Introduction / History
The Wa, who live in isolated mountain ranges of Southwest China between China and Myanmar, were studied during the early days of communism as part of China's national initiative to evaluate the economic value of all indigenous peoples.
What Are Their Lives Like?
To the Wa, the head is considered the most important part of the body. They believe that by combing the hair of their lover, they will gain the power to retain their love forever. This expression of love has its origin in a popular legend that depicts a kind of baptism ceremony. As the myth goes, the Wa were born unable to see, hear or talk. People aged without those abilities until one day they were lead to a river by a female ancestor. When they bathed and washed their heads in the river, they were able to see and hear and their sleeping souls were awakened. This myth is also the origin of the cult for the heads between the Wa people.
Prior to the 1949 Chinese revolution, the Wa went on headhunting expeditions to get heads for their religious ceremonies. The heads were used as an offering to the gods. Incidences of headhunting raids appeared in news reports up until the 1960's. It is believed that headhunting is now eradicated. Today, chickens, pigs and cows are sacrificed to their gods and the cow sacrifice is the substitution for human sacrifice.
The Wa believe that people die because the ancestors call their soul. Shamans teach the soul how to get to their ancestors' land. They continue to feel the corpse for a few days as they believe the soul slowly leaves the body. However, a place in the home is left for the dead in case the soul wants to return.
What Are Their Beliefs?
Findings revealed that thirty percent of the Wa's wealth was spent on religious activities and that they devoted sixty days a year to their gods. Among their several gods, the supreme god is Mujij, whose five children created the heaven, the earth, the lightning, the earthquake and the Wa. The Wa believe gods cause illness and to appease the gods and demons that plague them, they perform numerous ceremonies. They believe that every object holds spirits and that these spirits can be used for their own benefit. Spirits are summoned through ceremonies.
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