“The fear of disease lies heavily upon the Nou-su people, and their disregard of the most elementary sanitary laws makes them very liable to attacks of sickness. They understand almost nothing about medicine, and consequently resort to superstitious practices in order to ward off the evil influences. When it is known that disease has visited a neighbor’s house, a pole, seven feet long, is erected in a conspicuous place in a thicket some distance from the house to be guarded. On the pole an old ploughshare is fixed, and it is supposed that when the spirit who controls the disease sees the ploughshare he will retire to a distance of three homesteads.
“A fever called No-ma-dzi works great havoc among the Nou-su every year, and the people are very much afraid of it. No person will stay by the sick-bed to nurse the unfortunate victim. Instead, food and water are placed by his bedside and, covered with his quilt, he is left at the mercy of the disease. Since as the fever progresses the patient will perspire, heavy stones are placed on the quilt, that it may not be thrown off, and the sick person take cold. Many an unfortunate sufferer has through this strange practice died from suffocation. After a time the relatives will return to see what course the disease has taken. This fever seems to yield to quinine, for Mr. John Li has seen several persons recover to whom he had administered this drug. When a man dies, his relatives, as soon as they receive the news, hold in their several homes a feast of mourning called by them the Za. A pig or sheep is sacrificed at the doorway, and it is supposed that intercourse is thus maintained between the living persons and the late departed spirit. The near kindred, on hearing of the death of a relative, take a fowl and strangle it; the shedding of its blood is not permissible. This fowl is cleaned and skewered, and the mourner then proceeds to the house where the deceased person is lying, and sticks this fowl at the head of the corpse as an offering. The more distant relatives do not perform this rite, but each leads a sheep to the house of mourning, and the son of the deceased man strikes each animal three times with a white wand, while the Peh-mo (priest or magician) stands by, and announcing the sacrifice by calling ‘so and so,’ giving of course the name, presents the soft woolly offering.
“Formerly the Nou-su burned their dead. Said a Nou-su youth to me years ago, ‘The thought of our friends’ bodies either turning to corruption or being eaten by wild beasts is distasteful to us, and therefore we burn our dead.’ The corpse is burnt with wood, and during the cremation the mourners arrange themselves around the fire and chant and dance. The ashes are buried, and the ground leveled. This custom is still adhered to among the Nou-su of the independent Lolo territory or more correctly Papu country of Western Szech’wan. The tribesmen who dwell in the neighborhood of Weining and Chao-t’ong have adopted burial as the means of disposing of their dead, adding some customs peculiar to themselves.