The Nuosu Book of Origins
A Creation Epic from Southwest China
- PUBLISHED: July 2019
- SUBJECT LISTING: Asian Studies / China, Literature, Native American and Indigenous Studies, Anthropology
- BIBLIOGRAPHIC INFORMATION: 272 Pages, 6 x 9 in, 17 b&w illus., 1 map
- SERIES: Studies on Ethnic Groups in China
- ISBN: 9780295745695
Open-access edition: DOI 10.6069/9780295745701.s01
The Nuosu people, who were once overlords of vast tracts of farmland and forest in the uplands of southern Sichuan and neighboring provinces, are the largest division of the Yi ethnic group in southwest China. Their creation epic plots the origins of the cosmos, the sky and earth, and the living beings of land and water. This translation is a rare example in English of Indigenous ethnic literature from China.
Transmitted in oral and written forms for centuries among the Nuosu, The Book of Origins is performed by bimo priests and other tradition-bearers. Poetic in form, the narrative provides insights into how a clan- and caste-based society organizes itself, dictates ethics, relates to other ethnic groups, and adapts to a harsh environment. A comprehensive introduction to the translation describes the land and people, summarizes the work’s themes, and discusses the significance of The Book of Origins for the understanding of folk epics, ethnoecology, and ethnic relations.
Authors & Contributors
Mark Bender is professor of East Asian languages and literatures at Ohio State University. He is the author of Plum and Bamboo: China’s Suzhou Chantefable Tradition and translator of Butterfly Mother: Miao (Hmong) Creation Epics from Guizhou, China. Aku Wuwu is a well-known poet and professor and associate dean of the College of Yi Studies, Southwest Nationalities University, Chengdu. Jjivot Zopqu is a local tradition-bearer in Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan.
“Hnewo” in the Nuosu language means “passed down through mouth and ears.” This long narrative poem from the Nuosu Yi people in the Cool Mountains of Southwestern Sichuan is an intimate part of their ritual life; combined with the kenre practice of verbal dueling it is a feature of the rites of passage of these mountain people—weddings, funerals, and the ceremony to send souls of the dead back to the ancestors. Recited in these ritual contexts, the epic embodies Yi people’s cognitive and emotional experience of the cycle of human life and of people’s place in the larger natural world and cosmos. Jjivot Zopqu has provided a precious resource for the world of folklore studies, while Mark Bender and Aku Wuwu have done a great service by translating this epic and introducing it to the English-reading public.- Bamo Qubumo, Senior Research Fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and co-author of Mountain Patterns: The Survival of Nuosu Culture in China
This translation is a treasure: a window into one of China’s richest indigenous traditions. After many centuries of momentous change and political upheaval in the vast empire that surrounds it, Nuosu culture remains alive and remarkably well in its rugged heartland of Liángshān. It also remains remarkably complex, maintaining a working script and written literature of its own side by side with a deep-rooted oral tradition. We are all now indebted to the Nuosu elder Jjivot Zopqu, the Nuosu poet Aku Wuwu, and the American scholar Mark Bender for sharing what they know of this beleaguered and beautiful world.- Robert Bringhurst, author of A Story as Sharp as a Knife: The Classical Haida Mythtellers and Their World
An extremely important work that fills a major gap in the literature on a prominent Indigenous group in Southwest China and contributes to the scholarship on the folk, religious, and epic traditions of China.- Katherine Swancutt, author of Fortune and the Cursed: The Sliding Scale of Time in Mongolian Divination