[Perspectives of Traditional Culture of the Matrilineal Mosuo of Lugu Lake] Part 2: First-Sight-Of-Sun Gifts for Mosuo Babies - Papers & Essays



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[Perspectives of Traditional Culture of the Matrilineal Mosuo of Lugu Lake] Part 2: First-Sight-Of-Sun Gifts for Mosuo Babies


The Mosuo people often say that people need the sun, the moon, wind, water, earth and other natural elements in their life to live comfortably. For the Mosuo people, the sun is light and hope. One month after a Mosuo birth, people select an auspicious day to take the baby out of the bedroom and bask him/her in the sun. What follows is a life full of sense of ritual for the baby.


Mosuo , baby, first-sight-of-sun gifts, Naming ceremony

Etiquette is very important for the Mosuo people's daily life, especially the part related to gifts. Friends and relatives cannot visit each other empty-handed, bringing a gift being a must. It's called "Guo Lu Pa Ba", a gift to worship the ancestors, a tribute to the worship fireplace. During the holidays and New Year, people visit each other with festive greetings and a gift box, which is called "Jan Lu Pa Ba," a gift for the ancestors in acknowledgment of the ancestry. In addition to these gifts generated from festive visits, there is another gift called "Rom Paba," an expression by the Mosuo people of love for life. During the Mosuo people's infancy there are two important ceremonies: the naming ceremony and the first-sight-of-sun ceremony. Both ceremonies are related to "Aposhu".*1 Therefore, in this paper, the two important ceremonies of the Mosuo's infancy and the gifts given by people out of respect for babies are generally called the first-sight-of-sun gifts for babies.

1. The important ceremony for Mosuo babies

The Mosuo people believe that only when the body and the soul become one can "a human" be formed. After a birth, the Mosuo people are concerned that the baby's body and soul cannot be perfectly integrated. Therefore, two important ceremonies need to be held so that the baby can slowly get adapted to the world.*2 One ceremony is called the "naming ceremony" and the other the "first-sight-of-sun ceremony".*3 These two ceremonies are specially prepared for and focused on the baby. The process of these two ceremonies is relatively simple but indispensable. The reason is that Mosuo people believe the process bestows the soul to the life of the baby.

(1) The ceremony of first-sight-of-sun

One month after birth, the elders in the family will choose an auspicious day to take the baby out of the house and baptize him/her in the sun. In the Lugu Lake area, Yunnan, for the sake of this ceremony, Lama is asked to choose a day that does not conflict with the baby's Chinese Zodiac and the baby is taken out of the house to be basked in the sun. The steps of the ceremony are as follows*4:

  1. Light butter lamps. Touch the baby's little hand with a pine torch, and then light the butter lamp in the ancestor worship fireplace with the torch, praying for Ding Bu er Jia Ke.*5
  2. Chant the Sutra of Longevity. On the auspicious day, people will invite a Daba or a Lama to chant the Longevity Sutra for the baby to pray for blessings for the new life. If a Daba or a Lama is not available, people may choose to ask the elders in the house to sing the hymn of life for the baby.*6
  3. The baby shall be taken outside together with the Eight Diagrams of the Nine Palace signifying "opening the door to life, clearing obstacles on the road" for the baby.*7
  4. A haircut in the sun. On the day of taking the child outside, people can choose to give the baby a bath or a haircut in the sun, in particular a haircut, which is very important for Mosuo people. The baby's hair cannot be thrown out just anywhere. It needs to be collected and stowed away. Later on, it should be placed under a lush tree in the yard, usually an evergreen.*8
  5. Soul chanting. The sunbath shall not take too long, and the baby be should be kept out of the wind. When the baby is taken back into the room, the soul chanting of the Soul Sutra," which is translated as: even when you travel to the ends of the earth, in spite of the rain or the wind, you will not lose sight of your way home. You can find the way home at the sound of your mother's call; You will come back to your mother at the sound of her call. Mother will prepare a big meal for your return with golden and silver bowls. The baby can be taken outside after the first-sight-of-sun ceremony, let's say, to visit relatives and friends, or taking babies to collective village activities where the baby will receive numerous gifts.*9
(2) Naming ceremony

Mosuo people believe in both Tibetan Buddhism and the Daba religion.*10 Therefore, people can choose a Lama or a Daba to chair the naming ceremony. If it is a Lama, they need to worship a Living Buddha and pray for a name, or ask a renowned Lama to name the baby chanting the Longevity Sutra. If it is a Daba, they need to invite a Daba to the house to name the baby at the naming ceremony.

