The Flood Myth, Shamans and the Sani Religion

The Flood Myth, Shamans and the Sani Religion

We continue with the second chapter of Paul Vial “Los Lolos”, in which fragments dedicated to the myth of the flood and the activities of its shamans are particularly striking.


These traditions, as I will say later, are preserved in books of which the sorcerers (pimo) have about the monopoly. I translated some of them directly; I transcribed the others under the dictation of the sorcerers themselves, not having been able to discover the text. These traditions can be divided into six periods:

  1. Creation: a) of the world, b) of man.
  2. Disobedience of the human trinity to the divine trinity.
  3. The epoch of universal drought.
  4. The epoch of universal flood.
  5. The epoch of universal darkness.
  6. Redemption of mankind. CREATION. – CREATION OF THE WORLD

Kedze mouchloupa né jou minema né jou.

«Kedze (God) has begotten the white sky and the black earth[1]. «It is therefore clearly an emanation of the Divinity.

«Kedze» is not a name; it is as if in Chinese we say Jiu hui. Ke means «nine» and dze is the determinant of power.

Kedze, therefore, means «the nine powers». But what is the name of God himself?

Kedze is one and three, as we shall see; however, his name is pronounced only when it is necessary to distinguish him from the other two persons.

This name is GNI, and the character is[2]. I do not know the precise meaning.

So Kedze or Gnikedze has just created the universe by emanation, including good and evil spirits.

Now it is about creating man. I could not find the text of this tradition, I give it as the sorcerers told me.


Kedze decrees to shape man with mud.

So he goes down, takes earth from the west, transports it to the east, and makes a statue of it.

The night surprises him. He puts his work off until the next day. The next day Kedze finds his work destroyed. He does it again, but night comes and he cannot finish it; so he has to put it back to the next day.

The next day the statue lies on the ground.

He rebuilds it and, to be sure [that is not destroyed again], Kedze stays beside his work.

At midnight he sees the Spirit of the earth arrive, wishing to destroy the statue:

– What are you doing here?» said Kedze.

– And you, what are you doing?

– I’m making a man.

– You can make a man, but the earth is mine.

An agreement is reached and Kedze promises to return the earth after sixty years.

This is why man usually lives only one cycle (sixty years), after which his body returns to the earth.


«Gnikedze the first – Gniguaguè the second; Teudefè the third – in heaven.

Teudafou the first – Lotodje the second; Kouseji the third – on earth.

Together six families (or six chiefs).

Teudafou said, «I cannot serve you. »

Gnikedze said, «I send my white dragon to subdue you.»

Teudafou takes the white dragon, locks him in a silver basket, and buries him in front of his door:

three feet deep, the sky darkens for three years;

at six feet deep, it does not thunder for six years;

at nine feet deep, it does not rain for nine years.

And the trees all die, and the birds all die, and the beasts all die, and the men all die.

For three years one could have walked the earth without meeting a single man; for three days one could have walked the earth without meeting a single bird.

Kedze said, «The drought cannot continue.”

Teudafou said, «It is no longer necessary, it is no longer necessary to punish me.”

– Give me back my dragon.

Teudafou goes to dig in front of his door :

he digs three feet; three years the sky lights up;

he digs six feet; six years it thunders;

he digs nine feet; nine years it rains.»

This is the literal text of the disobedience of the earthly trinity to the divine trinity.

This Teudafou, a word that can be translated as «Teu, the one who sows discord,» is none other than the Evil Angel, the Earthly Spirit, the Enemy of Man. He is supposed to be the author of all evils; he is feared, and his name is never uttered except in a low voice by the sorcerer who conjures him. It should be noted that the white dragon is called like God, Kedze, Kedze-lou, the dragon Kedze. It is true that one can also translate: the dragon of Kedze. It is the Good Spirit as opposed to the Evil Spirit.


The preceding traditions are more or less well known to the people; they speak of God and his action, of the devil and his misdeeds, all terrible things that the layman does not like to know.

But the tradition of the Flood is in everyone’s mouth; it is part of the Gni’s wedding ceremonies; it is like the second beginning of the world, the image of the beginning of every family.

Here is first the literal text:

Dalaje tse, time of the tumult of the waters.

«The family of our venerable ancestors consisted of four persons, brothers and sister (three brothers, one sister).

One day the brothers plowed the land, but when they return the next day to continue plowing they discover that the furrows they plowed have returned to their place, as if they had not worked anything; then they plow them again and go home, but when on the third day they return to the fields, they find the furrows again in their place, as if they had not worked anything. Then they plow the field for the third time and stay hidden at night to see what happens. They discover that in the darkness of the night the old Gnigna, with a silver (or white) stick in his hand, puts the furrows back in place. Angry, the three brothers throw themselves at him. The older brother wants to hit him, the second brother wants to chain him up, and the third one just wants to interrogate him:

«Why did you do this? -They asked him.

