The sung funeral of the Kucong of China

The sung funeral of the Kucong

Among the Kucong, one of the peoples who have most persistently maintained their isolation in the mountainous areas on the border of China and Laos, the different stages of the funeral are celebrated through music, which gives the ceremony a very special air. The melody is divided into six parts, corresponding to the six stages of the funeral.

The melody is sung by the priest or an experienced elder when a person is seen to be dying, when the funeral is announced, or when the relatives arrive. The six melodies are:

  1. The song of consolation.

The main idea of this song ceremony is to console the deceased by telling him not to worry about the family, but to close his eyes and rest in peace. They also tell him that they have tried to alleviate his worries, that his relatives prepared poultry for him as a sacrifice and brought chickens and goats for him to kill and eat. The deceased is reminded that once he goes to the other world, he need not return to torment the living descendants.

  1. The song of the selection of the grave.

The Kucong believe that the deceased person had a wish of where he wanted to be buried and they must fulfill it to let him or her be happy. But since he is already dead, that wish can only be known through divination. The Bimo determines it by reciting the ritual of throwing the egg. If the egg breaks, it is the place chosen by the deceased.  

  1. The Burial Song.

The burial melody is sung when the burial director opens the coffin of the deceased and removes the head cloth before the coffin is taken to the cemetery for burial. He tells the deceased that this is his chosen home and asks him to go to the earth without fear and that his family will invite him back to celebrate the New Year and dance the Lusheng, festivities on which the Kucong (and many other peoples of China consider ancestors to reunite with their living relatives). He is urged not to follow the mourners or look at his living relatives, as one of the greatest fears is that the spirits of the dead are entangling among the living.

  1. Mourning song.

The funeral melody is a ritual melody sung by the celebrant before the burial. The main content of the song is to tell how distressed the family was when the deceased fell ill, and how they tried to save him, but the deceased did not get better and died, which greatly saddened the friends and relatives. The song also reflects the contradictory feelings of the living, who fear the spirits of the dead and wish to leave as soon as possible, but find it difficult to see each other again in this life, and cannot bear to die alone and become a lonely ghost. In the song, the deceased is repeatedly warned to follow the «spirits» and go with his own family, to rest in peace for eternity.

  1. Song of the separation of the soul

After burying the dead, the Bimo sings the song of the soul. It is intended to separate the spirits of the living and the dead, and is sung repeatedly to tell the deceased not to follow the living and not to follow them, and threaten him by saying that the living have many rods and will be beaten if he runs around after them. While the song of separation is being sung, the Bimo sweeps the footprints around the grave, so that «the living souls will return to the warm nest and the dead soul will stay in his own grave.»

The day after the burial, the ritual is performed only in the main street of the village. The Bimo chants and performs the ritual. He enters the house of the deceased, takes a log from the hearth, lights three sticks of incense, goes back and forth to the roadside and home, moves the sticks of incense, dances with the sticks of wood, sings and recites the interlocutor’s melody, then puts the sticks of wood on the roadside, lights a fire, puts three sticks of incense and the interlocutor’s ritual is over.

  1. Song of restoration.

The third day after the burial is called «restoration day». The relatives and friends of the deceased bring wine and meat and the clothes worn by the deceased before burial, go to the cemetery, build the grave of stones and place the face of the monument. The ritual song sung at the grave is called «melody of restoration». Its main content is to call the deceased to come and receive his clothes and food from friends and relatives, and to ask the spirits of the deceased to protect the welfare of the family and to come every year to pay their respects.

Learn more: Lei Po. Funeral songs of the Kucong. In Encyclopedia of the original religions of China. Sichuan Dictionaries Publishing House. Chengdu. 2002.

To cite this post: Ceinos-Arcones, Pedro, "The sung funeral of the Kucong of China," in Ethnic China, 9 marzo 2021,
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