Embroidering the Earth

by on Thursday, 01 October 2009 Comments
The performance of rituals can be seen as an embroidery, as a sacred cloth weaved by the dance, as a work that is offered to the gods, so that they may grant you the grace of survival and renewal. Today, the construction of the new house calls for a ritual. A priest-shaman of the Qiang (duangong) turns towards the altar of the household (every household has an altar in the corner of the main room of the house, facing the door. The altar and the area around it are loaded with taboos). The god of the household and the ancestors, the kitchen god, the god of the threshold are all invoked, so that they may give their blessings. The demons are driven away one after another, especially in the kitchen, a most dangerous place: in the kitchen we deal with fire, with flesh and with plants – at stake in the kitchen is personal and collective welfare…

The goat skin drum is the main ritual instrument of the duangong. It must be very carefully dried over a fire, even more so when it has already served to expel many demons, which have made it wet and depleted some of its efficiency. The Qiang say that they do not write and do not own sacred books because their first shaman had seen all his books eaten by a goat while he was asleep; the drum manufactured in the skin of the goat he killed afterwards, concentrates the efficiency of the sacred books that the Qiang do not possess…

The traditional word for shaman-priest (“duangong” is of Chinese origin) is “pi” or “bi” – a word found in many Tibeto-burmese languages for designating the performers of religious rituals. Though Qiang religion much differs from that of the Liangshan Yi people at the southern edge of the same Tibetan corridor, Qiang “duangong” and Yi “bimos” do share a common inheritance.

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Benoit Vermander (魏明德)

Benoit Vermander lives in Shanghai. He teaches philosophy and religious anthropology at the University of Fudan.

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