WuZhimi transcribes Dongba ritual scriptures in Tacheng Village, using ink and reed pen. (photo: Sarah Wang)

WuZhimi transcribes Dongba ritual scriptures in Tacheng Village, using ink and reed pen. (photo: Sarah Wang)


apprentice dongba


WuZhimi studies as an apprentice Dongba in China's Yunnan Province. Traditionally, only men can become Dongba shaman-priests... but when asked "why?",  nobody knows the answer.

This long-term project contemplates themes of: gender in spiritual/ religious practice, gender roles in modern China and its agricultural societies, patriarchy vs. matriarchy, contemporary international shamanism (re: neo-Dongbaism and internet culture), shamanic fractals/ algorithms in societies, sacred wardrobe/ tools/ performance/ ritual, issues of authenticity, and Dongba/ animism in conversation with Christianity (esp. Protestant) / Buddhism (esp. Tibetan+ Mongolian)/ Daoism/ Wicca/ etc.

WuZhimi can be found in Lashihai lake valley and Lijiang City, in the nearby vicinity of Black Dragon Pool.

More info: http://www.lijiangstudio.org/dongba-apprentice/

Learning Process

On-site studies in Lijiang/ Tacheng prefectures. 

To-Do List: Study written + spoken Naxi language, Dongba symbols, texts, dance choreography. Acquire wardrobe and tools via the same methods as other contemporary Dongba; gradually tailor and customize to your individual measurements/ needs. Study trance/ chants/ songs. Confront, participate in, and analyze traditions of husbandry + sacrifice. Foster knowledge of plants, herbal remedies, TCM, geography. Improve relationships with human communities and natural environments, deepen understanding of elements and their essence(s). Study Dongba entities/ deities/ networks; compare/ contrast with other global belief systems; Agitate existing power dynamics and activate conversations, on local and international levels. Practice daily prayer. Smash demons. Observe traditional rituals, shrine/ altar composition, practice crafts and drawing, replicate teachers' documents by hand. Respond to calls and requests. Introduce Dongba to internet + social media; see what happens. 

Frequently Asked Question: 

Q: Is there an initiation ceremony to become a Dongba? How do you know when you've become one?

A: There is no initiation ceremony to become a Dongba. Levels and areas of expertise differ for each individual. Traditionally, Dongbas are also part-time farmers, pursuing religious studies at their own pace. Shaman-priests are essentially servants to their communities, and community needs vary by season and geographical location. One Dongba might be an herbal specialist, while another is an expert at mythology and scriptures- for example.  A farmer who studies Dongba intensely for three years, might know more than a Dongba who studied sporadically for ten. If their areas of expertise differ, then neither is “better” than the other. A larger-sized ritual requires the combined knowledge of multiple Dongbas with different skills and specialties. They gather a few times before the event to discuss and review general itinerary- such as who will do which parts, how to sing which songs, what ingredients are needed, etc. You know you’re a Dongba once your community recognizes you as one. If you have valuable skills/ services to offer, your environment naturally approaches you with requests.

Roads to Heaven

Dongba funeral scrolls (2014-present)

For full chapter, see: [here]

Panel #68 of Road to Heaven (in progress)

Panel #68 of Road to Heaven (in progress)

Squirrel Funeral

Grave + ceremony for a drowned squirrel (2014)

Modest funeral for a defiant spirit. Conducted down the road from Lijiang Studio, at sunset. For details, click: [here]

Year of the Earthern Goat (2015-2016)

Sites: Baltimore, MD; Brooklyn + Manhattan, NY; Miami, FL; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Managua, Nicaragua; Yunnan, China

Year of the Fire Monkey (2016-2017)

Sites: Yunnan, China; Baltimore, MD; Los Angeles, CA; Khövsgöl+ Töv+ Khentii Provinces, Mongolia; Miami, FL

-more videos from this Wind Ritual [here]

Year of the Fire Chicken (2017-2018)

Sites: Los Angeles, CA; El Tambo, Colombia; Khövsgöl Province, Mongolia; Yunnan, China + TBD