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    Religion of Miao ethnic group

    2023-02-22 16:39Source:http://www.mayang.gov.cn

    Religious belief is a special social ideology that has a very long history. The beliefs and customs of the Miao ethnic group in Mayang are an integral part of people’s lives, which have distinctive local characteristics.

    The primitive worship is based on the belief that “all things have spirits”. Under the influence of this belief, in Mayang’s Zennei exist various primitive worships.

    The Worship of Ancestors     In households of the Mayang Miao ethnic group,  shrines are positioned right above the main hall. In the eyes of the Miao people, ancestors are entrepreneurs who lay the foundation. The souls of ancestors are believed to be immortal, and everything of the offspring is blessed by the ancestors. Therefore, ancestors worship is the most sacred and devout. Mayang people preserve the habit of meal sacrifice before chopsticks are lifted up, meaning that ancestors should enjoy first. On the occasion of a good meal, money paper is to be burned under the shrine. For Chinese New Year or the ceremony of wedding and funeral, sacrifices are offered to the ancestors. Whenever you are away from home, it needs to bid farewell to the ancestors in the front of the shrine. In addition, it requires to offer sacrifices to ancestors on the Tomb-Sweeping Day. In sacrificial halls, some offer sacrifices to the ancestors of a family, some to the ancestors of a clan, and others to gods and ghosts.

    The tremendous ceremony of ancestor worship is called the “cattle-butchering” . It was prohibited by the Qing government (1636-1912) after the Qianjia Miao people’s uprising. However, there was still a relic in some areas of Mayang until the eve of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, when the Miao people in the Jinhe Town maintained a secret practice. After the Miao people practised divination, they consulted wizards to make a vow of sacrifice with “cattle-butchering”. In autumn, a “cattle-butchering” ancestor worship is practiced in sacrificial temples or public squares. Another grand event is the “praying to the God of Nuo”, which is a very common folk ritual in Mayang. In winter, some Miao people (of wealthy families) butcher pigs and sheep, and invite the wizard to hold a praying ceremony at home. After the statues of the couple of Nuo are invited into the house, on the altar placed with incense and paper money, it starts to perform the Nuo-praying, opera, and dance.

    Nature worship is the worship of a natural object or phenomenon. The worship varies with the regions in Mayang. It is believed by the Miao people that the sun, the moon, and the stars are all gods. In the case of a disaster or illness, the God of the Sun is worshiped at the sunrise. A stool is prepared with nine cups, poured with tea, burned with paper money, and muttering all the long, as to request to be blessed by the god. On the occasion of a moon-lit night, it is a taboo for the kids to jab a finger at the moon in case of the ears being cut off by the God of the Moon. During the Mid-Autumn Festival, at the sight of a meteor across the sky, it is a must to quickly spit in the direction of the meteor, in the belief that it is the “Goddess of Fire” who schemes to devour the earth and should be extinguished with water to avoid a disaster.

    Every village in Mayang has a land temple, and everyone worships the God of Land. There is a land temple even at the intersection of the mountain or next to the pavilion. Even in the case of burning charcoal in the mountains or plant fruits and melons on the hillside, a temporary land temple needs to be set up, which is worshiped with paper money or straw signs to show respect. The Gods of Land might be associated with residence, village, bridge, and mountain. In Mayang, there is also the custom of “displacing a land” in January every year. People believe that huge rocks, ancient trees, and steep cliffs are the dwelling places or incarnations of gods, which predestine the people’s secular life, hence the worship. The ancient trees and huge rocks are usually worshiped with paper and incense burned in order to provide shelter or protection for the hard-to-rear kids.

    It is believed in Mayang that wind, rain, thunderbolt, and water are all divine, and they permeate people’s lives. For example, it is not allowed to soak the meal in soup. Otherwise more torrential rain would wash away the rotten soil. For regular meals, it is forbidden to drop the grains of rice onto the ground or tread the grains in case that it shall be cleaved by the God of Thunder. It is assumed as irrational to shout loudly or call one’s name on the fort of a deep pool. Otherwise it would keep doing mischief by the God of Water. Especially at the turn of spring and summer, on the occasion of hails or tornadoes, in no time the tea and rice are hurled straight into the sky by the elderly members of families, or incense and paper money are burned with bows and kowtows, in order to pray to the gods. The belief in the gods of wind, rain, thunderbolt, and water is universally associated with the faith in the God of Dragon,  of which people are convinced that dragons have the might to summon the wind and the rain. Therefore, a Temple of the God of Dragon is set up in every village, especially along the river, where it receives a grand annual worship.

    The Worship of Artificial Objects     The bridges, wells, monuments, and ancient buildings are worshiped in Mayang. The well, for instance, it is sacrificed commonly. The signposts at intersections are also sacrificed in case of yin and yang arrows opposing each other. Therefore, it is necessary to build “shield arrows” at intersections. A shield is essentially a guidepost, engraved with words indicating where to go. All these are publicly sacrificed during festivals.

