Beliefs about spirits and death
The Lisu believe that when someone is very ill or about to die their spirits may leave the body and appear to other people in the village. There are two categories for these appearances. The first case covers spirits that appear for only a split second or two, looking just like the person who died, flesh and all. Before there is time to say a word of greeting the spirit disappears again. If this occurs, the person who saw the spirit must go quickly and report to the owner of the spirit, as the person will be unaware of what has happened. This person's spirit must be in a weak state, which is what allowed the spirit to leave the body. The person whose spirit was seen must race to perform a ceremony. For the ceremony one will need: 1 egg, 1 cup of cooked or dried rice, and 2 pairs of incense sticks. The person who saw the spirit will act as the caller, summoning the person's spirit back to the body. Appearances of the second kind consist of a spirit appearing in more of a shadow form. If the spirit is half white and half black, then it means the person to whom the spirit belongs is on the verge of death, or their spirit is very weak. If a ceremony is performed quickly enough, it may be possible to save the person. If, however, the spirit is totally white in color, it is taken to mean it's too late and nothing more can be done to save the person from death.
Death and what to do with the body
The Lisu share a belief about death. When someone dies, the first thing that must be done is for all the person's relatives and siblings to put on a bathing ceremony for the body, washing the corpse totally clean. Once the ceremony is completed, the deceased will be dressed in a set of fresh new clothes. The person will then be wrapped in a white sheet and placed in the coffin. The coffin will be placed in the house, in front of the shrine to the ancestors. Various offerings paying homage and respect to the individual will be placed in front of the coffin. Among these things will be one small kerosene lantern and incense sticks. The lantern must remain lit throughout the duration of the funeral and be accompanied by smoking incense sticks, placed in a small holding pot. Someone must be on continuous watch ensuring the lantern is always filled with oil and the incense sticks are always smoking.
Twice each day, once in the morning and once in the evening, an offering must be made. This will either be a chicken or a pig, cooked or uncooked rice, water, and alcohol. Once darkness falls, a small group of people will gather in front of the coffin and chant for the spirit of the deceased. They will do this until sunrise. The chanting will explain to the deceased they are now going to heaven and admonishing them to no longer worry about all the descendants she or he has left behind. There will then be a special chanting ceremony to deliver the person to heaven. This will be done on the final night of the funeral. The next morning, the deceased will be buried.
As for all the guests who have come to assist with the whole procession, from deep in the night and into the morning, they will play cards, drink and be merry. Both men and women will be allowed into the circle to test their luck together. All the different games played during the night are meant to prevent sorrow and sadness from descending upon the home of the deceased. The funeral ceremony will go on for either three days and three nights, or it may be carried on for seven days and seven nights. It's up to the family to decide.
The burial ceremony
The Lisu do not have a special section of forest assigned especially to burials, but they do take extra special care in choosing the right location. If the deceased is to rest in peace, then a burial site must be selected that meets the criterion established by the Chinese tradition of Huang Jui. If the spirit of the deceased is happy, it will pass on success in selling and laboring to its friends, relatives and descendants. They will prosper; gold, silver and other valuables will increase and they will be happy. On the other hand, if a proper burial site, or one that meets the Huang Jui criterion, is not selected, then the spirit of the deceased is likely to come back and rain sickness and tragedy down upon its family and friends. No matter how hard they each labor, they will find themselves empty-handed. Once the funeral procession has reached the burial site, they will perform an egg toss to ask the spirit of the deceased if he/she is satisfied with the selected location. Precluding the egg toss, incense sticks will be lit and the spirit of the deceased will be summoned. Next, someone will throw an egg over his/her shoulder and onto the burial plot. If the raw egg cracks when it hits the ground then it is taken as a sign the deceased is pleased with the site selection. In the event the egg doesn't break, it is seen as a sign the deceased is not please and eggs will have to be tossed again another three times.If the eggs still don't break, then the egg tosser will have to change direction, tossing from a new location on the burial site. If the egg doesn't break on the first toss, then the toss must