National Geographic : 1997 Jan
Naxi tradition that survives today. Rock's first article as GEOGRAPHIC expedition leader was about the Naxi dongbas, shamanistic priests who con ducted fantastic rituals-dancing, leaping into bonfires, dipping hands into burning oil to drive evil spirits from a sick person. Soon he began to translate ancient picto graph manuscripts that recounted the Naxi history and described their religious beliefs and rites, which are rooted in the ancient Bon traditions of Tibet. In this he relied heavily upon dongbas, for only those shamans had learned to read the pictographs. Eventually, sup ported in part by Harvard University, he completed two copiously footnoted Naxi histories and a 1,094-page Naxi dictionary. "What Rock did was very impor tant," emphasized Yang Fuquan, a Naxi specialist in the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences in Kunming, the pro- WITH STERN PIETY, TIBI vincial capital. "To- SIGNIFY THEIR RANK. RO day we can't get FOR THIS PHOTOGRAPH. information like he got from those passed-away priests." The Naxi culture suffered greatly during the Cultural Revolution, 1966-1976, when Naxi religious practices were banned and shamans were outlawed. But in the more relaxed China of today scholars want to explore that culture, and offi cials say the Naxi may return to their old beliefs if they wish. Rock's efforts to record Naxi lore are reckoned so important that Yun nan plans to erect a memorial to him. HEN HE SETTLED in Nguluko in 1922, at the age of 38, Rock called the vil lage "charmingly situated, if not overclean." The situation was important; besides exploring for the GEOGRAPHIC, Rock would collect plant specimens, and the mountains close by burgeoned with varieties of rhododen drons and other plants that might grow well in lJ 0 ETAN MOI iCK TURN Under the GEOGRAPHIC'S sponsor ship 60,000 plant specimens reached the U.S., pressed between paper. They were turned over to the Smithsonian Institution in Wash ington, D.C., to be shared with universities and botanical institutions. He sent seeds to the Department of Agriculture packed in pow dered charcoal to prevent them from drying out. (Some of his rhododendrons grow today in gardens in San Francisco and Seattle and in Great Britain.) He also sent 1,600 specimens of birds for American orni thologists to exam ine. Rock collected thousands of addi tional tree and shrub specimens with the financial support of Harvard's Arnold Arboretum. People in Nguluko recall that Rock trained a Naxi cook to prepare Western style meals. He was NKS GRASP STAFFS THAT the onlyvillager who ED THEIR HATS SIDEWAYS ate with a knife and fork. And he usually ate alone. A lifelong bachelor, Rock had many friends in Europe and America, but when he recount ed his China experiences, "he never spoke of a buddy, someone to have a couple of shots with," remembers Paul Weissich, retired director of the Honolulu Botanical Gardens. Weissich knew Rock in his last years and was executor of Rock's modest estate. "He was so oriented toward scholarship that I think he had little time for friendship." Sometimes he took a missionary or another Westerner on his journeys. Once he took Edgar Snow, the American journalist who chronicled the rise of the Chinese communists in the 1930s and '40s. But, rigid and demanding, Rock inevitably found fault with his companions and parted company. He thought Snow naive and grum bled that one missionary was too full of "brotherly love and sweet words." That the intrepid explorer yearned for National Geographic,January1997 the U.S. And the conifers, ferns, and other flora, if not of practical value, were of interest to scholars.