sons of heaven


Ceinos Arcones, Pedro. Sons of Heaven, Brothers of Nature: The Naxi of Southwest China. 2012.

The author about his book

Being the main author in this, and having written about several dozens of books related with China ethnic groups, it is a little awkward to write about my own book.  Sons of Heaven, Brothers of Nature: The Naxi of Southwest China surged by the perceived need to fill a demand: The supposed demand of more information about the Naxi by the thousands of international tourists that every year visit Lijiang and other Naxi territories. Being the presence of the Naxi and their culture ubiquitous to most of them: their architecture, as expressed in Lijiang and some small villages; their music: their art, their pictographic writing and the mysterious priests known as Dongbas, and not being available any general introduction about them, I thought that this book was needed.

It is supposed that anthropologists and ethnologist are the best fitted to write books about the ethnic and indigenous groups, because being these ethnic groups their main object of study, nobody seems better prepared to do it.  And, if we consider the birth of anthropology in the last decades of 19th century, during about one hundred years it was so: the most famous anthropologists produced academic writings, where they postulated new theories or reformulated old ones, but simultaneously they wrote books about the indigenous people object of their study in a language that made its reading available to the general reader.

Unfortunately in the last decades it was not so anymore. While the same concepts that justified the birth of the anthropology were reformulated to fit some postmodernist theories, the role of the anthropologist as global propagandist of the ethnic group he was studying disappeared.  Unfortunately disappeared just in the moment when acculturation processes were wiping out entire cultures in our planet. Now is really difficult to find a general introduction about an ethnic group.

I think this kind of book is not only important, but a necessary work. First as a recording of aspects of culture quickly disappearing, that will allow the knowledge of these human creations to be passed to future generations. Second because the development of the tourist and travel industries carry each year more and more travelers to ethnic lands, and the lack of available descriptions of the cultures they met make difficult the ethnic understanding. Third because the own persons belonging to the ethnic groups are becoming global readers, and are really interested in know not only about their culture, but how the other sees and values their culture.

With these ideas in my mind I started to research about the culture of the Naxi people in 2010. After two years of work I see that the main aim of create a general introduction about the Naxi culture available to the general reader has been achieved. I think that the main virtue of this book is its availability. That means that is easy to get (is present now in Amazon and soon in other digital collections as well as in Lijiang and around as a printed book, both in its digital and paper versions at a reasonable price), it is easy to read, as the main aspects of the Naxi culture are plainly described, and it is easy to understand, as the more complex aspects of their culture are carefully explained.

But beyond this availability that was its main and original aim, during the two years of working in the book, many ideas that were latent in the books I read and talks I have with the more than one hundred people involved in the book, took their own shape in a way that the pure description of some cultural and ethnic characteristics of the Naxi become peppered with new ideas that try to give light to some of the less understood aspects of their culture. So, if in the first chapter is suggested that when we talk about the Naxi we are talking at least about of five well differentiated branches or ethnic entities, in the second some data are provided trying to establish a relationship between the Naxi and the legendary Kingdoms of Women of Chinese chronicles, and some emphasis is put in the detailed explanation of the process in which the Naxi lost their ethnic autonomy and become part of the administration of the Chinese empire. In the same form, in the rest of the chapters of the book the reader would find that in the purely descriptive paragraphs of the book, are included some ideas not previously expressed.

Sons of Heaven, Brothers of Nature: The Naxi of Southwest China is not the definitive book about the Naxi. Just the contrary is only an introduction to them, written with the love and respect that in the last twenty five years has characterized my relationship with the indigenous peoples.

The book - The author about his book - Contents - Introduction - Glossary