Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Naxi … The Bonpo (Dongba) of South China


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"The Naxi (Nakhi) are an ethnic group inhabiting the foothills of the Himalayas in the northwestern part of Yunnan Province, as well as the southwestern part of Sichuan Province in China. They are followers of the Kagyu Buddhist and Dongba (Bon) Religions ….Joseph Rock spent many years living in the vicinity of Mt Satseto, and wrote about the region and the Naxi people who occupy it….these writings inspired the novel Lost Horizon, by James Hilton, about a fictional remote Himalayan community known as Shangri-La…."

"The supreme deity of the Dongba religion is named 'O'….symbolized by a Dongba glyph, also pronounced "o" that takes a shape that is markedly similar to that of a stupa, with a circular base and a roughly conical or pyramidal shape rising to a flat roof"…The Cosmological Origins of Myth and Symbol: From the Dogon and Ancient ...By Laird Scranton

"The term dongba (Nakhi: ²dto¹mba, Chinese: 东巴; pinyin: dōngbā; literally "Ba of the East") refers to the religious priests of Dongbaism (Chinese: 东巴教; pinyin: Dōngbajiào; literally "Ba religion of the East") or simply Dongba, masters of the culture, literature and the script of the Nakhi people, who are found in southwestern China.,,,The dongba are believed to be the priests of the Bön religion. They play a major role in the Naxi culture, and preach harmony between man and nature. Their costumes show strong Tibetan influence, and pictures of Bön gods can be seen on their headgear. Tibetan prayer flags and Taoist offerings can be seen in their rituals…… Religious rituals are also conducted by the priests to propitiate the spirits, as they were believed to be living in every part of the natural world. The core of the Dongba religion is based on the belief that both man and nature are two half-brothers born of two mothers and the same father. This creates revenge from heaven, which befalls upon humans who use up too much natural resources…..Prior to Bön influence, it is suggested that the original Nakhi priests were the female Llü-bu. At that time, statues or religious images could be widely seen everywhere….A Complete Annotated Translation of Ancient Nakhi Dongba Books (纳西东巴古籍译注全集), in 100 volumes, has been published."

"Dongba Hieroglyphs, and represent a unique form of writing, being in fact the only hieroglyphic writing system still in use today. This writing system of hieroglyphs has been recognized by international academic and cultural circles as a most remarkable world heritage. Naxi Dongba hieroglyphs differ from Chinese characters and may be compared to Egyptian or Mayan hieroglyphs."…

"Dongba, the meaning is wise in the Naxi language. They were the highest level intellectuals in ancient times, the majority of set songs, dance, classics, books, history, painting, for a medical, the high status in society, often to engage in religious activity to exorcise, to eliminate of civil disaster, to pray to the gods to bring about human well-being. They were seen as the media for people between to God, and ghost."....

"The Dongba, Tomba or Tompa symbols are a system of pictographic glyphs used by the ²dto¹mba (Bon priests) of the Naxi people in southern China. In the Naxi language it is called ²ss ³dgyu 'wood records' or ²lv ³dgyu 'stone records'. "They were developed in approximately the seventh century." The glyphs may be used as rebuses for abstract words which do not have glyphs. Dongba is largely a mnemonic system, and cannot by itself represent the Naxi language; different authors may use the same glyphs with different meanings, and it may be supplemented with the geba syllabary for clarification…..The Dongba script appears to be an independent ancient writing system, though presumably it was created in the environment of older scripts. According to Dongba religious fables, the Dongba script was created by the founder of the Bön religious tradition of Tibet, Tönpa Shenrab (Tibetan: ston pa gshen rab) or Shenrab Miwo (Tibetan: gshen rab mi bo). From Chinese historical documents, it is clear that dongba was used as early as the 7th century, during the early Tang Dynasty. By the Song Dynasty in 10th century, dongba was widely used by the Naxi people.[3] It continues to be used in certain areas; thus, it is the only pictographic language in the world still actively maintained."..……He, Zhiwu (2008). Zhiwu Naxi Study Collection. Beijing: Culture Publisher. ISBN 978-7-105-09099-0.

Quentin Roosevelt (1919–1948), the grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt, discovered Naxi (pronounced Na-shi) religious art in the family home – in a painted funeral scroll and strange pictographic manuscripts his father, Theodore Roosevelt Jr, had collected in 1928 during an exhibition to the Sino-Tibetan borderland. Little was known about these mysterious objects, save that they were ceremonial artifacts of a distant people called Naxi. One of China's 55 minority nationalities, the Naxi reside in a remote Yunnan province in South West China. In 1937, the Austrian-American Joseph F. Rock (1884 – 1962), who for 26 years lived among the Naxi, studying them and documenting their life, culture and history, published a detailed study of a funeral scroll, similar to the Roosevelt scroll. Quentin Roosevelt was at this point a student in art history at Harvard, and he already dreamed of traveling to Lijiang, the home of the Naxi."…'s%20China%20-%20Exhibition%20Guide.pdf

"…..Naxi religion takes its name from its priests, called Dongba, a word derived from the Tibetan stonpa, meaning teacher. Unlike the Tibetan religions, the Dongba tradition has little metaphysical interest. It is mostly concerned with the health of the living and the well- being of ancestors. Dongba knowledge is passed down from father to son, and its orthodoxy is relatively flexible, dependent on practice and a shared ceremonial corpus rather than dogma. Although the Burmese, Chinese and Tibetan traditions have all influenced Dongba culture, they have made little impact on its core beliefs. ….

