Notice of the Xiangtang ethnic group

 

The Xiangtang ethnic group is a branch of the Yi nationality with a population of around 85.000. Most of them are widely dispersed in some counties in west and south Yunnan, usually in hilly terrains, with poor lands and bad communications. Some of the counties whit more Xiantang living inside are: Zhenyuan County in Puer Prefecture, Jinghong City in Xishuanbanna Prefecture and Longling County in Baoshan Prefecture.

In Longling County there are 4,500 Xiangtang. Most of them are farmers who keep their traditional religion. The use to carve a kind of wooden figures of their ancestors, that are worshipped by the people. In sowing time they pay cult to some tress asking for a good harvest. Their main festivals are Chinese New Year and Torch Festival, and their main musical instruments the lusheng and suona.

The economic situation of the Xiangtang people in Longlin County is described in a Longling County Minority Development Program

The Xiangtang branch people of the Yi nationality live in high-cold mountain areas and rocky mountain areas featuring harsh natural conditions, high altitude, large rainfall, cold weather and barren land, their income comes mainly from the agriculture that depends on nature. The farmers have followed the means of production of slash-and-burn cultivation for thousands of years.
Dry land is the fundamental farming resource, there is little paddy field. The grain crops are corn, potato and buckwheat, shortage of grain is serious; the melons and vegetables include pumpkin, wax gourd, towel gourd, radish, pepper, eggplant, cucumber, cabbage, etc; the cash crop is mainly tea. Some minority villages get some income by picking wild fungi.
The stockbreeding develops slowly, for example, a family at Huanglianhe raises 1-2 pigs and families raise a head of farm cattle on average.
Handicraft is mainly done in the slack season. There are few handicraftsmen at the village. Except for self-use, there has not been a large-scale production for merchandise.

A personal informant from Xishuangbanna speaks also of hard economic difficulties and poor transportation (five hours from Jinghong City).

In Zhenyuan County (Puer Prefecture) live most of the Xiangtang communities, altogether about 50.000 people, dispersed and mixed with other minorities populations.

Among them there are some interesting love customs. The exchange of gifts between the lovers serves as a book of hidden messages. The girl usually sends the boy she likes a piece of salt (symbol of her feelings) enveloped in a banana leaf (symbol of youth for its green colour). After receive it the boy knows that he can start the visits that will end in their wedding. If, after his first's approaches, she does not like him, she usually sends him a fly enveloped in the banana leaf.

When the boy goes for the first time to the girl's home, the way she and her family receive him also has a clear meaning for them. If the family opens the two doors to receive him, it means that they like him and agree to the wedding. If there is only one door open, is that the family (left) or her (right) did not agree.

If they make and omelet is that the girl has no feeling.

If she cooks some dishes with onion or garlic, means that she does not like him.

If she cooks with fennel stalks means that she likes him.

In Xishuangbanna, Jinghong City there is also some Xiangtang people. In their villages, usually composed by about 30 families, old ladies are still dressed with their traditional clothes. Other women wear them only in weddings or in the festivals. Their main festival is the Big Year (Chinese New Year) but they celebrate also the Small Year (January 15th) and the Torch Festival. In some places is most important the Baisejia (Xiangtang New Year), celebrated lunar Febreaury, 8th.

Baisejia in Xiangtang language means "hero". The origin of this festival can be found in a beautiful legend that tells how in the old times they suffered the invasion of their enemies. Jingxian, the Hero, went to fight them promising come back for the New Year. One year passed without his news. The second year the people were very sad waiting for him, when suddenly, on the night of Feb, 7th, he appeared riding a big horse. Suddenly everybody feel happy and the following day, Feb, 8th they celebrated the postponed activities of the New Year. From them on, this is the Xiangtang New Year. The 8th day of the second lunar month are celebrated many festivities around Yunnan, suggesting that the history about Jinxian the hero is, maybe, a posterior explanation of an ancestral ceremony.

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