A nimu cobi ritual to send a soul back to Zzyzzypuvu, a mythical place of origin for the Nuosu-Yi. It was the rare opportunity to observe a "bisse" - an apprentice in the process of gaining the knowledge from the various bimos.
Nimu Cobi is one of the most important and elaborate rituals for the Nuosu-Yi. It is one of the most financially exhausting events too. The family member has to invest a lot of resources into ritual specialists, sacrificial animals (cows, sheep, pigs) and entertainment for the numerous clan relatives from the near and far. It lasts usually a couple of days and is very exhausting for all those who attend. Once in a lifetime, a significant and able male member of the clan is responsible for sending the souls of his deceased relatives to the Zzyzzypuvu, the first recorded symbolic place of common origin for the Nuosu-Yi, and also the last place, where the soul should return after the death. Its exact geographic location is unknown, but it is believed it lies in today's Zhaotong Prefecture in the northeastern tip of Yunnan Province. The ritual is usually organized for numerous individuals deceased roughly within a time-span of one generation (25-30 years) to reduce the aforementioned costs, which are usually starting at hundred thousand RMB, a very significant number not only in the impoverished Liangshan. This is the Nimu Cobi of my friend Jjike Hxabbu, in Hxobbo lietuo, Limu Moggu area.
Who would think that there are patches of the descendants of Mongol armies from the Yuan Dynasty in Liangshan... The Yanyuan County is along with Muli Tibetan Autonomous County the most diverse part of Liangshan. In fact, Muli and Yanyuan formerly were a single administrative unit. The area covered by these two counties are the third most ethnically diverse areas in China (only after Xishuangbanna in Yunnan and northwestern Dongbei). Yousuo is a small rural township hidden in the hills above Nyag Qu River. It was once an important administrative seat of the region with a powerful Mongol native headman - the tusi - carrying a surname Ba. During the times of the Republic in the first half of the 20th Century, it was an important stopover on the opium trade route. Opium was grown on the patches of fertile land as well. Interestingly, above the main road stands the most preserved headman's office in the whole Liangshan. The former place was located where is now the elementary school, but because of armed conflict with the Yunnanese army of the warlord Long Yun, the original office was burned to the ground (some remnants are still visible in the school compound) by general Hu Ruoyu in 1929. After the army left, the defeated headman came back from his hideout and built a new office, right next to the military hospital. Now it is inhabited by a family with no relation to the former tusi. The only tusi's relative in the area is the elderly Ba Chengli, who lives in one of the villages under the Yousuo's administration, some two hours on foot away from the yamen. Inhabitants of Yousuo are mostly Mongols, some are Yi (including the village head) and also Han families, former servants of the headman. I would define their relationship as a very fragile mutual tolerance. The generation born around Cultural Revolution do not speak Mongolian, but they are sending their offsprings to pursue studies in Inner Mongolia, where they can re-acquire their language proficiency. In Yousuo, the inhabitants practice Tibetan Buddhism and celebrate all Mongolian festivals. There is an altar and a portrait of Genghis Khan nearly at every household. At the time of my visit, there was not a paved road to this place, but at the hospital, there was a fairly fast internet and one of the local nurses has her own WeChat blog about this exceedingly interesting place. I was, again, amazed how the importance of certain places might fall into a total oblivion within a relatively short time. Then map is quickly redrawn and former tracks and traces quickly devoured by the local, rhododendron-dominant vegetation.