Bone of the House, Root of the People: The Sociality and Landscape of the Pumi Speaking People of Yong-Ning in Southwestern China
This thesis is stimulated by the change of local practices since late 19th century among the “Pumi Zu (Pumi people)” in Yongning Township, which locates in Ninglang Yi autonomous county of Yunnan, China. Regarding the background that the Pumi speakers and the Na(Mosuo) people have lived adjacently for centuries in the eastern margin of Tibetan plateau, and approaching from local formation of social relations and groupings, I attempt to depict a local order that the meanings of native ethnic categories are embedded in, and that coexists with the regime of modern state, in order to help us understand the change and continuity of the local society.
In the thesis, I use the concept of ‘House’ suggested by Claude Levi-Strauss to analyze the main social unit of the Pumi in Yong-Ning, and discuss the formation of groupings through the symbolic effect of material forms and spatial practices that engage with the physical surroundings people inhabit. I describe the material phenomena and ritual practices distributed in residential house and areas aroud village that unite and represent the Pumi ‘House’, arguing that the local institution of ‘House’ is supported by a regime of landscape realized through native’s understanding and ritual practices about their physical surroundings. And I interpret the cultural meanings and material basis of the concept of ‘Bone(ɻu³⁵)’, which local people understand their social groupings with. I suggest that the Pumi speakers in Yong-Ning may adopt from the neighboring Na people the visiting practice “walking marriage”, which took the place of Pumi’s strict marriage institution, is based on the feature that the local relations and groupings are formed by the mutual composition of the attribute one inherits from one’s parent through procreation and the relation accumulated by dwelling in the same place.
I explain that the Pumi ‘House’ is composed of two parts, one is the group settling in a specific area and represented by a ‘House’ name(~~bʉ⁵¹), another is the enduring identity rooted in the land through the ‘Bone’ buried in the mountains and designated by a name refered as the ‘Bone’ of specific ‘House’. Each group of household(mɐ⁵⁵qɐ⁵⁵) that resides in a physical house(tɕiŋ⁵⁵miŋ⁵⁵) is an equal realization of the identity represented by the ‘Bone’. The household undertakes the works of economic production, accumulates material wealth, and reproduces heirs, to guarantee the continuance of the ‘House’ and the ‘Bone’. And the ‘Bone’ comes into being through the process that individuals accomplish their lives in the main room of the house and become ashes buried in a common site in the mountains for members of all the households derived from a same ‘House’, materializing the fact that the group of people continuously inhabit a specific land from generation to generation, and also representing the attribute inherited from previous generations of the relation accumulated with the land and indicating the human origin of the ‘House’. Moreover, I point out that the Pumi in Yong-Ning understand their ‘Pumi’ identity through the ‘Bone’ that generated and maintained by the institution of ‘House’. Through this, I suggest that the “Pumi” as a self-designated category refers to the people who share certain common connection with a specific land, and that the institution of ‘House’ is the mechanism that reproduces the identity of ‘Pumi’ and its ethnic boundary with other peoples.
My analysis of the social formation of Yong-Ning Pumi coincides with the recent discussion of ‘kinship’ through ontology, showing that the physical surroundings an individual dwells in may also engage in the composition of human body and the formation of social relations. This exposes that the approaches to understand relatedness only through body substance or personhood might entail an ego-centric assumption. The case in this thesis also demonstrates that, the native’s understandings about body composition, social relations, groupings and relation between ethnic groups, may all be based on a same series of relations between individual and the physical surroundings one lives in.
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