, the fact that the farmers owned their land weakened the influence of ideology and also, from the official point of view, it was difficult to specify the difference between the "great religions" and the other "primitive religions", although the latter were still considered to be superstitions. Since l994 the daba have started to practise their rituals openly again. This is a general phenomenon which can be observed in the various ethnic minorities in China.

However, in the Yongning region and its surrounding districts, there are now very few daba. Dafa Luzo (66 years old) is the most learned and active. For several years now a young daba (28 years old) from the village of Woilabiai who learned from his maternal uncle (who died in l99l) has started to carry out rituals, but he is only a novice. There are also a few elderly daba in the villages of Wujiué and Lajiadzi, as well as in the Labo region, who continue to officiate, but they are less capable of mastering the recitation and the fabrication of ritual objects than the others.

For many years, because there was no daba, in several areas certain rituals were no longer carried out at all. For example, when the Laomi household of Baqi village invited daba Dafa to carry out the offerings to the water spirit, the drum and cymbal music attracted many village spectators. Elderly women commented: "This rite addressed to the water spirit that this daba is performing resembles what we used to see our village daba doing more than thirty years ago."

Nowadays the rituals which the daba are still invited to carry out are the following: to send, during the funeral, the soul of the deceased to Sibuinawa, land of origin of the Na, so that it may join the ancestors of the lhe; to purify the bodies of all the members of a household to protect them from illness; to carry out the offerings to the water spirit; to recall a terrified soul; to conquer Nati - a demon who is particularly harmful to pregnant women; and to remove impurity from the body of a sick person.

It should be underlined that amongst these rituals, it is only for funerals that the villagers really insist on inviting a daba. When a lhe cannot obtain the presence of a daba, they always find someone, from their village or from a village nearby, who is familiar with the rituals. For other rites, the villagers only invite a daba according to their finances and his availability, otherwise they carry out the rites themselves. For example, the annual service of offerings to the ancestors for each lhe is always carried out by the head of the household (male or female).

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