The term Dongba, Tomba or Tompa , which is from Naxi Nakhi language, means “the wise” and refers to the religious priests, the culture, and script of the Naxi Nakhi people, who are found in southwestern China. Dongba Culture consists of its writings, scriptures, paintings, dance and music.
Dongba culture can’t separate from Dongba religion. The Dongba religion was developed at the beginning of the Tang Dynasty (618-907CE) on the basis of Naxis’ primitive shamanism and it absorbed the Bon religion culture of the Tibetans.
Dongba religion is mainly passed on by Dongbas. The Dongba, also known as wise men, are believed to be the priests of the Bön religion. They play a major role in the Naxi culture, and preach harmony between man and nature. Their costumes show strong Tibetan influence, and pictures of Bön gods can be seen on their headgear. Tibetan prayer flags and Taoist offerings can be seen in their rituals.
Religious rituals are also conducted by the priests to propitiate the spirits, as they were believed to be living in every part of the natural world.
This can be evidenced from the fact that the core of the Dongba religion is based on the belief that both man and nature are two brothers born of two mothers and the same father.
Dongba script, possessing more than 1400 characters, is a pictographic writing system used by the Bon priests of the Naxi people and believed to be the only well preserved living pictographic langrage in the world. Together with the geba syllabary and the Latin alphabet, it is one of the three Naxi scripts. Dongba is perhaps a thousand years old. The glyphs may be used as rebuses for abstract words which do not have glyphs. It is largely a mnemonic system, and cannot by itself represent the Naxi language. Different authors may use the same glyphs with different meanings, and it may be supplemented with the syllabic geba script for clarification.
About 40,000 volumes of Dongba scriptures have been found today, all written in Dongba pictographic characters. These scriptures are kept in the libraries or museums of many countries other than China, such as the United States, Canada, Japan, Britain, France, Germany and Austria. The Dongba scriptures have covered a wide range of knowledge. They are precious references for the study of the ancient philosophy, religion, folklore, history, art and literature of the Naxi nationality.
Dongba painting includes board painting, bamboo pen painting, card painting, rod painting, and huge cloth scroll painting. The painting skills are distinctive: some have rough lines and primitive & crude patterns and some are colorful and bright with delicate technique of writing. The Painting “God’s road” is over 10 meters long and is a rare treasure of painting art.
The Naxi Dongba priests use dance as an integral part of their rituals. When they are called upon to help send a recently deceased soul on its long, arduous path to the afterlife, or exorcise a ghost, or indeed perform sacrifices to the Gods; ritual dance is invariably involved, alongside recitation of the relevant scriptures.
The tools used by the Dongba in the dance can be narrowed down to the following three: a bell that represents the sun, a hand drum that represents the moon, and the knife. The dances themselves often enact legendary stories told in the scriptures, and the dongba must play the roles of the people and Gods involved, and more frequently the animals – tigers, horses, birds etc, reflecting a form of shamanist animism.
by Xiao Xiao @ InteractChina.com
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