Sunday, 15 February 2009

the Naxi people of Lijiang

While recently travelling in the southwest of China, I visited the city of Lijiang and its surrounding areas. Although a really touristy place, I really fell in love with the Naxi people and their culture. They are said to have been descended from Tibetans and moved off the plateau in ancient times to settle in the fertile valleys where they live today at around 2,500m above sea level.

The Naxi were traditional a matriarchal people, which means that all inheritance, including family name, riches and land, were passed onto the female of the family. This is still practiced by the Mosuo people, who are closely related and live to the north of Lijiang, around Lugu Lake.
Their indigenous religion is a kind of mixture of animism, shamanism and ancestor worship, which is governed by the Dongba, which are the local shamans. The Dongba were traditionally the only people who could read and write the native language, which is the last remaining heiroglyphic language still in use. The common people would use Chinese. The spoken language sounds a little like Tibetan. Culturally, the Naxi have taken aspects of Tibetan and Han Chinese culture and given them their own flavour.
I found the Naxi people to be very welcoming and hospitable, and to have an interesting culture and history. If you want to read more on them, I would recommend reading "The Forgotten Kingdom: Living With The Nakhi of Likiang" by Peter Gouillart, a Russian who lived in Lijiang during the 1930s.

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