I was in Xichang, capital of Liangshan prefecture during Chinese New Year where I spent a week with some Yi friends. One early morning, I was asked to attend a ceremony in a mountain village that would be officiated by a bimo, a male ritual specialist.
The ceremony lasted almost six hours and involved a man in his early thirties whose soul had apparently left his body. His mother was mortified that her son’s soul had taken flight and insisted that a bimo be called in to make things well again. The man had no deep religious beliefs, but his mother believed that if the ritual did not take place immediately it would have a direct impact on his future and the happiness of his family.
I have wanted to write a story of what transpired during those many hours in a small village courtyard, but recently stumbled on this poem by the Yi Nuosu poet Jimu Langge 'The ‘Coming of the Bimo' (translated by D. Dayton), which says a lot of what I saw that day in fewer words.
The Coming of the Bimo
When feeling jinxed
I go invite the Bimo
and get some things ready
and of course a lamb
The Bimo sits at the head
bundling grass according to custom
and chatting genially
while a bowl of wine is placed before him.
The lamb is led by the person leading it
its expression sedate and seasoned
as if it was raised by the Yi
from the time it was born to fulfill this duty
Actually, people and sheep are different
People, in a lifetime, have to experience many times
but sheep only have one chance
after which they will be slaughtered
The lamb head and pelt given to the Bimo
and the meat shared among everyone.
At nightfall the Bimo sobers his smiling face
beginning the recitation
Rhythmically clear the scriptures are
akin to black people's singing
with the addition of eastern mysticism
The Bimo steadily lifts and swings the bells
a crisp ringing accompanying the reading words
It spreads into the darkness outside the room
and into the hearts of the people.
The Bimo has come
Ghosts and goblins will be subdued
Man and beast will live in harmony
The famous Bimos are all very busy
In other villages
the same sound
resonates with the serenity of the evening
Even if outside cultures
are like the cows and sheep at nightfall
entering the mountain villages in waves.