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Travelogue 2010-01-01 Ethnic Odyssey 1: Xishuangbanna - Dai Minority

01-01-2010 06:40 BJT

Wash away the old and splash in the new with the Dai people of Yunnan. Load your water guns because water-splashing festival is here!

Variety of landscape and diversity of people. Welcome to Travelogue’s Ethnic Minority Series! Today, we’re in Xishuangbanna, which is the home of the Dai people in Yunnan. It happens to be a very special day, the Dai New Year, otherwise known as Water Splashing Festival. You know, you’re about to get wet. So come with me on this first episode, just the beginning. This means war!

The annual Water-Splashing Festival is the most important holiday for the Dai people. It’s celebrated on New Year’s Day according to the Dais’ own calendar – typically in the middle of April.

The Dai people see water as symbolic of goodness, purity, and holiness. There’s nothing like washing away the old, and bringing in the New Year with a refreshed, cleaner you. Right.

I have the ultimate shield now, which is going to keep me from getting wet. This is how I’m spending the rest of my day.

Lucky for me, it’s believed the wetter you get, the luckier you will be in the upcoming year. Along the roadsides, young and old armed with water guns and buckets drench each other in blessings.

It was definitely my most unforgettable New Year’s blessing.

The Dai ethnic minority reside in the southern part of Yunnan Province, mainly in the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture. Xishuangbanna in the Dai language means "twelve administrative areas." Here, the Dai are the most populous ethnic group.

Xishuangbanna is rich in natural resources and culture, largely thanks to the Lancang River, which flows through the area. This water source is thought of as the heart and soul of the local people.

Essential to Dai culture is Buddhism. There are many temples dotting the countryside and it’s common to see people in them, chanting the scriptures and celebrating the religious holidays – like Water-splashing festival.

An important part of Water Splashing Festival is the parade. It’s held in the city of Jinhong, and it reflects the importance of Dai culture, as all these lovely Dai ladies walk along this street and the float is following behind us. Although today it seems a bit rainy, people are still excited and ready for the water splashing.

Now if you’re not a fan of getting soaked, attending the parade is a good option. I arrived just in time to see the beautiful ladies on the floats. Hi! Young and old come to strut their stuff, or simply spread good wishes for the New Year.

Locals and visitors from all over the world gather to take part in the festivities. What a colorful display of Dai traditional dances, instruments, and costumes.

The traditional Dai clothes are mostly made of home-spun cloth with intricate and beautiful patterns. The women’s attire is typically tight and compliments the figures of the Dai ladies, who mostly wrap their long hair in a bun, and are well-known for their soft beauty.

Dressed brightly and colorfully, the people are definitely the highlight of the show.

Since ancient times, Dai textiles have been widely admired. The clever and skillful women make items for themselves and their loved ones. In their work, they capture beautiful scenes from nature, their lives, and religion. Their imagination does most of the work. From purses, scarves and mats, to clothing – it’s these hands that so beautifully create such lovely items.

It’s only a small village, but it still has its clothing store.

Wow. It seems like the Dai people are known not just for their natural beauty, but also for the beauty of their clothing. At shops like these, you can have your clothing made.

Yin: Can you get that one for me? I want to try it. The blue one is nice.

Wow, this is something that could relay suit me well. The cloth is wrapped around like this. Well, it doesn’t really fit, but anyway: How do I look? Like a Dai person? Maybe I should try something else as well. So this one is the more mature look, the more professional? How do I look? Not sure about the shorts. Typically, something like this is worn with a skirt. The long Dai skirts. Haha, obviously this is not my size. Tow of me could fit in here. Who says I can’t be a Dai beauty. That’s right. It’s all about the outfit.

There is a beautiful place. The Dai people are born and live here. Dense villages are all connected. The twisting river waters are clear and crisp.

In the afternoon, I took a stroll to this small village. In a typical two-story bamboo house, I met a young Dai lady.

Yuwen told me she’s just got married and is living with her husband and in-laws. She’s a typical Dai girl, leading a very busy life. Every morning she works in the fields and she spends her afternoons busy around the house. She’s been to the city, but prefers life here at home. Now, her family has opened a traditional Dai restaurant and hotel for tourists to experience the local life. Many of their neighbors are doing the same, since business is very good. She took me to a place just a few minutes away.

Yes, business is good indeed. People from all over the world have come here to enjoy a Dai family feast. Yum, look at that delicious food. Hmmm…wonder what all those dishes taste like?

Glad you could join me and welcome to the feast. Here, the local Dai people eat spicy and sour foods. Those are their favorites. I can’t recognize all their dishes. I know this is fish and this is duck and I’m not sure. I’ll have to try it out. Looks good.

There is nothing that makes a great dinner better than great dessert. And today we’re gonna try to make a Dai local dessert. The ingredients are right here. This looks like a bucket of cement, but it’s made up of glutinous rice, brown sugar, white sugar, and peanuts. It’s wrapped in a plantain leaf. I’m going to make one myself. So, you take two plantain leaves and scoop some of this. Well, which one looks better?

So here we have our hotel/motel. And for a pretty cheap price, you can experience a night in a Dai house. You’ve got everything you need. A pillow, a mattress. And you have this curtain for privacy. I’m gonna call it a night, so see you tomorrow morning.

You might not know it, but Water Splashing Festival actually has its roots in religion, and people will go pray and make sacrifices during this time. Many Dai boys enter the village temple at age 7 or 8, where they dress in the burnt orange robes of the monks. In their teens, if they wish, they can retire from the monastic life and settle down and marry.

It’s early morning and the drums are already banging. Must be to welcome the New Year. There are all these monks around me. What are they doing? Let’s check it out.

