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Incense and ritual plant use in Southwest China: A case study among the Bai in Shaxi


Staub, P O; Geck, M S; Weckerle, C S (2011). Incense and ritual plant use in Southwest China: A case study among the Bai in Shaxi. Journal of ethnobiology and ethnomedicine, 7:43.

Abstract

ABSTRACT: BACKGROUND: Ritual and religious uses of plant-derived smoke are widespread throughout the world. Our research focuses on Southwest China, where the use of incense is very common. This study aims to document and analyze contemporary ritual plant uses by the Bai people of Shaxi Township (Jianchuan County, Dali Prefecture, Yunnan Province), including their related ethnobotanical knowledge, practices, and beliefs. METHODS: The present study builds on previous ethnobotanical research in Shaxi, which started in 2005. Interviews focusing on ritual plant use and associated beliefs were carried out with a total of 44 Bai informants in September 2009 and May and June 2010. The results are supplemented with information on the local religion collected from June to December 2010. All documented species were vouchered, and are deposited at the herbaria of Kunming Institute of Botany (KUN) and the University of Zurich (Z/ZT). RESULTS: A total of 17 species have been documented for use in incense. They are always used in mixtures and are either burned in the form of powders in a censer or as joss sticks. The smell of the smoke is the main criterion for the selection of the incense plants. Incense is burned for communication with spiritual entities at graves, temples, and cooking stoves, as well as for personal well-being. Cupressus funebris Endl., Gaultheria fragrantissima Wall., and Ligustrum sempervirens (Franch.) Lingelsh. are the most important incense species. Others serve as substitutes or are used to stretch incense powders. CONCLUSIONS: In Shaxi the use of incense mixtures at the household and community level is regularly practiced for communication with ancestors, ghosts, and deities and in some cases to strengthen self-awareness. Some of the documented species are widely used in central Asia and Europe, hinting at the well documented knowledge exchange that occurred in Shaxi, which was a major hub along the influential Southern Silk Road.

ABSTRACT: BACKGROUND: Ritual and religious uses of plant-derived smoke are widespread throughout the world. Our research focuses on Southwest China, where the use of incense is very common. This study aims to document and analyze contemporary ritual plant uses by the Bai people of Shaxi Township (Jianchuan County, Dali Prefecture, Yunnan Province), including their related ethnobotanical knowledge, practices, and beliefs. METHODS: The present study builds on previous ethnobotanical research in Shaxi, which started in 2005. Interviews focusing on ritual plant use and associated beliefs were carried out with a total of 44 Bai informants in September 2009 and May and June 2010. The results are supplemented with information on the local religion collected from June to December 2010. All documented species were vouchered, and are deposited at the herbaria of Kunming Institute of Botany (KUN) and the University of Zurich (Z/ZT). RESULTS: A total of 17 species have been documented for use in incense. They are always used in mixtures and are either burned in the form of powders in a censer or as joss sticks. The smell of the smoke is the main criterion for the selection of the incense plants. Incense is burned for communication with spiritual entities at graves, temples, and cooking stoves, as well as for personal well-being. Cupressus funebris Endl., Gaultheria fragrantissima Wall., and Ligustrum sempervirens (Franch.) Lingelsh. are the most important incense species. Others serve as substitutes or are used to stretch incense powders. CONCLUSIONS: In Shaxi the use of incense mixtures at the household and community level is regularly practiced for communication with ancestors, ghosts, and deities and in some cases to strengthen self-awareness. Some of the documented species are widely used in central Asia and Europe, hinting at the well documented knowledge exchange that occurred in Shaxi, which was a major hub along the influential Southern Silk Road.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Systematic Botany and Botanical Gardens
Dewey Decimal Classification:580 Plants (Botany)
Date:2011
Deposited On:01 Mar 2012 13:19
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 15:30
Publisher:BioMed Central
ISSN:1746-4269
Publisher DOI:10.1186/1746-4269-7-43
PubMed ID:22165897
Permanent URL: http://doi.org/10.5167/uzh-57419

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