The Cold Funeral of the Nisu Yi
The Nisu, whose population exceeds one million, are one of the seventyodd branches of the Yi and are scattered in wide areas of southern Yunnan and some countries in Southeast Asia. The language of the Nisu is a southern dialect of the Yi language, has its own ancient scripts, and is rich in literature (see David Bradley, chapter 12 in this volume). The famous creation myth The Chamu Epic and The Shuangbo Yi Medicinal Gazetteer, which has been praised as “a jewel of the Yi nationality, ” were actually translated from ancient Yi documents of the Nisu. Because this Yi branch is concentrated in the Ailao mountain range and the Hong River basin, it is known to scholarship as the Ailao Yi.
Specifically, the Nisu are distributed in Kunming Municipality and nearly thirty counties and cities in Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture, Honghe Hani-Yi Autonomous Prefecture, Yuxi Prefecture, and Simao Prefecture of Yunnan. Because of geographic differences and influences from ethnic interaction, there are variations and differences in culture, customs, and language among the Nisu of different areas. This essay examines the Nisu of Zhuyuan Village in Laochang Township of Xinping Yi-Dai Autonomous County in Yuxi Prefecture and analyzes a characteristic ritual sequence called ka-dji-da-le, or “cold funeral, ” and related cultural phenomena.
There are two varieties of funeral rituals among the Nisu: cha-ma-da-le (the warm funeral) and ka-dji-da-le (the cold funeral). In the warm funeral, as soon as a person dies a day is selected for the funeral to send the soul across to Ngomi, the spirit world, back to where the Yi's ancestors used to live. The cold funeral, however, is selected in circumstances where it is not possible