The Buyang and the Banana Leaves


The Buyang is one of these small ethnic groups almost lost in the mountainous areas of Southwest China of which culture only are known fragmentary and some times contradictory facts.

The name Buyang or Yang (as "Bu" means in the Kam -Dai family of languages "tribe" or "ethnic group" is the way call themselves at least three ethnic groups separated several hundred kilometers.

1. The better known and studied by ethnologists and linguists are those living in Funing and Guangnan counties in Wenshan Prefecture, Yunnan Province. They are a little more than one thousand, mostly concentrated in five villages in Gula Township of Funing County. They are officially considered part of the Zhuang nationality and most of them can speak the local Zhuang dialect and local Chinese dialect.

2. Living in Napo County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region there is another group of about one thousand people who also call themselves Buyang. They are officially considered Yao. Some Chinese scholars, as Liang Min (1) who was maybe the first to study their language consider that they are different from Yunnan Buyang. Other, as Li Jinfang (2) include this two groups of Buyang under the same ethnicity, with a population that will reach 2,000 people, but still consider that they speak two dialects with great differences.

3. In Yilang County, Kunming Municipality, there is a village inhabited by people who also call themselves Buyang.

Besides, Liang Min affirms that the name "Buyang" is also utilized by some Zhuang populations around Nanning to denominate people living in Tanluo and Fusi townships near Nanning.

The languages of the two main groups of Buyang belong to the Kam Dai family. They are related to two languages spoken also by two small ethnic groups living near them: The Laji and the Pubiao.

There is no definitive information about the history of the Buyang ethnic group. Some scholars consider that they are descendants of populations that established the Yelang Kingdom (a powerful political entity that flourished in the west of Guizhou Province about 2,000 years ago). Others think that in the Ming and Qing dynasties, the Buyang inhabited some areas of Guizhou Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, but that they slowly merged with Zhuang and Buyi populations living around them.

As the Pubiao people living in Malipo track their origin to the big cave of Pumei, in Funing County, other think that maybe the Buyang have the same origin.

The own mythic history of those living in Funing and Guangnan, tells about a migration that, after suffering many difficulties, lead them to their present territory.

Among the Buyang of Guangnan the worship to ancestors is the most important. Every year on the first day of the sixth lunar month they worship them, remembering the difficulties of their migration. Because Buyang legends says that when their ancestors were on the road they forget time and, in the month of June they thought it was New Year, the time to worship ancestors, so they improvised an altar with banana leaves and worshipped them. Later they discovered it was not yet the time, but kept the ceremony on the sixth lunar month to remember their migration.

The night before their New Year they change the banana leaf that is kept in their home's incense-pot; this banana leaf represents the souls of their ancestors. And after it they sacrifice a chicken, a duck and a goose to them.

Before the day clear all the ceremonies must finish. After sun raise the whole village starts to receive guests.

(1) Liang Min.- Buyang language. In Yunnan Minority Language Commission and SIL International. Yunnan Tesgu Yuyan Yanjiu. Yunnan nationalities Press. 2004
(2) Li Jinfang.- Haba Buayng yu gaikuang (Overview of the Buyang language in Haba). Minzu Yuwen, 2003-04.
(3) Paul Hattaway in Operation China (2000) considers that the Buyang and the Bunong are the same people with a total population of 3.000. But he offers only vague facts about their life and culture.

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