The naming ceremony for Mosuo babies, whether being chaired by a Daba or a Lama, is solemn, complicated and mysterious. Among the Mosuo people of Lugu Lake, Yunnan, their names usually come from the local living Buddha. Parents need to carry the baby to the residence of the living Buddha, and the living Buddha chooses an auspicious name for the child after chanting the sutras.

Among the Mosuo people of Lugu Lake, Sichuan, most of the babies' names come from Daba. When Daba has decided on the baby's name, He will call the baby's name three times. Then the mother holding the baby by the fireplace will respond to the name. Da Bu will offer a dish to the baby.*11 That is the moment the baby will have been qualified as a member of this family, and this dish will be eaten by the baby's mother.

In this way, the newborn baby after being named begins the journey of this life in the warm cradle of the Mosuo family.

2. The Mosuo baby's first-sight-of-sun gifts

After being named with his/her first sight of the sun, the Mosuo baby starts to accept the kindness the world gives him/her. Usually, we need to express our respect and love for others, and the best way to express our emotion is to give gifts. According to the author's research among the Mosuo people, every baby receives different gifts, such as eggs, bracelets, clothes and so on. In the process of giving birth to children, the author has also experienced the Mosuo people's respect for babies.

During the research in June 2019, the author was not only a field researcher, but also the mother of a newborn child in the eyes of the Mosuo people. Therefore, I was often asked if my several-months-old baby ate well and slept well. They often gave me eggs or wild chickens and told me that this was "Rom Paba." Later on, the author interviewed more than 30 Mosuo women, and learned about Mosuo babies' first-sight-of-sun gifts. I have selected three typical stories to interpret the Mosuo people's respect for babies. Their joy in life can be found in the simplest things.

Interview 1: Ms. Guo, female, Mosuo, 56 years old, Zhebo Village, Yongning Town

Lacuo in our village is expecting a baby. I want to knit a cape for the new baby, but I do not know if it will be a boy or a girl. So I have chosen a neutral wool color that would suit either a boy or a girl. Another friend of mine is knitting a wool hat for Lacuo's upcoming baby, which just matches the cape I am knitting. My friend and I are both good at knitting sweaters. We knit clothes for newborns whenever we have time.*12

In many regions of the world, having a baby is a family affair, and neighbors do not need to prepare anything for the baby in advance. However, for the Mosuo people of Lugu Lake, it is a happy event for the whole village to have a newborn. Some caring villagers will prepare gifts for the baby in advance and give them to the baby at his/her first-sight-of-sun. There is a coming-of-age ritual in the Mosuo tradition held for children during the Spring Festival every year. In the village, it is bad luck if there is no coming-of-age ceremony for children during the Spring Festival.*13 Therefore, villagers look forward to the arrival of new life every year.

Interview 2: Ms. Wang, female, Han nationality, 34 years old, Zhebo Village, Yongning Town

I went to Lijiang with my sister-in-law for sight-seeing. I saw my sister-in-law shop in children's clothing stores every day, but she does not have any children. Why did she go shopping in children's clothing stores? Later, she told me that some baby in the village had recently been taken outside of the room for first-sight-of-sun and she had no gifts for the baby when she ran into the event. So once in the city, she wanted to buy some new clothes for the newborns in these villages and give them to them when they met next time. As a Han Chinese, I realized for the first time the selflessness of Mosuo people. As a Mosuo, when shopping, the first thing she thought of was not buying herself a new dress, but considering these children first, she was eager to share the good things in the city with the children back in the village.*14

Everyone who travels afar will want to bring some gifts home, but for the Mosuo people who travel afar, they consider the children's gifts first, because they know that the children need attention and care most, especially babies of several months, who are especially in need of care and attention.

Interview 3: Mr. Shen, male, Mosuo, 82 years old, Zhebo Village, Yongning Town

Whenever we Mosuo people have a distinguished guest, we will kill a wild chicken raised at home to show our respect for the guest. If these guests are adults with babies at home, then the drumsticks cannot be served on the table that night. Instead, the drumsticks will be picked out after being cooked and put in a clean bag so that guests with babies can take them home to their babies when they leave. The Mosuo people believe that although the babies cannot talk, they are looking forward to the recognition of people around them. So this custom is recognition and respect for babies.*15

In terms of parenting, every nation, every family and every person have their own unique way. Habits of child rearing develop into traditions. The truth behind these traditional rituals is humanity's basic respect and care for people. One of the main reasons why the Mosuo culture can last for thousands of years is that they are full of love for life, the life of adults, of babies, the life of their own and also of others.