– You three brothers, -answer the old Gnigna- it is useless to plow; the time of the flood has come: the water will spread in disorder from heaven to earth and from earth to heaven; men will be completely submerged.

– What are the four of us going to do?[3] – They asked again.

[The old man instructed the elder brother to prepare an iron chest, and when the rains began to fall, to take shelter inside it. To the second he instructed him to build a copper chest and to go inside it when the floods began. The youngest was told to build a wooden chest, in which he and his sister should take shelter when the rains begin]. The old man told them:

– Take an egg with you; as long as the little chick does not sing, do not open the door of the chest; as soon as the little chick sings, open the door of the chest.

[Indeed, shortly after that it began to rain and rain. The water level began to rise]. The older brother sat in an iron chest (and was submerged). The second brother sat in a copper chest (and was submerged).

The younger brother and his sister sat in a wooden chest [and floated over the waters. They were floating for many days without knowing what was happening in their world. Then]

They found themselves entwined in the branches of an oak tree that grew halfway up a rock on Mount Mouto, and they could neither go down nor up. From the top of the rock came down a branch of keleu (a kind of orchid): «I will take you by the head to go up on the rock; once I go up, I who have never worshiped an ancestor, I will take you for my ancestor and worship you.» This is the beginning of a new age.

This keleu is not yet forgotten, since it forms precisely, among the Lolos, the cult of the ancestors. Among the Chinese, the ancestor, who is worshiped or venerated until the third generation (gongsan-dai) is represented by a wooden or paper tablet placed in a corner of the family altar; when a father dies, the highest ancestor is burned, and the dead man takes his place. The Lolos worship only two generations, but instead of using wood or paper, they use this orchid called keleu, which is made into a little man covered with a few rags and placed, not on an altar, but between the thatched roof and the wall. This cult is very special in that, while the Chinese worship only the father, as the only representative of the family, the Lolos worship the mother as well as the father and even to a higher degree.

This orchid is formed of knots; for the father, a length of seven knots is taken and for the mother a length of nine knots[4]. The mother is slso mourned longer than the father.


I am not sure if the time of darkness should follow the time of the flood. What leads me to believe it is that the worship of the Redeemer to be discussed is still the most solemn and, so to speak, the only worship of the Lolos. If each tribe has its superstitions, the cult of Midje is universal; it would seem so from yesterday; this is why I place it at the end of all eras.

Here is the text translated to by verse :

«For seven years the sky

does not light up;

at night, the stars don’t shine ;

the sun does not illuminate;

the moon does not shine:

the mountains do not whiten;

stones and rocks are not distinguishable;

every cereal grows in grass;

torches are lit on the horns of oxen;

on the plough a torch is lit;

all the people gather together

to agree on what to do;

one must question the spirit,

offer him for incense the aka grass.

Ié, Sa, Za, in all three persons,

are on their way;

they ascend to heaven;

with their hands they touch the firmament;

they arrive in front of Kedze,

they are in the heaven of Kedze.

– What’s down there? – Kedze asks them

 Ié, Sa, Za answer:

– For seven years the sky has not lit up… they begin. Narrating to Kedze the misfortunes suffered by humanity.

Kedze replies that they are being punished for forgetting his «envoy». Midje will come down, protect them, and teach them the true way of life.

Tradition reports that Midje is a family composed of a man named Pou and a woman named No. They had twelve children who became the patriarchs, teachers, and saviors of men. The Lolos especially honor or adore two of these patriarchs, the great and the small.

Midje[5] is a shapeless stone, small, and placed on a high place in the middle of a sacred wood called Midjedu. In ordinary times, this forest is not forbidden, but it is forbidden to cut branches from it.

Kedze is worshipped and invoked, but only Midje is sacrificed; he is the born protector of all life, agriculture, and well-being.

Worship ceremonies take place only once a year. They are held in the month of the rat (eleventh moon) and begin on the day of the horse or the rat, depending on whether either of these days falls at the beginning of that month. A few days before the feast, people actively prepare for the feast, grinding flour, washing clothes, and cutting the necessary wood for the consecrated days; because then all work is forbidden.

