Miao March Festival in 1894

 

As depicted by Mrs Pruen

In the spring of 1894, alter making enquiries for two years, we were able to be present at one of the Aboriginal festivals. Our coal and coke merchant, a Chinaman, invited us to his village home for the occasion, where his wife generously entertained our party. The festival took place at the full moon in March on a small plateau encircled by hill tops. We started after breakfast the day before full moon, and a few miles beyond Kuei-yang began ascending the hills, by midday reaching a wayside inn.

Next morning we watched the girls adorning themselves, they spent four hours at their toilette. The dress consisted of several suits of a very dark colour, the outer garments being a loose jacket, open in front like a sailor's, and a closely (accordion) pleated skirt, resembling a kilt, and like it reaching to just below the knee. The jackets were beautifully embroidered with coloured silks, and the skirt, seven yards wide, was also embroidered. Their hair was coiled slightly to one side and partly hidden by the number of broad-headed silver pins used, and all wore three or four silver necklaces.

At noon the dance began, from between the conical hills lads and lasses of sixteen to twenty years old came running down to the plateau, the youths wearing dark-coloured robes of various shades, girded with embroidered sashes crossed in front and folded at the back, and like the girls they had silver ornaments in their hair, while both had tassels or streamers falling down their backs; the youths also carried a six-tubed flute whose music resembles the bass of a harmonium.

In the centre of the plateau was a high pole, and round this sat the mothers; while forming a great circle around them were the youths and maidens, standing in groups of usually four maidens and three youths, outside these was another circle, and them a third one, making in all 400 dancers. At a given signal the lads played a few bars, and then waving their flutes in unison, each little group moved sideways on a few steps, the lassies taking the lead until they stopped, when the lads would play another few bars and then the group moved again. In this way all the groups moved on so that in time the whole circle and the other two circles had gone round the pole; and this the circles did several times until the sunset, when as they dispersed there was a general exchanging of necklaces, and we noticed that one lucky youth had twenty round his neck, so that he can hardly turn his head, but I could not speak their language to ask how he had got such a number.

The maidens staying at the house where we were came back for their evening meal, which only consisted of coarse red rice and dried beans fried in vegetable oil; but after supper the youths from other houses came serenading their sweethearts and soon we heard a general stampede. This dance and evening serenade continued for two more days, and then they all journeyed homewards till next year. The dance is held in the same place for three years running, when a new site is chosen. Judges xxi, 21 (1) may have been the same kind of dance.

(1) Judges xxi, 20 - So they instructed the Benjamites, saying, "Go and hide in the vineyards 21 and watch. When the girls of Shiloh come out to join in the dancing, then rush from the vineyards and each of you seize a wife from the girls of Shiloh and go to the land of Benjamin. (Bible- New International Version- 1901)

Mrs Pruen.- The Provinces of Western China, London, 1906

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