The Goddess Mother Festival among the Dong


One of the main deities of the Dong is the goddess mother Shasui or Sama. Her name could be translated as the "great mother" or the "great ancestress."

There are diverse theories on the origin of the cult of the goddess mother Sama. Some authors think that it is a relic of the times when Dong society was matriarchal, whose myths have been enriched through history with new sources, especially the legend of Xingni, a heroine of the 10th century who led the Dong in fights against their enemies. According to these legends, defeated, she jumped from a cliff and disappeared. Others consider the goddess Sama to be only the heroine's deification, and since this heroine's history appears in the legends of the Dong with numerous details that allow its historical localization, such as the name of her parents and the village where she lived, her cult cannot go back to the time of Dong matriarchal society, but only to the 10th century, when she lived.

She is possibly the most important deity for the Dong. She is worshipped twice a month, on the first and fifteen day. During the year there are three occasions when special ceremonies honoring her are carried out, the seventh or third day of the first lunar month, the seventh day of the second lunar month and the seventh day of the eighth lunar month. On those days one of oldest people will pay homage to the goddess in her temple. Some times a woman is in charge of the ceremony, at other times a man (sometimes disguised as a woman). Meanwhile, the Dong people, in a festive atmosphere, meet in the drum tower or in the gate of the temple. They sing their poems of the creation and other religious songs related to the goddess. In some areas the young men leave the village to make a representation of the old battles in which the goddess led them. In some areas, only the women are allowed to join this festival and the men are forbidden to participate.

In each village there is a temple in honor of this Sama goddess, whose the entrance is usually not allowed to the strangers.

In summer time, when the agricultural activity is less intense, it takes place the biggest festival dedicated to Sama. During the same one great quantity of pigs, chickens and ducks are sacrificed in her honor; they offer her also incense and tea. An old person represents Sama. All the inhabitants of the village and the neighboring villages join the festival, they drink the tea of Sama and they place in their hair a bundle of flowers. The crowd sings and dances in honor of Sama, and some times competitions like bull fighting or cock fighting are carried out. The winners are received by the old person that represents Sama.

At the end they celebrate a great banquet in a long table where up to several thousand people can sit, during which husbands and daughters serve the married women.

At night it takes place a great party. The young people sing and dance until dawn. For many it is the occasion to find the love of their life.

Until some years ago this festival had an important warlike atmosphere, practically disappeared nowadays. Before, the young men were characterized as the army of Xingni, with arches and arrows, swords and lances. At the sound of a gunshot, they hurry immediately to the altar of Sama. Each young offered a cup of tea to the goddess, sang her song once again, and at the sound of another shot the soldiers of Xingni left the village running.

When they arrive to a place far away, they feigned to fight a battle, shooting a musketry discharge after another. They pass this way great part of the day. Before go back to the village, each person cut with the canyon of their rifle a grass of rice that represents the head of an enemy. With an air of victory they come back to the village.

When the battle finish, the time of peace arrive. They sing and dance at the rhythm of the lusheng, arriving to the center of the village and the square of the drum tower.

Suggested reading:
Guizhou shaoshu minzu jieri daguan (An outlook to the festivals of the national minorities of Guizhou). Guizhou Nationalities Press. Guiyang. 1991
Zhongguo shaosu minzu minsu da cidian (Great dictionary of the folklore of the minorities of China). Inner Mongolia Peoples Press. Hothot. 1995

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