The Jingpo flower language


Jingpo youth have developed a complex communication system, unique in China. It involves the use of leaves and parts of vegetables to transmit messages between each other. In this system, each leaf may have a meaning. Sometimes the meaning depends on the shape of the leaf or flower, at other times it relates to its name or to a symbolic relationship that only the Jingpo understand.

For example, when the flower known in English as pansy is placed in the path of the beloved, this means that a proposal is being considered. Rejections may also be conveyed through other floral or leafy expressions secreted in places known to those communicating, such as in a tree.

This is an example of how Jingpo youth use a series of floral message exchanges that help them define their positions and feelings in relation to each other. The combination of particular leaves containing their own individual meanings allow for the creation of fairly complex messages. These messages are usually placed in a location where the recipient will find them.

Jingpo youth enjoy sexual freedom before marriage. In the past, there used to be open houses where young people could freely meet at night. Now, parents set up a special room for their daughters to receive the young men who visit them. The different phases of the seduction process are invariably conducted through singing.

All Jingpo young women know how to sing and to create messages through leaf combinations before getting married. Young men and women exchange songs that can be heard everywhere 'till the night. A special occasion for young people to meet is during the Planting Flowers Festival in the second lunar month.

Their premarital sexual life is tremendously rich; in fact, among the Jingpo it is not uncommon to see girls of thirteen or fourteen start to join the boys in singing and courtship activities. If there is a pregnancy, the girl's family takes care of the baby; the mother suffers no disapproval from society.

But all this freedom disappears after marriage. Marriage is strictly regulated; those who violate marital restrictions are punished with strong punishments that can even involve the death penalty for men and exile for women.

In a family, young women usually get married in order of age. If one gets married before her elder sisters, she has to pay them compensation. When a young woman from one family marries a young man from another a historical link is established between the two families. Women from the same clan can marry men from the other one. They are not allowed to marry cousins bearing the same name.
Wedding expenses are very high. All arrangements are set through mediators from each side. Before the wedding a complex ritual is carried out with strong religious connotations, called "Crossing the Straw Bridge", marking the way for the newly-wed bride.

In English, the word "florid" is used to express flowery language. As we can see from the above, the Jingpo give true meaning to this term in their unique system of courtship communication.

Suggested reading: Jin Liyan.- The Jingpo, leaf-letters and straw-bridges. 1995. Kunming: Yunnan Educational Press.

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