Wood Chip Paintings (or Dongba Paintings on Wooden Tablets)

Ancient Naxi people had designed more than 30 kinds of rite activities in total, to solve problems they thought that must be done. Among these rite activities, an original painting form was widely used—Dongba people placed a simply made wood chip around the fete site; flamen sometimes worshiped on bended knees in front of the wood chip, chanting sutras, performing libation, and offering hot blood and fresh meat; sometimes they danced in a trance, blew the horn and hold sword and spear, and tore down the wood chip and then threw it into far distance. Such kind of painting form is uniquely owned by Naxi Nationality.
This kind of wood chip is also the most early character carrier for Naxi Nationality. At present, people can see a kind of original and weird hieroglyphs made of pictures among copies of ancient books which were written on self-made traditional handmade paper. However, such kind of paper came into being in a late stage. Brich bark, cow and sheep skin were once used as the carrier to carry the ancient characters and splendid paintings of Naxi Nationality. Unfortunately, these carriers were relentlessly eliminated in the course of history.
Whereas, wood chip this kind of primitive carrier has been used until now. The picture-like ancient characters of Naxi Nationality were termed as “Senjiu Lujiu,” in which, “Sen” refers to wood, “Lu” refers to “stone” and “Jiu” refers to trace. Hence, the term shall be interpreted as “traces on wood and stone.” We can get to know from this that Dongba characters are the most character which were inscribed on wood and stones.
Being a branch of ancient Qiang people, Naxi people engaged in nomadism and resided in northwest areas of China, who gradually migrated to the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau following livestock directing south. “Lujiu” of Naxi Nationality is a kind of symbol or graph inscribed on cliffs or stones.
Naxi people in Eya suspended these stones with inscribed ancient scripts and paintings in residences for human and livestock, to avoid evil spirits mainly. The characters on stones are still reserved so far, but with such a poor number. In overall, characters inscribed on stones have already gone, the reason of which is that it would be difficult for Naxi Nationality to re-inscribe characters on stones since they migrated following livestock and the stones were too heavy to carry. In view of this, the “Lujiu Te’en (鲁究特恩, characters inscribed on stones) had been abandoned in places where ancestors lived for a long time. We doubted that a large number of paintings on cliffs in northwest China, some of which must be works made by Naxi ancestors. Unfortunately, there is still no filed investigation report to prove this.
It is difficult to seek the characters inscribed on stones of Naxi Nationality while the characters inscribed on wood are still under use nowadays. This can be proved by the large amount of fete wood chips, which are continued since wood chips are easy to make once knife and axe are at hand and trees are available. Most wood chip paintings were made randomly and would be discarded after being used. In general, wood chips, within several days before rites, would be made by Dongba people who were good at paintings. The master-hand among them could paint 10 pieces within one day. For small fete activities, Dongba people would paint on the first half of the day, and the rites could be held in the afternoon.
Why the immemorial characters inscribed on woods and the primitive wood chip paintings could withstand the impact and continue to survive? That lies in their outstanding performance during Dongba rites with a large number. Gongba religion belongs to primitive and natural religion, which believes in animism and deems that everything in nature world and human society is dominated by invincible supernatural forces; they can do nothing but pray and expel disasters. Thus, Dongba has various fete rites. For natural religion believed by poor villagers living in remote places, without magnificent church or temples, nor solemn pastor or living Buddha, they can only invite seniors moving about mountains and plains who were herding or hoeing to their rough houses or jungles for a simple sacrificial ceremony to satisfy themselves.
The houses piled by logs were houses for ancient Naxi people, the roof of which is composited of tens of thousands of veneers. Some chips were selected from the roof and then were carelessly chopped into wood chips and then they were planed, afterwards, the supernatural images—majestic and respected deities and ghosts making threatening gestures to be worshiped would be painted on wood chips, making people participating in the rites feel an immersive feeling. The chips for Gods were placed in altar while the chips for ghosts were placed in ghost caves. All wood chips painted with numerous Gods and ghosts stood in fete site, which would make people feel scared at once. A feeling of mystery that was difficult to speak out would happen to everyone who participated in the rite. Rapidly, Dongba flamen and the sponsor (the host) would feel satisfied with the situation. In this way, wood chip paintings of Dongba are preferred by flamen and Dongba people, and they are handed down to generations until now. Chips beside the spring in Baidi Township, Zhongdian County, which is one of the most important for lives of tens of thousands of people, have been inserted into positions around the spring. Standing chips which are quite old, relatively old and brand new indicated that new wood chips have been placed there every year, which has been proved as we investigated further. They are real basis for the fact that ancient wood chip paintings still exist among people and exist in life.
