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Yongren County History

Yi Funeral and Wake

The dead are believed by the Yi to travel to another world where they can continue their lives. Special care is taken to placate the dead to make sure they don't become malevolent ghosts. The Yis in the Greater and Lesser Liangshan Mountains in Sichuan practiced cremation, burning dead bodies in mountains and burying the ashes in the ground or placing them in caves. After the funeral, the mourners used bamboo strips wrapped with white wool to make memorial tablets, which were wound with red thread and placed in the trough carved in a wooden stick. Again, the stick was wrapped with white cloth or linen. Some memorial tablets were made of bamboo or wood and carved in the shape of figurines, which were placed at the young sons' homes. Three years later, such memorial tablets were either burned or placed in secluded mountain caves. 


Rachel Beitarie wrote in China Digital Times: "In one village, just about two kilometers into the mountains, several young women put on heavy silver jewelry. They are getting ready for a wake of sorts visiting the house of an old relative who has just passed away. The procession goes through muddy fields, with older women helping the girls with their big silver head-dresses and complicated hair-styles. Many young children tag along or are carried on mother backs, but no man is to be seen."

 The men are all busy in the backyard of the deceased since morning. They slaughtered many cows as offerings to the departed spirit and are now smoking the meat that will later be offered to everyone. Young women here speak even less Chinese than the older ones, and are hesitant to speak to an outsider at all, though they are happy to have their pictures taken and are encouraged to do so by the men obviously proud of their women elaborate costumes.


Young men, on the other hand, are chatty to the point of being flirtatious, with the confidence of well-traveled people: Many have gone to work in places as far away as Shenzhen and Dongguan, only coming back home for the summer traditional festivals. After paying respects to the departed and having feasted on the rare meat dish, most women and children go back home, leaving the men alone for a long session of Baijiu drinking, outside on the street in the rain. 

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