Asian Ethnology 82-1 | article The Time of Red Snowfall Steering Social and Cosmic Renewal in Southwest China

Katherine Swancutt

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competition display Fire Festival myth-history social and cosmic renewal Southwest China

Each year the Nuosu, a Tibeto-Burman group of Southwest China, celebrate their Fire Festival with vibrant displays that evoke the myth-historical blunder of a hero killing a spirit. To atone for this blunder, they compete in arts and sports before spectators, judges, and the sky god, who receives their displays as ritual blandishments and expresses his satisfaction by sparing lives. These two-way displays typically continue until Nuosu pay their sacrificial debt to the sky god through the ritual for “the descent and exchange of the soul.” But many Nuosu approach the Fire Festival differently in the northeastern Liangshan mountains, where they seek to avoid summoning red snowfall, a euphemism that refers to a generations-old war, extreme bloodshed, and perhaps even the origins of humankind. Here, Nuosu call their sacrifices to the sky god “turning back the enemy” and move their competitions to unconventional days that fall outside of the Fire Festival’s celebratory window. By steering this season of social and cosmic renewal in a prosperous direction, Nuosu across Liangshan engage in worldmaking acts that show the conceptual value of the anthropology of display.