be repeated again two times, for a total of three tosses. If, after all this, the eggs refuse to break, then it can be concluded that the spirit of the deceased is not pleased with the site selection and a new location must be found. The raw egg tossing process will then have to be performed all over again to ask for the spirit's approval. Once a site has been found which meets the spirits approval, then the procession may begin to dig the hole. Once the hole is dug, then the coffin will be placed in the hole and covered up again with dirt. A prayer will be made to the spirit of the deceased for them to rest in peace and happiness; then, after the ceremony, the spirit of the deceased will go and announce the death of its body at the spirit house (ah-bpa-mo-hee). Following the announcement, the spirit of the deceased will wait to receive items of sacrifice from its descendants who have come to the burial site to make merit on Cheng Meng day, which occurs once a year. Once this has been done three times, the spirit will again report to the ah-bpa-mo-hee and ask either to be born again or to go on to heaven. Alternately, the spirit may go down to hell, depending on the amount of good and bad the person did during his/her lifetime. As for the descendants of the ancestral line, they will pay their respects to the deceased constantly at the ancestral altar located in the home of their sons. If a Lisu has no sons, then that person will be without a spirit altar and will have to live at the burial site. For this reason, it is very important to the Lisu to have at least one son to carry on the family line.Making sure the deceased has land to farm and food to eat
The Lisu believe that even after death, one still needs to work for food. In order to keep the deceased from going hungry, they purchase land and seeds to give to the deceased for use in the after-life. Land surrounding the burial site will have to be purchased from the spirits of the forest, the hills, and the pathways that pass through the site. These spirits are the real owners of this land. In order to buy the land from these spirits, coins will be tossed in each of the four cardinal directions surrounding the burial site. Next, rice, corn and many other plant and vegetable seeds will be sprinkled around the land purchased for the deceased so they can use it to harvest food for themselves in the spirit world. After sprinkling the seeds, silver coins will be tossed to the left side of the burial site. This is to purchase firewood from the local spirit for the deceased to use in cooking food. Next, silver coins will be tossed to the right side of the burial site to purchase water for the deceased to use for bathing and drinking. The spirit doctor or "Nee Pa" will say a prayer to the spirit of the deceased explaining that it has not yet risen up to be born again and in the meantime please live off the land here, which has been purchased for you. Do not go roaming around elsewhere for any reason.
The "Lee-hee-chua" merit-making ceremony
Held on the third day of the month of "Sa-ha" (the third month in the Lisu calendar), this ceremony is to make merit for the spirits of one's ancestors who have passed away already. The Lisu believe that if one is diligent about making merit for one's ancestors, and takes good care of the ancestors' burial site, then gold, silver and other valuables will come into one's life and one will prosper. To make merit to one's ancestors, one must go to the burial site and make an offering or sacrifice of either a chicken or a pig. After that, everyone will set to work cleaning up and maintaining the burial site. The "Lee-hee-chua" ceremony must be performed at least once every three years for each ancestral spirit. If the descendants are well-to-do, they may do this once a year. If one is short on cash, however, it's ok to wait and perform the ceremony when one can afford it.
The black magician
The black magician in Lisu is called the Neepha, and is the ceremonial leader of the village. To become a black magician, the villager will be in communion with the ancestral spirit. Some dream about their ancestor, are sick with fever, and maybe say strange things in their delirium.
The Lisu people believe that the person destined to be the black magician must take responsibility for the role; otherwise they face continuous unknown sickness. The Neepha will understand, and can recite, the ceremonies of the village because they can connect to the ancestral spirit.
The Neepha can be young or old, but the person that the ancestor chooses is usually a man. Each village will have 1-2 Neepha, although if it doesn’t, then the villagers will invite one when the village has a ceremony.
Before a ceremony, the house owner changes the water in the altar cup and prepares the leaf that is used in all Lisu ceremonies. After everything is prepared, the Neepha will give worship by igniting the joss sticks and candle in front of the altar. Then in a trance-like state, the internal spirit of the Neepha is in communion with the ancestral spirit, although he is unaware of it. Once the recital is complete, the Neepha will return to his body without remembering anything