"Two Ngaw-la, or spirits of victory, with face paint, eagle claw, sword, and helmets with pheasant feathers next to an altar with a statue of Mùan-llü-ddu-ndzi, the father of the Naxi."
For the next several weeks GoKunming will publish a series of articles featuring photography by Joseph Francis Charles Rock, the Austrian-American author, geographer, linguist and botanist who explored western China extensively in the 1920s and 30s. We'll begin in southern Yunnan and then make our way north and then west, seeing what caught Rock's fancy as he moved through the countryside.
Rock's photo titles are often extremely brief, so, wherever possible we will include his field notes or parts of corresponding diary entries under each image. On this journey with Rock, we first went to Simao (思茅) — today called Pu'er (普洱) — and then moved on to Dali (大理) and Lijiang (丽江). Our fourth gallery is of the Naxi people (纳西族) who live in and around Lijiang. Rock was enraptured by them, spending more time in Naxi villages than he did anywhere else in China. He was especially interested in dongba — which he often wrote as "dto-mba" — a curious word which can refer to the Naxi language, their holy men, religion and some cultural traditions.
Rock's photo titles and descriptions use a Romanization system he possibly invented on his own. For instance, he often writes 'Lijiang' as 'Lichiang', while in other places the names are inconsistently spelled. We can forgive him, as his photos provide an amazing view of southwest China as it existed 90 years ago. The pictures and text published here with permission. Special thanks to the Yenching Library at Harvard University for graciously allowing us to use them. An enormous collection of Rock's China photos are available through Harvard's HOLLIS image database.
"Armor dating from the days of the Sung dynasty or earlier. Made of Rhinoceros hide. Photographed at Nda-za gko eastern slopes of Li-ch'iang Snow Range, N.W. Yunnan."
"Scene from the Naxi Szi chung bpö ceremony for the prolongation of life showing men with sword and gong dancing around Muan-llü-ddu-ndzi, father of the Naxi, depicted as an old man with a white beard."
"Na-khi Muan bpo or propitiation of heaven ceremony. Every family that is clan of one name, as Li, Ho, etc., has its own place of worhship called Muan bpo da."
"Dter-la-llü k'o for the propitiation of souls who have died unattended, that is by accident or suicide. They become 'olter or headless demons."
"The larger k'o-byu given to the Nagas for animals hunted and killed."
"Moso sorcerer at Likiang performing."
"Front view showing: serow, pig, bear (left); rabbit, donkey, ghost (center); ghost, crow, dog (right)."
"Naxi dto-mbas dancing with swords around a statue of the demon monster Sso-na-ngv-gu prior to setting him on fire in a meadow near Li-chiang."
"Tso-so women of chief's household."
"The founder of the Bon or his later reincarnation is said to have lived there. North of Li-ch'iang in Chung-tien territory, Yunnan."