Within the clear stream from the spring, there exists high content of carbonate. After flowing 50 meters, carbonate in water would gradually deposit and form ivory calcific materials. Half of the mountain with a scope of hundreds of mu would become splendid, with tier upon tier, like a large area of jade-like terraced field. Thus men of literature and writing graciously named it as “inherited field from immortals.” Bing able to create such kind of wonder, this spring was viewed as holy spring in people’s eyes. So, the ethos that people place wood chips, consecrate foods and kowtow lasts and never stops, even the Great Cultural Revolution such harsh times was not a exception. The wood chips beside the spring were made of Suomei tree which grew in bushes on the bank of river. The bole of Suo Mei tree is generally of the same size with the rim of a cup, after the skin being peeled, which was divided into two parts to be made of two wood chips, and the semi-circular surface after peeling was used as the face. Most of the paintings were Gods in nature. There was a kind of deities named “Shu” who were the governor for all things in nature. A legend goes that human and “Shu” were blood brothers previously, and they lived apart afterwards; cliffs and river valley, vegetations and flowers, birds and animals, fishes, shrimps, snakes and frogs belonged to God in nature; arable land and tamed fowl & livestock belonged to human; man and nature were in good relationships. However, human frequently entered into mountains for lumbering and hunting, destroyed meadow and reclaimed land, caught fishes and shrimps, polluted rivers later, causing birds could not fly freely and deer and river deer could not ramble in grasses and flower shrubs. All these acts of sabotage pushed God in nature feel angry, and he called out ice and snow and fierce wind, as well as torrents and surge billows, tigers and panthers for slaughtering cows and sheep, jackals and wolves for eating women and children. Therefore, human had no place to shelter. Fortunately, after mediated by deities, both the parties were on good terms as before. Since that, the custom for worshiping God in nature has been continued. The first kind is for God chip with various God images painted, which was more elaborated than wood chip and the paintings used more colors, showing stateliness and aesthetic feeling. The second kind is for ghost chip which was roughly and simply made, not with colors painted. The implication of Dongba people was that ghosts were not frightened since people could overcome ghosts under the protection of deities. And the third kind is for door chip which was painted with doors for all kinds of Gods and ghosts, and certainly, the door for God must be fine while the door for ghost must be rough. The fourth kind is for debt paying chip, which is termed as “Quke” in Naxi language, painted with animals and articles which were to be paid to ghosts and nature, indicating that these animals caught and killed by people were returned to God in nature and suggested an apology for human’s offence. The fifth kind is for curse chip, a kind of witchcraft wood chip to curse enemy to get into troubles.
Wood chip painting, as a kind of religion painting, has its own formulary, which cannot be randomly added or reduced by painters. If anyone does not follow this basic formulary, he or she would be regard as a low person who had violated rules. The basic formulary for wood chip paintings mainly embodies in chip head—for all chips for Gods, patterning with beautiful auspicious clouds—the graphs with sun, moon and stars as well as wind, cloud and thunder were decorated on them. The main role for the chip (namely a certain God) was painted exactly in the center of the chip. For some chips for Gods, the eight kinds of treasures of Dongba religion, like white whelk, dharma-cakra, kettle and others were painted on them and such kind of wood chips were mainly used for rites for blessing. Among chips for Gods, there was a kind of chip belonging to Mars chip, which was painted with dharmapala who was bold and powerful and he was able to subdue all kinds of ghosts. Chips for ghosts were made into flat, indicating that ghost was under ground. Post-and-paling standing for blocking monsters was painted on top of it, and two Gods, Lu (卢) and Shen (沈) who can distinguish human and ghosts were also painted, suggesting that ghosts and monsters were strictly avoided. And chips for enemy, with nothing for decoration, makes the enemy’s huge mouth and sharp teeth stand out, so as to warn people that they should be careful to avoid being bite by enemy.
With high artistry, especially for primitive art field, wood chip paintings, are comparable with African primitive wood carving. The significant feature of wood chip painting is that it gives people a feeling of easiness and nature, simple and innocence and authenticity. Most of them were made in a hurry before fetes. After being used, ghost chips were destroyed and God chips were usually placed in outdoor fete site without being noticed. If chips are needed in another circumstance, they shall be newly made. Without preparing a draft, painters often randomly drew pictures at one breath. Well treated by the hosts, painters could create splendid works under the effect of liquor. 
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