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Major Festivals in Yunnan

Major Festivals in Yunnan

Water-Splashing Festival of the Dai Ethnic Minority Groups

The Water-Splashing Festival is a traditional festival of the Dai people in Xishuangbanna and other places. It is the most ceremonious festival of the Dai minority group. It is celebrated ten days before or after Tomb-Sweeping Day and lasts three to seven days. Water-Splashing Festival is part of the New Year in the Dai calendar. It was once a religious ceremony in Indian Brahmanism and was later absorbed by Buddhism. After, it was passed to the Dai group in Yunnan Province through Burma. It has a history of more than seven hundred years. Currently, the convention of water-splashing has become a form of mutual wishing between ringing out the old and ringing in the new. For the Dai People, water is a symbol of sanctity, beauty and brightness. They think that only water can help growth everything on earth. 

There are some activities including launching rockets and dragon boats rowing the night before the Water-Splashing Festival. People decorate their houses ceremoniously so that the doorframe and window of every house pasted with various paper cutters. Decorated archways, the top of which stand a golden peacock symbolize happiness and good luck. They are also put up on the main streets in the town. The second day is known as “Neuter Day.” This day is considered neither the old nor the New Year. On this day, according to local customs, people stay at home or hunt in the mountains.

The New Year day falls on the third day of the year. In the early morning, the Dai people dress up to go to the Buddhist Temple to worship Buddha. They make three to five pagoda-shaped sand piles about one meter tall, as well as placing eight bamboo twigs wrapped in red and green strips. Following this, they sit around the pagodas listening respectfully to scripture and historical legends, while praying for good weather and many offspring. After this the Dai people bring clean water to the Buddhist Temple to worship Buddha. They bathe the Buddha first and begin to splash water with one another for good luck, happiness and health. They believe that the more water that is splashed, the luckier and happier he or she will be. Water-Splashing also symbolizes the blessing rinsing away sickness and disaster with holy water for a happy life. At night, music accompanied by drumbeats surround the village and people dance and sing to their hearts' content. Dai People also invite people from other ethnic minorities and tourists to splash water as part of the festival.

Besides water-splashing, there are many conventional activities during the Water-splashing Festival. Usually, children cut down bamboos to make a squirt gun and play water game. People climb the mountain group by group to pick up wild flowers to make a “flower house.” Young people who haven’t married throw special bags to pay court to each other. Also, people light up Gaosheng fireworks and Kongming Lamps to memorialize the wisdom of Zhuge Liang from ancient Three Kingdoms.

Water-Splashing Festival of the De'ang Minority Groups

The Water-Splashing Festival is also celebrated by the De'ang minority groups around the same time. It is similar to that of the Dai peoples. As the festival is close, people are busy with preparing new clothes, rice cakes, water dragons and barrels. The elders gather in the temple and build a small room where the worship of Sakyamuni takes place. The water dragon, carved out of a huge wood block that is four to five meters long stands tall. It is painted and carved with grooves.

In the morning girls carry a basin full of water, which flow to the figure of Buddha in the small room through a groove. The elders of prestige then carry flowers, which they dip in water first and splash the water on people to bless them with good luck and a good start for the New Year. At this time, people exchange New Years greetings with one another. Young people lift barrels of water on top of their heads, pouring water to bless everyone with a happy life, good health and longevity. The elders extend their hands and hold water to greet and bless young people. After this ceremony people form a line behind the elephant like drum and start singing, dancing, chasing and splashing each other.

The Water-Splashing Festival is also an opportunity to seek lovers. Sending out a bamboo basket is popular among the De'angs. Late at night, boys visit girls and present baskets to them. The most beautiful one is kept for his beloved girl to express his love and to receive feedback from her. Thus, every girl gets several baskets, but the final lover is determined and the answer is revealed at the Water-Splashing Festival depending on whose basket the girl will carry. That day, every girl carries a pretty basket and boys observe the baskets on the girls’ backs to see which one is theirs. When two lovers meet they splash water on each other to express happiness and excitement.

Water-Splashing Festival of the Achang Minority Groups

The Achang ethnic minority celebrates the same Water-Splashing Festival as the Dai ethnic minority. It is also a good opportunity for the unmarried to choose their lovers, similarly to the De’ang people. Girls’ families often prepare eight delicious dishes to welcome the boys coming to court them. Only when all the guests have arrived can everyone be seated. One boy has to walk off with a chicken’s head from the girl’s family under cover and drink wine. If the girl discovers the chicken head it is considered punishment. However, if the girl doesn’t discover it, she must drink. If the pilferer is caught on the spot, he will not only be punished but also teased by girls. After the meal, he has to give money to the girl based on the cost of the dishes without anyone noticing.

The Torch Festival

The Torch Festival is a traditional and important festival celebrated among various ethnic groups in southwestern China, including the Yi, Bai, Lisu, Naxi, Jinuo and Lahu minority groups and so on. It is described as the “Carnival of the East.” The Torch Festival is characteristic of folk culture. The festival features lighting torches, hence its name. The celebration period differs from one minority to another. It often falls on the 24th day of June of the lunar calendar and is celebrated for three days. Moreover, different minority groups have different versions of the origin of the festival. Commonly, however, it is related to worshiping fire by ancestors, who believed that fire could repel insects, drive away evil spirits, find the spirit of martyr, and protect crop growth. For some ethnic groups it is a tradition in the festival for elders to share farming experience with young people. The main activities during this festival include bull fighting, goat fighting, chicken fights, horse racing, wrestling, singing and dancing, and beauty contest, and so on.

On the first day of the Torch Festival they worship fire. On this day, people dress in their favorite clothes, as well as slaughter cows and goats to celebrate. The villages are filled with the smell of meat and wine. At night, people from different villages gather at the location that the elders chose beforehand to build an altar. Then, they make a fire in the most traditional way, by hitting rocks against each other. After the fire erupts, the santero read scriptures. People will then take the torches that the santero have lit to walk around the fields driving away insects.

On the second day, also known as “Torch Relay,” people gather at the holy fire of the altar for various activities. Boys imitate Atirabbah by racing horses, wrestling, singing, dancing, and so on. Girls imitate Ashima by putting on beautiful clothes and opening their umbrellas, singing and dancing. The most important activity on this day is the beauty contest. The elders select the most beautiful boy and girl according to their standard as the boys must be brave and handsome like Atirabbah and the girls as kind and beautiful as Ashima. At night, couples scatter throughout the valleys. Thus, the festival is also called the, “Valentine’s Day of the East.”

On the third day, the people send fires. This is the climactic aspect of the Torch festival. At night, all the people carry torches while chasing each other. In the end, they will gather all the torches to create a huge bonfire. People gather around the bonfire to sing and dance to their heart’s desire. The view is marvelous. Thus, it is named the “Carnival of the East.”

Other activities like arrow shooting, tugs-of-wars and swinging are also found during the festival. There are also trade fairs during this time. In some areas, various religious rituals are performed to pray for a harvest. In a horse race of the Yi people in Yunnan, torches are used to form multiple hurdles for riders to get through, while the Hani people traditionally attach various fruits to torches with strings. When the strings are broken after the torches are lit, people scramble for the fruits in search of good luck. For the Lisu people in Sichuan, the festival is an occasion for holding grand torch parades. Big torches are carried by the procession, and appears like a fire dragon.