The Miao are animists, shamanists and ancestor worshipers whose beliefs have been influenced by Chinese Taoism and Buddhism, and more recently Christianity.
Miao people believe everything in nature has spirits, which are mighty enough to control their lives. They worship the sun, moon, lightening, thunder, fire, rivers, caverns, large trees, huge stones, and animals.
Spirits can be benevolent or vicious, protecting or bringing harm to men. Every house has an altar to ancestral spirits of grandparents and other relatives who died natural deaths in old age. It is believed that at death, the soul divides into three parts, one of which returns to protect the household as an ancestral spirit. There is also concern with evil spirits and with ghosts of those who died in a bad way may cause illness and misfortune. So if a Miao dies a tragic death, his spirit is left behind to bring disaster to his family and village unless he is properly buried.
The Miao also worship their ancestors. They worship their ancestors so much that memorial ceremonies are very grand. Male household leaders are usually in charge of the worship of ancestor spirits and household gods. They dress up in special clothing when they preside over rites and employ chants, prayers and songs they have memorized. They are paid with food for their services. Shaman is called up to cure illnesses by bringing back lost souls. They play a key role in funeral rites and are called upon to explain misfortunes and preside over rites that protect households and villages.
Elaborate rituals and sacrifices are used for protection. Shamans are responsible for identifying demons and instructing the afflicted in how to appease them. Some of their superstitious rituals were very expensive. In west Hunan and northeast Guizhou, for instance, prayers for children or for the cure of an illness were accompanied by the slaughter of two grown oxen as sacrifices. Feasts would then be held for all the relatives for three to five days.
More recently some Miao also believe in Christianity. The first Christian among Miao groups started in the late 1890’s by China Inland Mission and Methodist missionaries. A significant impact was made among two dialect groups. Of the estimated 300,000 Miao believers, approximately 250,000 of these are among the A-Hmao (Big Flowery) and Gha-Mu tribes (Small Flowery). Their dialects are mutually unintelligible with other Miao dialects. A significant impact of Christianity was also among some groups located near Anshun of Guizhou province. The vast majority of Miao, however, are completely unevangelized with no knowledge even of the name “Jesus”.
by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com
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