The implications of ritual practices and ritual plant uses on nature conservation: a case study among the Naxi in Yunnan Province, Southwest China
BACKGROUND: Conservation of biodiversity is primary important of today's critically vulnerable environment. Efficient conservation can be possible only with the long-term participation and understanding of the communities. Ritual beliefs of the indigenous people are one of the important tools to understand the local communities and aid the nature conservation. In this paper, we documented contemporary ritual practices and ritual plant uses among the Naxi people and discussed the importance of traditional knowledge on ritual practice in the conservation of plants in the mountains presenting a case study of the Dongba culture.METHODS: This study was carried out from July in 2013 to July in 2014. To document and analyze the present state of the ritual plant used by the Naxi people we conducted an ethnobotanical survey. We interviewed local people including Dongba priests using the semi-structured questionnaire. During the field study, we participated in the local religious activities to witness the use of different plants in ritual activities of the Naxi people. We interviewed twenty-two key informants and eleven of them were male. All the specimens of documented species were collected and deposited at the herbarium of Kunming Institute of Botany.RESULTS: The survey results revealed the Naxi people possessed sound knowledge of the traditional ritual plants and great diversity of plants used in many of Naxi rituals and festivals. From the survey, we documented 32 ritual plant species belonging to 24 genera of 17 families used in various ritual activities. The ritual plants were grouped into two categories, namely those burned as incense, and those used for decoration. The incense plants like Olea europaea subsp. cuspidata and Pistacia weinmanniifolia were probably promising natural aromatic resource. Plants of genus Quercus were the most frequently used species. The places for ritual activities were diverse, such as the incense burners inside and outside the house and sacred trees at the Baishuitai. Local people except the young generation had an abundant of traditional knowledge.CONCLUSIONS: Our study shows the live ritual activities and the beliefs of the residents are keeping the plant diversity and the entire forest preserved as sacred mountains. Our study emphasizes traditional belief and an alternative view of conservation that is not led mainly by governmental policies, as local practices and ritual plants uses play as constant reminders to the Naxi on nature conservation. However, further research is recommended for in-depth understanding the role of traditional belief in biodiversity conservation.