The main characteristics of the Yao culture according to W. Eberhard

 

The main characteristic of this Yao culture was its productive system, namely slash and burnt dry-agriculture in the mountains. The main products were tuberous plants, apparently cultivated originally with the help of a planting stick and only since recently with a primitive plow. Alongside agriculture, hunting and food gathering played important roles.

The social system of the Yao was marked by absence of tribal organization and chieftaincy. The Yao were organized by clans with fixed patrilinear clan names, some of which could be traced throughout almost 2000 years. These clans were exogamous. Nevertheless, women played more than normally important roles in social life, but not so much that one could speak of matriarchal conditions. There were a sort of initiation and a kind of family shamanism. There were fertility festivals with considerable sexual freedom. At these festivals of human fertility free marriages were contracted but became legal not until the birth of the first child. Each nuclear family had his own house, a rectangular light house built on flat ground and with a gabled roof. The center of the house was occupied by the open-fire place.

The dead were buried in coffins that were exposed on mountain summits. Originally the coffin probably was simply a hollowed-out tree trunk. The religious system included ancestor worship, but no priesthood has been developed. Very typical were the cult of the dog and of the dog god, but these was evidence also for the cult of the tiger and for a tiger taboo.

Wolfram Eberhard .- The local cultures of south and east China. Brill, Leiden, 1968 (p.120)

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