History and Culture

China's Yi shamans struggle to survive

2017-06-19 11:14:00 (Beijing Time)         Xinhua

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First they stun the rooster with three quick blows using the hilt of a knife, then they slit its throat to slowly release its blood -- this gruesome scene is part of a traditional ritual to pray for a safe journey, and Shama Ligu has performed it many times.

For 27 years, Shama Ligu, 52, has served as a Bimo, a shaman performing sacred rituals for China's Yi ethnic minority. Acting as a intermediary between the human and spirit worlds, the Bimo officiate at holidays, weddings, births and funerals, as well as attending to diseases, blessings, exorcisms and divination.

With thousands of years of history, the Bimo remain indispensable to the Yi people. However, having lost their appeal to the young, such shamanic practices face a daunting future. The Bimo are dying out.

BIMO MATTERS

Shama Ligu is one of two Bimo in Yihai village Liangshan prefecture, southwest China's Sichuan Province. Locked in deep mountains, Liangshan is home to China's largest Yi community.

"Bimo is a wise man and a great helper in our daily lives," says villager Aeryue Zimo. "Without him, my family will be unable to be blessed by the deities and ancestors."

"When an elderly person dies, the Yi minority believe his or her soul can only return home after a Bimo chants scripture," says Li Xuefeng, 35, an ethnic Yi official with the provincial ethnic and religious affairs commission. "Bimo culture is deeply rooted in the rural society of the Yi. I believe as long as the countryside exists, Bimo will never disappear."

Li has been in awe of the Bimo since he was a child, not just because of their religious role, but as they are also masters of ancient Yi language, astrology and history.

"Without the Bimo, the solar calendar of the Yi people would have died, " Li says.

Only male heirs of the Bimo lineage can inherit the role, usually starting to learn aged seven or eight. Although his father and grandfather were both Bimo, Shama Ligu did not consider it until he was 20.

At that time, his mother and eldest brother suffered from prolonged illness and the family's five goats died one after another. A Bimo solved the problems and said that a member of the family should take up the practice. Shama Lagu was chosen.