Seeking an ‘Ideal Place’ in a Nuosu Origin Epic


  • Mark Bender The Ohio State University


Nuosu, genealogy, migration, epic, Tibeto-Burman


The Book of Origins (hnewo tepyy) is a major ritual text of the Nuosu, a subgroup of the official Yi (Yizu) ethnic group of southwest China. The narrative, existing in both written and oral variants, is part of a living tradition, especially among priests (bimo) and folk singers, in the Liangshan Yi autonomous region in Sichuan provinceand nearby Yunnan province. The epic narrates the creation of the sky, earth, and living creatures through the frame of genealogies. After an age of scorching heat, life is re-seeded on earth and a descendant of the snow tribes of flora and fauna finds a bride. Many generations later this union results in the marriage between an earthling and the Sky God’s daughter. The tropes of genealogy and migration intertwine in the storyworld as clans descended from the couple seek out an “ideal place” to settle and prosper in the local environment in a pattern that resonates with other epics from the southwest and the Southeast Asian Massif.


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