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Wooden Drum Dance

Wooden Drum Dance

The Wooden Drum Dance is a folk dance popular among the Miao, Li and Wa ethnic groups in southwest Yunnan. During sacred ceremonies they dance while beating wooden drums which are cut from tree trunks and then hollowed out. The general wooden drum dance is one part of major sacrificial rites that involve everyone, and the drum is highly symbolic. The acts of beating the drum and dancing to the drum is descended directly from an ancient and primitive culture, with strong values based on ancestor worship and reverence for nature. 

The Wa minority group’s wooden drum dance of Cangyuan is widely practised throughout the counties of Yanshuai, Danjia, Nuoliang, Menglai ,Mengjiao and Banhong. Wooden drum dance arenas can be seen everywhere in Washan counties. Currently, there are more than 700 wooden drums ranging from big to small and 90% of the people can dance and sing with the drum.

Traditionally there are four stages of the dance, known as pulling the wooden drum, entering the wooden drum house, knowing the wooden drum and offering sacrifice to the wooden drum. At the start of the ceremony, Wa people of all ages dress up and dance around the wooden drum house to the beating of the drums. They start by showing respect to the wooden drum by kneeling and bowing, and then move around slowly counter-clockwise, waving hands and stamping feet.

First the dancers move diagonally one step to the right, bending a little backwards and swinging their hands towards the head. Then they mark time once with both hands swinging diagonally backwards and the body leaning forwards. These moves are repeated. Wooden drum dances continue throughout the sacrificial ceremony with dances based on the leading singer and mass singing.

The words of the songs tell of national history, sacrificial ceremonies, production and life.  As it speeds up the thundering drums, flying hair and energetic dancing represent the brave, diligent character of the Wa people as they strive to achieve a good life. Currently, many of the Wa Cangyuan wooden drum dances, such as “Gaoge Longmeng”, “Shuangfa dance” and “Jailin competition”, have become both popular and influential.

The wooden drum is regarded as a legendary divine instrument, the source of procreation and a key Wa historical and cultural symbol. It reflects folk dance, song, literature, art, achievement and religious belief. Apart from their intrinsic value the drum dances are also important to research into art, ethnology, folklore and religion. They have a unifying effect, and remain much loved.