The Water Splashing Festival is also known as the Festival for Bathing the Buddha. The festival is associated with the Buddhist legend of the dragon sprinkling fragrant showers on the Lord Buddha at his birth. The Dai people dress in their finest to celebrate this religious holiday. They attend ceremonies to pray in the temples and wipe the dust off the statues of Buddha.

They belong to the Southern Sect of Buddhism, which was introduced into Yunnan from Myanmar in the 7th century. The Southern Buddhists are, in turn, divided into four smaller sects.

Here we have the final location for the paraders. You can see the importance of the monastery and Buddhism in people’s lives.

Today, the highest-ranking monks chant prayers before the water and bless it. Hordes of devout Dai surround the water and pray, too. Although not a Buddhist myself, I can still sense the climate of unity and spirituality

Afterwards, the water is allowed to pour towards the statue of the Buddha, and to wash him. The water’s been collected, and I made a few wishes for the coming year.

One of the most important rituals is the holy water ceremony. This is when people fetch water from their homes and bring it to the monastery. Here at the monastery the monks chant scriptures before the water, which becomes holy. After that, people try to return the water to their bottles. And they’ll have happiness throughout their lives, throughout the year for their families and for themselves. Let’s try to get hold of some water.

Besides washing the Buddha, the festival is an occasion for families and friends to gather together. Everyone has something to enjoy.

The girls have some special activities of their own. At the fair, they can test their luck by drawing slips of paper and working out their fortunes.

The weather in Yunnan in April is perfect, and plenty of people come to the fair to celebrate the holiday and continue the merriment. I’ve decided to take a trip to the market to see what people are buying for the holiday. I’ve found food, games, and so on.

So you see this is how the Dai people bring in the New Year. Just like Spring Festival for the Han people. Today there’s so many people here and the sun is a bit strong, so I’m going to take a break. You want to see this for yourself. You gotta come here.

What’s going on here is called Gan3 bai3. There are all sorts of exotic foods here that you’ve never seen before. The old folk gather and talk about their hobbies and their grandchildren, while the young people catch up on the latest gossip. With so many people around, it’s no wonder that a place like this is a hot dating spot.

Did you know that Yunnan has the greatest variety of ethnic minorities of any province in China? Similarly, this rainforest also has the greatest variety of biodiversity and plant species. Around me, there are so many types of vegetation, small grasses, medium-sized plants, and taller trees. They grow in different layers. Just like vegetation, you can find many types of animals as well.

This layered forest is home to plenty of wildlife. Look at me, I’m the king of the jungle!

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my. But in this jungle, you can find animals that are living in the wild, like the monkeys over there. I brought a little snack for them and maybe they can try some of this bread. Want some, buddy? I guess he’s a little shy. Everybody loves a good treat.

See these cute little monkeys. Besides being adept tree-climbers, they’ve also become Olympic swimmers.

Layers and layers of vegetation, flowing water, and clean air make this place paradise.

It’s also the home of the peacock – a bird the Dai people view as the symbol of beauty, kindness, and good fortune. Peacocks feature prominently in their clothing and embroidery designs, dance, and songs. Look, is he showing off?

Every village here has a monastery. Early each morning, the locals come to pray. It’s the tradition. They donate money to the temple. The younger people accompany the elderly to pray for blessings in the New Year. The young pray for the elders, and the elders pray for the young. They also bring gifts and food, including a local favorite – glutinous rice snack. In the modern world, these people are preserving their traditional customs. This is Dai culture.

When they’re not quietly praying, the Dai love to sing and dance.

The Peacock Dance is the best-loved dance of the Dai. It’s based on folk tales and stories from scripture. The steps imitate the movements of the peacock.

To celebrate the coming of the New Year, Dai ladies perform a special dance. The movements are meant to flow, like water. The steps are feminine and reserved – like their personalities. I’m going to give it a try.

So you see, push, push, push, back. The movements really flow. Very smooth. More practice before I make it perfect.

A Dragon Boat Race is held on the Lancang River every year as well. People row in from the surrounding villages to take part. There are men’s teams and women’s teams, and they all wear uniforms to create a team spirit. They work hard, but play even harder.

It’s time for the opening ceremony.

This is a pretty grand sight. The Dai people’s love for the water is displayed in the sport—the dragon boat race. There are both men and women contestants. Let’s see how they do in the race. And they’re off, ladies and gentlemen.

So many oars moving in unison – they really look like the legs of a long dragon racing through the water.

And the after-race party.

It’s night, and people are still by the Lancang River. With fireworks lighting up the sky in a zillion different colors, they send their blessings by water. They write on little lamps. The bright hues light up the surface of the glistening water, like tiny stars. Quietly and peacefully, they spread their wishes far and wide. I’m gonna make a new year’s resolution as well. But what it is – that’s a secret.

The huge balloons being released into the sky are called Kongming Lanterns. They were the world’s first hot air balloons – invented by military strategist Zhuge Liang nearly 2,000 years ago, as a means of sending signals. Today, they’re used at holidays to spread good wishes.

Surrounded by the sound of firecrackers, the sight of fireworks, and the bright fire here, we get to think that the Dai people are brightening up our world, like the fire. And you know, they are just one of the ethnic minorities in China. So stick with us next time as we take a look at some of the others. I’m Yin and see you next time on Travelogue.

Tips:

Dai women are industrious, reserved, and gently beautiful. The men are modest, easy-going, and refined.

The Dai language is elegant, and their food sumptuous.

In all aspects of their culture, the Dai display a certain fluid soft personality, like flowing water, calm and peaceful.

Editor:James |Source: CCTV.com

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