Formerly the rest lasted seven days; it fell to three, then to one. Only the priests are still obliged to rest for seven days. There are three kinds of priests, named Pimo, Pousé, and Dlatou. Each year they are chosen by lot from among the pure families. For this, twelve shells called jema-hlou[6] are taken. Then the priests from the previous year go to each family to cast lots, shaking the shells and throwing them on the table. If the shells are upside down, i.e., have the curved side in the air, the father of the family is recognized as one of the new priests. If a single shell presents its flat side in the air, they move on to another family. If fate designates no new priest, the old priests are renewed in their office.

A pure family is one that has not had to mourn any death, either of man or animal, during the year.

On the appointed day, the three priests, Pimo, Pousé, and Dlatou, followed by the pure men, go to the Sacred Grove around noon. While the Pimo prays and the Pousé watches over the edges of the wood where no one is allowed to enter, the Dlatou slaughters the animal or animals, usually a sheep and a goat; he sprinkles the stone with warm blood and divides the meat into as many parts as there are pure families.

Afterward, everyone prostrates themselves saying: «Kedze okomiteu, Jesamo okomiteu;» that is, «Kedze, we salute you; Jesamo, we salute you!”

Jesamo is perhaps the very name of Midje; in any case, it is one of his names; it means «Venerable Jesa». What is singular is that in the dialect of the neighboring tribe, the Ashi[7], the word is pronounced Isoumo, «Venerable Isou»; since they are Christians, they tell us that Isou and Iesou (Jesus) are the same. For me, I still believe that this is only a fortuitous resemblance.

After this act of adoration, everyone withdraws, taking their share of the offering, and the Pimo spreads rice (or other cereals) and lustral water on the way. On the following days, the three priests go around the country throwing lustral water. I am told that in some tribes the goat, instead of being killed, is hunted in the woods as a scapegoat.

This is the substance and form of religion among the Lolos.

Priests and shamans

From this background a certain number of superstitions were born, all of which have the purpose of conjuring the spirits, either to avoid evil or to ask for a good.

I translated the word Pimo as «sorcerer». It would be more accurate to translate it as «priest» if I did not fear to desecrate this name. Pimo presides at birth, marriage, death, and in some other circumstances; it is, so to speak, the repository of divine power and human science. It is highly honored and its employment is lucrative; moreover, it is a good farmer who acts as Pimo only intermittently, when he is required to do so.

The real sorcerer is called Dipa. He is hated and feared. He hides his art and his power; for if he is only suspected, he is hunted like an evil being. It is believed that the Dipa has the power of bewitchment; he is the sorcerer of the Middle Ages.

The Dipa has an enemy, the chema or witch of the good spirits. It is she who is in charge of discovering the author, spirit or man, of the misfortune that befalls people. Each chema has her own particular genius – zeza – whose help she invokes. For this she has a kind of tambourine, made of a sheepskin stretched out on an iron circle mixed with silver and decorated with bells. She strikes it with a stick, calling the spirit and dancing; then she asks it questions that tend to reveal the author of the evil[8].

These witches are good women, rather gentle than severe. Some facts would lead me to believe that they really have a genius at their service, but others also allow me to say that deception is still their great means of action. I will stop here the rather long study of Religion among the Lolos. As the customs of this primitive people are still unknown, I thought that I could expand a little without fear of losing the attention of the readers.


[1] The words pa, ma, seem to indicate that heaven is masculine and earth is feminine; they are born of God as children of their parents. 

[2] Here is the character in Sani writing

[3] Vial omits here, perhaps because it was not told, a very important part of the narrative, necessary to understand what happens next. We add it in square brackets [ ]

[4] In the Ashi family, the father has nine knots and the mother has eight knots.

[5] Midje is composed of mi » earth » and dje «sacrifice».     

[6]   Jema-hlou properly means «white shell», hence «currency» since the sapeques have replaced the shells. Hlou can mean not only «white», but also, substantively, «money». It does not matter here, however. Because on the other hand djetla «sapèque» and «shell» in my dialect of the plain, it is jema in the mountains, and imo among the Ko, two days away from here. Hlou is thus here adjective. I had for some time, but wrongly, adopted the somewhat forced interpretation of «copper-silver». I could cite other disappointments and long errors in my daily analyses and in the very hearing of my dialect. This one at least would warn, even more so, travelers and readers of travels.

[7] Today called Axi 阿细, they live in Shilin but also in the mountains of the Mile district.

[8] This brief description points to a shamanistic type of activity. She looks for the spirits helped by a drum, has an auxiliary spirit, etc. As I already pointed out in «Shamanism among the peoples of Southwest China», among most of the peoples of Yunnan there are two main religious specialists, the ritualist or priest, called Pimo among the Yi, and the shaman who negotiates directly with the spirits, role clearly seen in this «chema».

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