Aku Wuwu – Sacrifice to Fire – translated by Mark Bender and Lama Itzot


Translators’ Note: The Nuosu people are a part of the large Yi ethnic group in southwest China. The first stanzas of the poem recall the Nuosu creation myth transmitted in the ritual text the Book of Origins (Hnewo tepyy), which is full of lore on myth and history, the local environment and customary behaviour.  Fire is a key element in the creation story and in traditional Nuosu Yi homes the fireplace is a center of activity, including cooking; cremation on wooden pyres on a mountainside under the guidance of a bimo priest is the final stage of bodily existence. A huge host of malevolent ghosts are part of traditional worldview, and must be dealt with by ritual practice with a goal towards harmony and good living.  Helpful spirit forces are welcome, and young people are endowed with life forces; especially important is the ge fi force of young women. The poet recognizes that traditional knowledge is still of value in facing the challenges of this era. The words in italics are in Romanized Northern Yi language.

Aku Wuwu (1964-   ) writes poetry in both Yi and Chinese languages. He’s a literary critic, and a professor at Southwest University for Nationalities, Sichuan Province.  He has published more than 300 poems in Chinese and international periodicals.  His books Stream in Winter (1994) and Tiger’s Traces (1998) are the first collections of poetry ever written in modern Yi.  He has published four books of poetry in Chinese, Go beyond the Boundaries of Witches (1995), The Selected Poetry of Aku Wuwu (2004), The Appeal of Mississippi (2008), The Wizard’s Voice (2010).

Mark Bender is a professor of Chinese literature and folklore in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures, The Ohio State University.  His academic interests focus on performance traditions in China, East Asian folk literature and material culture, and poetry of the borderlands in and around China.  His publications include Plum and Bamboo: China’s Suzhou Chantefable Tradition (University of Illinois Press, 2003), Butterfly Mother: Miao (Hmong) Creation Epics from Guizhou Province, China (Hackett Publishing, 2006), Tiger Traces: Selected Nuosu and Chinese Poetry of Aku Wuwu (OSU Foreign Languages Publishers, 2006),The Columbia Anthology of Chinese Folk and Popular Literature (edited with Victor Mair, Columbia University Press, 2011), The Borderlands of Asia: Culture, Place, Poetry (Cambria, 2016), and The Nuosu Book of Origins: A Creation Epic from Southwest China (with Aku Wuwu and Jjivot Zopqu, University of Washington Press  2019.)

Lama Itzot is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Minzu University of China. Born in Huili County, Liangshan Prefecture in 1987, he is a bilingual Yi-Chinese poet, translator, and writer of literary criticism. Committed to the criticism of Chinese contemporary poetry and novels, and the study of Yi literature, he has published poems, novel reviews, and translations in periodicals and on online platforms. He is the author of the poetry collection: Revive the  Sun and Selected Works of Lama Itzot.