The world of Naxi nationality Dongba deities

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The Naxi people believe that every object, animal, plant, or natural phenomena has its own spirit. In the Dongba scriptures more than 2,400 spirits can be found. The sky, earth, sun, moon, mountains, water, wind, and even stones are all believed to be animate and capable of causing disasters as well as bringing good luck to people, and sacrificial rites of various kinds must be performed to appease them (Zhang 2000). Of all the deities that populate the world the three most important are the Supreme deities: Igu Ake, the first great cause, Saluwete, the biggest heavenly god; and Heduwapa, the great god of White Bones. In a secondary level are the Yuma protector deities, usually depicted as birds, the warrior deities, wisdom deities, deities of grains and domestic animals, ancestral gods, deities of benevolence and family gods (Guo 1991).

The main gods Igu Ake

Igu Ake is the first great cause and takes first place in Naxi pantheon. No paintings exist of him and his name is always written with the Tibetan letter A. His evil counterpart is Igu Tina, who is usually represented by the Tibetan letter Na (Rock: 1972: 17). His origin is narrated in one myth: “Reality and unreality came forth, also competency and incompetency, reality and competency caused a magic and there came forth a brilliant blue object, and this caused a magic and there came forth something like a man who had a fine voice and fine breath, this caused a magic and there came forth Igu Ake. In the beginning Igu Ake caused a magic and there came forth a white egg and from the latter was born a white chicken that could neither fly nor dance, it laid nine pairs of white eggs that were the origin of all what exists in the world”. Igu Ake also caused a magic and there came forth Saluwete, and from him Muanlluddundzi, the first ancestor, was created, he also caused a magic and came forth a white heaven, white land, white sun, etc. (Rock 1952: 676, 694).

Saluwete (Soyiwade) is the second great god of the Naxi. He is considered the chief of the gods and reposes in a lotus throne supported by lions. In some texts he precedes Igu Ake, who only became a reality after Saluwete meditated on him. Heduwapa (Haddu Oper) is the great god of the white bones; represented with a white body in the attitude of meditation, his halo surrounded by clouds. He wears a large cape, a necklace and a diadem of jewels. He rests on a lotus throne supported by cranes. On his shoulders is a Dharma wheel, and near him usually is placed a mystic jewel. He is usually surrounded by minor deities. Images of these two gods are heavily influenced by Buddhist iconography (Rock 1972).

The first ancestor Muanlluddundzi

Muanlluddundzi is the first ancestor, usually painted with a high forehead and a long white beard and accompanied by a crane and a deer as the Chinese God of Longevity. His victory over the black demons in The War between Black and White is the start of human conscience (Rock 1972). Congrenlien is the first post-flood ancestor. His marriage with the celestial princess Cunhongbaobai gave origin to human beings (Tibetan, Bai and Naxi). He is continuously referred to in their mythology, with his experiences molding the future culture of the Naxi. Omaha is the god of the grain. He dwells on the grain rack. The symbol “vagina” is used phonetically in his name. He has five daughters, which suggests that each daughter governs one kind of grain. The Shizhi are Mountain spirits (Rock 1972: 87).

Domestic deities

Among the domestic deities, the Sv life god is of paramount importance. He protects the family taking care of each of its members. Old men in a family are also called sv. When an old man dies, people speak of him as a sv mun or Sv life god dead. Sv-bbu is a paternal ancestor for whom the Khinv funerary ceremony has not been performed. After it he is called sv-bbu yu or ancestor. T’alazomunnun is the god of the hearth. The Sv life god of the husband and that of the wife are tied with a cord to the hearth god; the cord is also tied to a newly married couple at wedding, and to the basket where the Sv god resides. The 18 Non spirits worshipped at home protect domestic animals (Rock 1952: 250, 411, 450; Rock 1972: 43).

Some Naxi goddesses

Some goddesses (Hami in their language) play also a main role in their religious thought. Among them Ama Gkyimawut’su is the great goddess; the mother of Igu Ake, to whose realm the dead are escorted. Gkodzidtulluma is a personal goddess which protects the people, commonly depicted riding a red tiger. Pangzusamei is the goddess which distributed the books of divination. T’a-yi la-mun is a celestial goddess that brewed the first liquor from white rice, white wheat and barley. The resulting white liquor was used in performing Ch’ung-bpa ba. Ts’uchwua gyimun, the wife of Muanlluddundzi, is considered the mother of the people, as he is the father. They cause children to be born and the grain to grow and ripen. They had nine sons and nine daughters (Rock 1972: 45- 58).

Garuda birds

Garuda birds, Derko and Yuma are protective tutelary spirits. There are 360 of each kind, with Derko taking precedence over the Yuma. They have a bird body and head of different animals. They play an important role in the main Naxi rituals, which are constructed around snake deities, bird deities and the myth of the fight between snakes and birds. Among the snake deities the most important are the Shu nature spirits, the dragon related with water and the Shizhi snakes that posses every geographical accident. The central mythic theme of the fight between the Garuda and the snake, symbolically enacted during the most important Naxi ceremonies to reestablish the equilibrium between Shu and human beings, is common to the Naxi, Tibetan and Indian traditions (Zamblera). The fight between snake and eagle could be a symbol of the contradictions at the inner personal level between body and soul or between the terrestrial enchainement of the body and the celestial liberation of the soul. The equilibrium reestablished thanks to the Dongba ceremony would correspond to the inner peace usually attributed to the intervention of priest and shamans that settle inner human contradictions.

From: Ceinos-Arcones, Pedro. Sons of Heaven, Brothers of Nature: The Naxi of Southwest China. 2012.

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