A symbol used to represent the Bimoist faith

Bimoism[1] (Chinese: 毕摩教; pinyin: Bìmójiào, Yi: ꀘꂾ bi mox) is the indigenous religion of the Yi people, the largest ethnic group in Yunnan after the Han Chinese. It takes its name from the bimo, shaman-priests who are also masters of Yi language and scriptures, wearing distinctive black robes and large hats.


Bimo, which means 'master of scriptures',[2] officiate at births, funerals, weddings and holidays.[3] One can become bimo by patrilinial descent after a time of apprenticeship or formally acknowledging an old bimo as the teacher.[4] A lesser priest known as suni (ꌠꑊ su nyit) is elected, but bimo are more revered and can read Yi scripts while suni cannot. Both can perform rituals, but only bimo can perform rituals linked to death. For most cases, suni only perform some exorcism to cure diseases. Generally, suni can only be from humble civil birth while bimo can be of both aristocratic and humble families.[5][6]

The Yi worshiped and deified their ancestors in much the same way as did followers of Chinese folk religion, and also worshiped gods of nature: fire, hills, trees, rocks, water, earth, sky, wind and forests.[3] Bimoists also worship dragons, believed to be protectors from bad spirits that cause illness, poor harvests and other misfortunes. Bimoists believe in multiple souls. At death, one soul remains to watch the grave while the other is eventually reincarnated into some living form. After someone dies they sacrifice a pig or sheep at the doorway to maintain relationship with the deceased spirit.[5]

The bimo, once considered by the Chinese government to be promoting a "backwards religion", are now being promoted as ambassadors of Yi culture. They organise large-scale rituals for the yearly Torch Festival.[1] Since the 1980s, with the loosening of religion restrictions in China, Bimoism has undergone a revitalisation.[1] In 1996, the Bimo Culture Research Center was founded.[1] In the early 2010s, the government of China has helped the revival of the Bimoist faith through the construction of large temples and ceremonial complexes.[7][8][9]


The most famous hero in Yi mythology is Zhyge Alu. He was the son of a dragon and an eagle who possessed supernatural strength, anti-magic, and anti-ghost powers. He rode a nine-winged flying horse called "long heavenly wings." He also had the help of a magical peacock and python. The magical peacock was called Shuotnyie Voplie and could deafen the ears of those who heard its cry, but if invited into one's house, would consume evil and expel leprosy. The python, called Bbahxa Ayuosse, was defeated by Zhyge Alu, who wrestled with it in the ocean after transforming into a dragon. It was said to be able to detect leprosy, cure tuberculosis, and eradicate epidemics. Like the Chinese mythological archer, Hou Yi, Zhyge Alu shoots down the suns to save the people.[10] In the Yi religion Bimoism, Zhyge Alu aids the bimo priests in curing leprosy and fighting ghosts.[11]

Jiegujienuo was a ghost that caused dizziness, slowness in action, dementia and anxiety. The ghost was blamed for ailments and exorcism rituals were conducted to combat the ghost. The bimo erected small sticks considered to be sacred, the kiemobbur, at the ritual site in preparation.[11]

Torch Festival

The Torch Festival is one of the Yi people's main holidays. According to Yi legend, there were once two men of great strength, Sireabi and Atilaba. Sireabi lived in heaven while Atilaba on earth. When Sireabi heard of Atilaba's strength, he challenged Atilaba to a wrestling match. After suffering two defeats, Sireabi was killed in a bout, which greatly angered the bodhisattavas, who sent a plague of locusts to punish the earth. On the 24th day of the 6th month of the lunar calendar, Atilaba cut down many pine trees and used them as torches to kill the locusts, protecting the crops from destruction. The Torch Festival is thus held in his honor.[12]

See also



  1. ^ a b c d Pan Jiao, 2011
  2. ^ Berounsky, Daniel (15 December 2020). "Masters of Psalmody (bimo): Scriptural shamanism in Southwestern China, by Aurélie Névot". European Bulletin of Himalayan Research (55): 102–106. doi:10.4000/ebhr.249. Retrieved 8 June 2022 – via preo.u-bourgogne.fr.
  3. ^ a b James B. Minahan (10 February 2014). Ethnic Groups of North, East, and Central Asia: An Encyclopedia. ABD-CLIO. p. 316. ISBN 9781610690188.
  4. ^ "Perspectives on the Yi of Southwest China". Publishing.cdlib.org. Retrieved 8 June 2022.
  5. ^ a b Zhen Wang. "Out of the Mountains : Changing Landscapes in rural China" (PDF). Environmentandsociety.org. Retrieved 8 June 2022.
  6. ^ "Religion of Yi People in China-Culture-Yi People's website". En.yizuren.com. Retrieved 8 June 2022.
  7. ^ "昭通旅游网". 1 February 2014. Archived from the original on 1 February 2014. Retrieved 8 June 2022.
  8. ^ "彝族分支圣地,神奇乌蒙昭通-彝族火把节-彝族人网". 3 February 2014. Archived from the original on 3 February 2014. Retrieved 8 June 2022.
  9. ^ "2012年中华彝族祭祖节祭祖大典在南诏土主庙举行_社会新闻_大理频道_新浪七彩云南_新浪网". 2 February 2014. Archived from the original on 2 February 2014. Retrieved 8 June 2022.
  10. ^ Lihui, Yang, and An Deming. "The World of Chinese Mythology: An Introduction". In: China's Creation and Origin Myths. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2011. p. 52. doi: https://doi.org/10.1163/ej.9789004194854.i-354.18
  11. ^ a b "Spirit Pictures | Mountain Patterns". Burkemuseum.org. Retrieved 8 June 2022.
  12. ^ Lucien Miller; Guo Xu (1994). South of the Clouds. University of Washington Press. pp. 114–115. ISBN 978-0295973487.

Further reading