"Heiyijiuku is one of the Dongba’s fearful deities. He has nine heads and eighteen arms, although only sixteen are represented here. He resembles the wrathful Bon deities Welsé Ngampa and Welchen Gekhö. He holds a trident in his left hands, and a sword in his right. He stands on a lotus throne and is surrounded by Dongba priests, warriors and other smaller fearful deities. He holds a trident in his left hands, and a sword in his right."….Quentin Roosevelt's China: Ancestral Realms of the Naxi."

"Quentin Roosevelt attended Harvard University, where he wrote his senior thesis on some Nakhi (Naxi) manuscripts he had collected while visiting Western China at the border of Tibet. Life magazine published images from his journey, which he made at the age of 19…..Selections from the Naxi Manuscript Collection: Quentin Roosevelt II….In 1941 the Library of Congress obtained a major portion of its Naxi manuscript collection—1,073 Naxi manuscripts—from Quentin Roosevelt II, Harvard graduate and grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt……In 1927 Quentin Roosevelt II’s father, Theodore Roosevelt Jr (son of the president), acquired several Naxi manuscripts during a trip to China. It was not until a decade later, during a trip to China by Quentin and his mother, that Roosevelt’s fascination with the Naxi people and their culture began, kindling his interest in the manuscripts that had been sitting in his attic for ten years……In 1939 Quentin Roosevelt II visited Lijiang Prefecture during which time he collected the bulk of the manuscripts that he later donated to the Library. His visit was arranged by Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) and with the help of Protestant missionaries. Roosevelt’s article “In the Land of the Devil Priests,” Natural History 45 (April 1940): 197-209, reports on his trip to China. He noted that Naxi manuscripts were ". . . extremely rare . . . and the art of making the books has died out." According to Roosevelt, "the writing, unlike anything known elsewhere, resembles superficially the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics." Based on the materials that he acquired, Roosevelt wrote his undergraduate thesis on the Naxi at Harvard……

Life Magaazine article…..LIFE Jan 8, 1940….

"In 1939, at the height of the Sino-Japanese War, a 19-year-old Harvard art history student set off for the remote region of Lijiang, China, in search of the mysterious ancient culture of the Naxi (Nah-shee). Launched on his quest after receiving a gift of a 40-foot Naxi funeral scroll depicting a soul’s journey through heaven and hell in a pictographic script, Quentin Roosevelt, grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt, traveled for four months before he finally reached the mountainous region on the Tibetan border……There, with the help of the Reverend James Andrews, a family friend and Pentecostal missionary based in Lijiang, he spent ten days assembling what was to become one of the most complete collections of Naxi art outside of China."

This first-ever exhibition of the collection of Naxi art that the young Roosevelt gathered on his journey of discovery is on view at the Rubin Museum of Art. Quentin Roosevelt’s China: Ancestral Realms of the Naxi, which will remain on view through September 19, 2011, unites the Roosevelt collection with that of legendary botanist-explorer Joseph Rock, the first Western explorer to extensively study the complex religious and linguistic traditions of the Naxi, and whose collection has also never been publicly displayed…….Ceremonial funeral scrolls, which are central to the Dongba religion as they act as bridges for souls to reach the realm of the gods. …..One such scroll, forty feet long and a foot wide, leads a soul on the arduous journey through the gates of hell on to the realm of the gods in intricately painted scenes of the various realms of existence. Funeral scrolls are unique to the Naxi religion and are found nowhere else in China or Tibet. ….Ritual cards were used in the many Dongba ceremonies. One set of cards that represents flying creatures was ritually hung above the altar. The ten brightly painted cards that each depict a wild bird, except one which shows a bat, were used in a ceremony called Sizhpiu to request longevity. …..Ceremonial Manuscripts were written by Dongba priests in a pictographic script and contain the entire religion’s corpus in about one thousand ceremonial books. The pictographs represent words or syllables, and script tended to be altered as priests took on their own styles and created their own schools. …..The exhibition will include a number of texts, including those used in divination ceremonies, funerals for those who died at a young age, and ceremonies for honoring spirits of the natural world, among others…..Residing in a remote mountainous region between Tibet and the south-western Chinese provinces of Yunnan and Sichuan, the Naxi and especially their religious art are still relatively unknown. In fact, the thesis Roosevelt wrote as an undergraduate in 1941 remains the only academic thesis on Naxi art in Western and Chinese scholarship. …

