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Bronze Drum Dance

The Bronze Drum Dance

The Bronze Drum Dance is one of the most widespread and influential of the ancient dances among the Zhuang and Yi ethnic groups in Wenshan in the Zhuang and Miao Ethnic Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province. The tradition is maintained in the Zhuang and Yi villages of Guangnan, Malipo, Funing, Xichou, Maguan and Qiubei counties. The most representative bronze drum dance is that of the Zhuang and Yi ethnic groups of Guangnan County, Xinzhai Village in Malipo County and several Bailuo subsidiaries of Muyang village in Funing County.

The oldest bronze drum recovered so far in Guangnan County is the Shaguo drum, dating back to the Warring States Period over 2000 years ago. At that time it was both a symbol of power, and a divine instrument to drive away evil and pray for good fortune, or a percussion instrument of the god of entertainment.

Bronze drums formed part of the traditional worship of ancestors and nature among the Wenshan, Zhuang and Yi people. The Yi saw the bronze drum as the wisest of all creatures, believing that it would carry their prayers and petitions to gods and ancestors via the drumming and dancing. Zhuang people, however, believed that beating the bronze drum and dancing would drive away evil and bring good fortune.

Dancers move counter-clockwise in a circle, keeping time with the drums.  The moves reflect daily farming and other activities of the Zhuang and Yi ethnic groups. The Zhuang people from Magui village in Naxi town own 12 sets of specific dance movements, reflecting the monthly production cycle. The bronze drum dances from Malipo and Funing villages are mainly used for folk activities such as praying for rain and good harvest or for funerals.

The bronze drum dances of the Zhuang and Yi people remain popular. Many of the movements are simple and ancient. The Zhuang dances involve one person beating the drum while another uses a wooden box to improve resonance, which is unique to this musical performance. The Yi use a special technique in which two drums perform twelve combination tones. The male drum is said to symbolize the sun and the female drum the moon. The twelve tones stand for twelve months, thus the Yi bronze drum dances also reflects the 12-month production cycle, as well as honoring ancestors. Traditional culture, along with historical connotations such as national existence and development, gives a specific characteristic to these ancient dances.

With increasing exposure to external culture, Zhuang and Yi youth are in danger of losing interest or understanding of their ethnic traditional culture, and the number of bronze drum dancers is declining; there is a danger that it will be lost unless steps are taken to protect and preserve it.