The Mosuo actually practice two different religions. They have their own religion, called Daba, which has been a part of their culture for thousands of years, and which is more of an animistic/ancestor worship religion. And they also practice Tibetan Buddhism, which only became part of their culture in more recent history, but today plays a far larger role in their daily life.
If you visit a Mosuo community, you will see the impact of Tibetan Buddhism everywhere. Prayer flags hanging from houses and trees. Women walking around spinning prayer wheels. Tibetan monks walking the streets, or inhabiting monasteries. It certainly would be considered the predominant religion among the Mosuo.
The Mosuo even have their own “living Buddha”, a man said to be a reincarnation of one the great Tibetan spiritual leaders. He usually lives in Lijiang, but returns to the main Tibetan temple in Yongning for important spiritual holidays. Many Mosuo families will send at least one male to be trained as a monk, and in recent years, the number of such monks has increased quite significantly.
If you visit a Mosuo home, you will almost always see a statue of some Buddhist god above the cooking fire; and they will usually put a small portion of whatever they are cooking in the fire, as an offering to their god. Tibetan Buddhist holidays and festivals are participated in by the entire Mosuo community.
Daba, on a day-to-day basis, plays a far smaller role in the lives of the Mosuo. You might compare their practice of Daba to the practice of Christianity in many western homes, where people basically go to church for weddings, funerals, baptisms, Christmas, and Easter. The Daba priest (or shaman) is also called “daba”, and is mostly called on to perform traditional ceremonies at key events, such as naming a child, a child's coming of age ceremony, a funeral, or special events such as the Spring Festival. They will also be called on to perform specific rites if someone is sick.
Thus, both religions are integral to Mosuo culture; but Tibetan Buddism plays a far greater role in the daily life of the Mosuo than does Daba.
This does not mean, however, that Daba is unimportant or irrelevant; quite the opposite. The Daba religion is actually the repository of most of the Mosuo culture and history. Since the Mosuo have no written language, their history/traditions are passed on orally from generation to generation; and it is primarily the responsibility of the Daba priest to memorize this, and keep it for future generations.
This has resulted in something of a cultural crisis; due to past Chinese government policies, which made being a Daba priest illegal (this policy has now ceased), there are very few remaining dabas; and the few that remain are mostly old men. Without a written record of their oral histories, and without a younger generation of dabas to pass their oral history on to, there is a great danger that most of the Mosuo history/heritage will be lost forever when these men die.
This is one of the reasons for our work to develop a written form of the Mosuo language; so that we can then transcribe this tremendous oral heritage and preserve it for posterity, before these men die, and it is lost forever.
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