Joseph Rock…..Jade Dragon Snow Mountain near Lijiang….,The Austro-American botanist and explorer Joseph Rock spent many years living in the vicinity of Mt Satseto, and wrote about the region and the Naxi people who occupy it…..He was based near Lijiang in the village of Nguluko (Yuhu), and wrote many articles for the National Geographic magazine (see "Works and memory" below) about his expeditions to places such as Muli, Minya Konka (Gongga Shan), the three sacred peaks of Shenrezig, Jambeyang and Chanadorje in what is now known as Yading Nature Reserve, and the Salween (Nujiang) river. These articles brought him modest fame, and were said to have inspired the novel Lost Horizon, by James Hilton, about a fictional remote Himalayan community known as Shangri-La….Rock produced a 1,094-page dictionary, numerous scholarly papers, and two histories of the Nakhi (Naxi) people and language of northwestern Yunnan, which have been widely used for the study of Nakhi culture, language and religion. These books are out-of-print and, consequently, command very high prices in the rare book markets."…

"…Baisha Mural….This ancient Murals were stored, preserved and displayed in some ancient buildings in the Baisha village, which is located 10km northwest of Lijiang city. These houses were built over a period of more than 300 years during the Ming (1385AD) and Qin Dynasty (1619AD). The murals were also painted during this period when the Han, Bai, Tibetan and Naxi people came together and resided in Lijiang Plain. Hence the Baisha Mural displayed the different religious cultures and arts forms from Buddhism, Lamaism, Daoism and the Naxi Dongba religion. The Artists that painted the murals also came from the Han, Tibetan, Bai and Naxi people.However, some parts of this valuable Baisha Mural were deliberately destroyed during the Cultural Revolution…..Ten kilometers (six miles) northwest of Lijiang Old Town, there are several ancient villages, including Baisha, Dayan, Shuhe, Yangxi and Xuesong. There, the invaluable Lijiang Mural is stored, preserved and displayed in 15 venerable temples, such as Juexian, Wande, Guiyi temples and Sanbi Garden. Altogether, the mural used to include more than 200 pieces of fresco. However, hundreds of years of historical vicissitudes have left only 55 pieces in good condition. The most famous frescos are known as Baisha Mural of the Dabaoji (Great Treasure) Palace and the Colored Glaze Temple (Liuli Dian) in the town of Baisha."

"Many of the Nakhi embrace the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism….The Nakhi king inviting the eighth Karmapa, Mikyö Dorje to Lijiang in 1516. The king, worried about the safety of the Karmapa on his long journey to Lijiang, dispatched an army of four generals and ten thousand soldiers to accompany him. On the third day of the fourth month the Karmapa reached the border between Tibet and the Nakhi kingdom. Accompanied by his brother and his uncle, who were both riding elephants and escorted by many riders on horseback, the Nakhi king, riding on a palanquin, received them with this magnificent welcome."

"The Nakhi are thought to have come originally from Northwestern China, migrating south toward Tibetan populated regions… the Nakhi settled in the very fertile Baisha and Lijiang areas by the year 3 CE….The dress of the Dongba lamas sometimes resembles that of the Bön priests of Tibet; some dongbas wear conical hats like those of the lamas of the Black Hat sect, with a piece of red cloth…..Dongba religion was rooted in the beliefs of the Tibetan Bön religion; the word "Dongba" literally means "wise man" in the Nakhi language. Historians have traced origins to a Bön shaman from eastern Tibet named Dongba Shilo, who lived in a cave near Baishuitai 900 years ago. According to Nakhi legends, he was said to have created the Lijiang Mural…… the Bon religion is so adulterated by Tibetan Buddhism today that it is difficult to find pure and authentic practitioners…..

"The Dongba, Tomba or Tompa symbols are a system of pictographic glyphs used by the ²dto¹mba (Bon priests) of the Naxi people in southern China….Dongba script was created by the founder of the Bön religious tradition of Tibet, Tönpa Shenrab (Tibetan: ston pa gshen rab) or Shenrab Miwo (Tibetan: gshen rab mi bo). From Chinese historical documents, it is clear that dongba was used as early as the 7th century,

"This is what maybe could be hypothesized was happened in Lijiang region, where over a strong Bön tradition substratum melted with local shamanism, practices of divination and peculiar traditions, were mixed up Indian, Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian elements, giving birth to what today we used to call as Naxi culture and Dongba tradition."….

The Cosmological Origins of Myth and Symbol: From the Dogon and Ancient ...By Laird Scranton

The Politics of Heritage Tourism in China: A View from Lijiang….By Xiaobo Su, Peggy Teo


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