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1 Thanks to the support of the Urgent Anthropology programme organized by Goldsmiths College, University of London, and the Royal Anthropological Institute I was able to produce this video film DABA and the accompanying study guide concerning Na shamanism. The principal funding agency was the Anthropologists’ Fund for Urgent Anthropological Research (Founding Sponsor: George N. Appell). The Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology of the University of Oxford gave me hospitality while I was writing this material. Paul Henley and the University of Manchester gave substantial help with editing of the film. I would like to express my sincere gratitude for their assistance.


2 Certain specialists of the Himalayan region refer to this kind of language as “ritual language”. Cf., Nick Allen, “Sewala Puja Bintila Puja: Notes on Thulung Ritual Language”, in Kailash, Kathmandu, l978, No. 4, P. 237-256

3 In l989, during my third session of fieldwork, there were four male daba (three were over 70, the other was 54). Only one of them knew the recitations and rites well, without ever having had formal teaching from a master. In certain villages there was also a person who, having often participated in the rituals, knew the procedures of various rituals and recitations fairly well, but he was not able to give much in the way of explanations.

4 The Na traditionally follow a system of nocturnal visits of man to woman. The matrimonial mode was imposed on the Na chief because of the change in legislation concerning the transmission of hereditary power under the Qing dynasty (l644-l911). This mode of sexual life was then adopted by two minority categories of the population: some of those who held a position in the political regime (before Communism as nowadays) and only sons of a rich household. In the second case, marriage was only envisaged when no female blood relation was available for adoption. Consequently, marriage is only a sporadic and exceptional phenomenon. As the only son of a well-to-do household, the fact that Dafa is married makes him one of these exceptions.

5 Unit of Chinese currency

6 All these spoken rituals are practised by the daba who recite them as if they were spells without really understanding the sense of the words. In l988, during my long stay session of fieldwork, the villagers told me that in the village of Wujié high up in the mountains above the Yongning basin, traditions were better preserved and that the people still called on the daba instead of asking the lama for help in times of difficulty. I went there and succeeded in recording recitations and legends. After the recording, the daba were unable to give me either explanations or translations. To begin with I thought it was because there was a lack of confidence between us and that they did not want to tell me anything. But even after attempts over a whole week, they still told me that they only knew how to recite.

My Na assistant also stated that he couldn’t understand them at all. Even so I still recorded everything that they knew how to recite. On return to Yongning I told the head of the canton, a 30 year old man who loved the literature and the culture of his ethnic group, about what I had obtained during the trip. He immediately asked to listen to my cassettes. In spite of my explanations he did not believe me and insisted. The following day, in dispair, he confirmed what I thought: “It is true. I can’t understand a word.”

7 I was unable to obtain any information about the reason for the fear of a change in sex at the birth of a child.

8 When a lhe becomes too numerous, the members of the lhe build a new house, often beside the existing one. A branch of the lhe moves in. This is how a scission occurs. In each Na village there are always lhes descended from the same root. A unit made up of several lhes from the same “bone” is called sïzi. This has been translated here by “lineage”. [Note: this is not the same as the standard usage of the term “lineage” in kinship studies.]

9 The seat of the canton local government is situated at WaRu, daba Dafa’s village. Some of his guests are cadres.

10 The term “Mo-so” first appears in Huohan Shu, Chinese annals by Fan Ye, in the third century A.D. Different terms can be found later in various Han texts, such as Chinese annals of the dynasties and records from Yunnan province and its districts. In spite of changes in the characters, due to the different transcriptions used in each era, the pronunciation has stayed the same, that is Mo-so.

11 In China there are currently fifty-six ethnic groups officially recognized by the central government. The Han, the majority, represent 92% of the total population (according to the l991 census).

12 “Yongning” is a Chinese term which means “eternal tranquillity”. This name for the place first appears in Chinese texts from the Yuan (Mongol) dynasty. Before that it was called Loudoudan. The Na call it “Hlidi” which means “that place”.

13 The literal meaning of zhao is “chief” or “king”; figuratively it means “principality”.

14 See Editorial Group, Naxizhu Jianshi (Short History of the Naxi), Kunming, Yunnan People’s Press, l984, pp 1-15.

15 In order to confirm that these are in fact two dialects, further study is, I believe, necessary. The difference between these two “ways of speaking” may not be any greater than that between one of them and another recognized language from the same linguistic family.

16 See He Jiren and Jiang Zhuyi, Naxiyu Jianzhi (A brief study of the Naxi language), Beijing, Ethnic Minorities Edition, l985, pp 3-4.

I have heard that some Na shaman, in the eastern group, have transcribed their language by means of Tibetan letters to make simple notes. But I have never found writing of this sort.

17 Chinese phonetic alphabet.

18 One of the emperors of the Yuan dynasty. In l253, on the campaign to conquer the Kingdom of Dali, in western Yunnan, he stationed his army in Yongning.

19 The Na aristocrats in Yongning also claimed to be of the same origin. Even if it is true that Kublai Khan installed Mongol chiefs in the area, the present situation shows that over the course of history they were integrated into Na society, and not the contrary.

20 See CAI Hua, Une société sans père ni mari, Les Na de Chine, Paris, PUF, 1997.

21 According to the Chinese constitution, when a group demands official recognition from central and provincial governments, the People’s Assembly of the province has only the right to grant the designation ren. This indicates that the group in question is still to be identified. In the Na case, to be recognized as Mo-so ren means that they are no longer considered to be part of the Naxi group. But only the National People’s Assembly is supposed to have the right to recognize a zu.

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