In the era of rapid decline in the growth rate of population, human beings should give love and protection to every newborn. In the Mosuo ethnic group, after naming and first-sight-of-sun ceremonies, the newborns start to accept gifts from the outside world. They start to accept them regardless of sadness or joy. Most Mosuo children's ceremonies are about blessings and hymns. As Mosuo proverb goes, "money does not make you rich, children do".*16

The Mosuo people believe that no matter how much wealth a person accumulates in his life, he cannot take it with him when he dies. Only his/her children can inherit his/her own culture and spirit. As long as there are people, they can create things with their hands, so the Mosuo people have a stronger yearning for the arrival of newborns. Meanwhile, they have prepared a life full of sacred ceremonies for the babies. Therefore, at every stage of life they will hold a ceremony to honor their respect for life.

Today in the 21st century, the Mosuo population is gradually decreasing for various reasons, but this does not reduce their aspiration for life. Due to the increasing abundance of material things in life, ceremonial activities become pompous and boisterous. However, according to the Daba Sutra of Mosuo people, the greatest respect for human is recognition, recognition of his/her existence and caring about his/her life. Therefore, Mosuo people's first-sight-of-sun gifts testify to the collective recognition of the life of human beings.

  • *1. Aposhu: Mosuo language, means going outside. It can be translated as "at the sight of the sun".
  • *2. Mosuo people cherish the concept of soul, and believe that only the flesh with a soul can live on.
  • *3. First-sight-of-sun ceremony: An auspicious day is picked. The baby is taken outside to feel the warmth of the sun, also known as the ceremony of worshipping the sun.
  • *4. The ceremony was observed and put into record during the field research in Zhebo Village, Yongning Town in December 2020.
  • *5. Ding Bu Er Jia Ke: words of blessing of Mosuo people, which means wish you auspiciousness and all the best.
  • *6. Mosuo's traditional ceremonial hymns are passed down orally, and the old grandmothers in the family can all recite them. Many best wishes to life in the hymns come from the traditional belief of Daba.
  • *7. Eight Diagrams of Nine-Palace: It is called "Bakuo" in Mosuo language. It can accompany Mosuo people's whole life promising peace and happiness, especially important for people who are far away from home and newborn babies.
  • *8. Evergreen: commonly known as "boxwood", because it is evergreen all year round, cold-resistant and heat-resistant, deeply loved by Mosuo people, so it is often planted in Mosuo people's yards.
  • *9. For the details of the gifts, please refer to the second section of this article, a Mosuo baby's first-sight-of-sun gifts.
  • *10. Daba religion: the Daba religion is the traditional religious belief of the Mosuo people. Because its priest is called Daba, this religion is habitually called the "Daba religion".
  • *11. Dabu: the person in charge of family affairs in Mosuo family.
  • *12. On December 23rd, 2020, the author's record of interview with Ms Guo in Zhebo Village, Yongning Town.
  • *13. Coming-of-age ceremony: When Mosuo children turn 13 years old, the whole village will sing and dance for the children.
  • *14. On March 15th, 2021, the author's record of interview with Ms Wang in Zhebo Village, Yongning Town.
  • *15. On January 7, 2021, the author's record of interview with Mr. Shen in Zhebo Village, Yongning Town.
  • *16. This proverb was collected during the field research in Yongning Town in December 2020. Mosuo people have the concept of soul, and believe that only a body with soul can live on.
Du Ma La Mu (Lijiang College of Culture and Tourism)
Du Ma La Mu_profile.png

Mosuo native, teacher with Lijiang College of Culture and Tourism, master in religion from Southwest Minzu University. Engaged in a number of social field research projects, such as the national language protection project Mosuo language rescue and protection, the project of National Social Science Fund " Cultural History of Disaster of Yunnan Indigenous Minority Groups", etc. Since 2011, following up with studies on Mosuo matrilineal culture (marriage, religion, etc.).Also engaged in related cultural researches and visiting scholars' projects.