    The Worship of Totems     Despite the differences in the ethnic groups, there is a common worship of Panhu, which is regarded as the ancestor. As the legend goes widely in Mayang, it is believed similar to the Panhu in the “General Principles of Customs” and the folk tale of “Dog Father” in Xiangxi Autonomous Prefecture. Specifically, long time ago, the Dog Star descended to this world and turned into a chieftain in battles. For the sake of his numerous victories, Emperor Gaoxin betrothed the princess (Xinnu) to him. And from then on, the offspring is multiplied into tribes. Later on, they continued to migrate, crossing the Dongting Lake and heading up the river. Eventually, Panhu arrived in Mayang. One more legend has it that a long time ago, the land of Mayang was afflicted severely by floods, leaving no seeds of the five grains. The Divine Dog braved difficulties and obstacles to retrieve three seeds of grains, thus rescuing the people. It is no wonder the Divine Dog is revered as the ancestor. According to the third legend, “intermarriage between dog and man”, an entire tribe was annihilated in a battle, only surviving a young girl. The girl later gave birth to a child, fearing that the only heir would lose his life in a revenge. She made up a story of intermarriage with a dog. Consequently, their lives were spared, multiplying rapidly. 

    According to in-depth investigations from 1985 to 1986, the God of Panhu was positioned on shrines in some Miao families. There are still relics of 18 Panhu temples in Mayang, distributed on both sides of the Jinjiang River, stretching 120 kilometers from east to west, most of which were built during the Ming and Qing dynasties (1364-1912). The Panhu Temple in Manshui Village, Gaocun Town, was built in the second year of the Yongle reign of the Ming Dynasty and has a history of nearly 600 years. It is still well preserved to this day. This temple is a building of brick and wood structure with a palace style, covering an area of over 100 square meters. The front of the temple is adorned with a fan shaped relief pattern carved in the center of the horizontal beam. The main body consists of a dragon head, dog ears, cattle body (with water vortex patterns at the base of the front and rear thighs), dog tail (upturned), and tiger paws. The body leans to the left, looks at the head and right, and leisurely walks on the “rock block” on the top of the cave to see the “the God of Dog”. Surrounded by four “bats” in the upper left corner is a “Five Blessings Painting” (the “Panhu” and the “bat” are homophonic in Chinese with “fu”, i.e. happiness). This is actually a “Panhu totem” that reflects the awareness of agricultural reproduction. There is a memorial table made of stone in the center of the main hall of the temple, with three stone tablets on it. The large tablet in the middle bears the words “The Great Throne of Panhu”, and the left and right are positioned with more gods. On both sides of the temple are parked Panhu dragon boats. In front of the temple is a plaza where cattle and pigs are butchered for sacrifices.

    The sacrificial offerings to the God of Panhu are served publicly or privately. The public worship is often manifested in three forms. Firstly, the God of Panhu is worshiped by butchering cattle or pigs, also known as ancestor worship and historically known as the “Public Sacrifice of the Whole Clan”, in order to pray for the prosperity of the clan or to repay the blessings of the the God of Panhu. A grand ceremony is held in the Panhu Temple, inviting the wizard to perform rites. Secondly, it is to pay homage to the “Dragon King”. The God of Panhu is revered by the Miao people of Mayang as the “Dragon King” (the God of Rain). Therefore, the worship of the God of Panhu is traditionally called “Homage-paying to the Dragon King”, which is reflected in the Panhu Dragon Boat Festival in the fifth lunar month every year. Thirdly, the Divine Dog is stretchered to the waterside to pray for rain. Before the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, the God of Panhu was carved by the wood, placed in a shrine and worshiped as divinity during festivals. Whenever stuck in a prolonged drought, the villagers stretchered this “Divine Dog” to the riverside, well side, or cave side to pray for the rain. The private worship is generally an individual sacrificial activity. The relics of the Temple of the God of Panhu, complete or incomplete, are worshiped as ever with incense and paper money burned. Inside the temple are filled with ashes and banners. To be blessed by the God of Panhu, people take a willingness to make their way with sacrificial offerings.

    The ancient relics are still retained up to now. A “dog-head hat” is preferred for blessing kids. It has two ears with embroideries. It was worn on the head like the portrait of Panhu. The “dog” (gou) is widely used as a nickname, such as “Goubao”, “Gou’er”, “Huanggou”, “Lagou”, etc., for persons’ names, and “Gouchong”, “Gouwan”, “Yegou Nao”, “Gouba Yan”, etc. As for the dog meat, it is a taboo especially for the wizards and witches. In the past, the dog meat was also a taboo on the stove or as a dish and sacrifice. At present, dog meat is still not allowed to be served in wedding and funeral ceremonies. This dieting custom, irrelevant with the taste, comes from the worship of the God of Panhu.

    In the long-term integration of ethnic cultures, religious beliefs in Mayang have gradually formed humanistic concepts such as worships of ancestors, heaven and earth, gods and ghosts, Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, and the Five Elements of Yin and Yang. Among them, ancestors, heaven and earth, and gods and ghosts are most widely accepted. With the fundamental policies of the Qing Dynasty (1636-1912), it is required to cultivate the religious belief without changing the customs, and govern political affairs without ignoring the feasibility. Therefore, those “foreign” humanistic concepts resume the religious influence among the native people. In 2005, Buddhism, Taoism, and Christianity were intercommunicated in Mayang, with 71 religious venues, 280 temple administrators, and approximately 30,000 believers.

    (Translated by Tian Xia)