Written by Harry Wilson
In the second blogpost in our new series, I am going to be introducing you to yet another fascinating ethnic minority group. This month’s focus will be on the Dai people located mainly in Southern Yunnan, China. They are one of several ethnic groups located within the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture and the Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture. In total there are around 1.2 million Dai people in China, but there are many more in Burma, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. They are closely related to both the Lao and Thai people and there are several terms in the various Tai languages to describe more specifically the 7 Dai groups. In this blogpost, I hope to take you on a journey through some of the main Dai areas and to introduce you to their most important customs and traditions.
Let’s first take a look at traditional Dai villages and the modernisation process which they are currently undergoing. Traditional Dai houses are square or rectangular and have two stories. On the upper floor the families spend their quality time together, and on the lower floor the Dai people keep livestock and food. On the upper floor there is normally a dining room, a study and a specific room for receiving and welcoming guests. This room is of vital importance to the Dai culture. The main reason for the raised houses in to protect the top floor from flooding. The areas in which the Dai people live have an incredibly wet climate and are therefore constantly at risk.
Take a look at the following short documentary below to get a tour of a Dai village. You will see how the villages are currently being modernised and get a first hand look at the Dai people and where/how they live. Make sure you turn on subtitles to fully enjoy the interview/tour:
Now that we have a deeper understanding about the living conditions of the Dai people, let’s look at some of their most interesting customs and traditions. The annual Water Splashing Festival takes place during the New Year of the Dai calendar and is also referred to in the Dai language as “Shanghan” or “Jingbimai”. The festival usually lasts three days. In the first two days there are dragon-boat races to say farewell to the previous year. The last day is reserved for “lucky” activities which welcome in the New Year. The festival is quite religious and includes several visits to a Buddhist temple.
The video below by Caleb resources provides you with more information about the annual festival in Xixhuangbanna. It also covers topics such as other traditions, the role of men and women in Dai society, and touches on their current poverty problem:
Dai festivals are absolutely fascinating and throughout their calendar year there are several others including the Door-closing and Door-opening festivals, the Huajie Festival (Flower Street Festival), the Flower Ball Festival and the Dragon Homage Festival. You can find out more by searching the web! Several festivals involve a lot of music and dancing. The most famous dance to the Dai people is the incredibly beautiful peacock dance. Check it out by watching the video below:
The instrument often played during the peacock dance is the hulusi. The hulusi is extremely important to Dai culture and its sound is hauntingly beautiful. Below is an interview with a hulusi performer which includes a sample song performed live:
If you are interested in studying the hulusi, you can find an excellent selection available on our site at – http://www.interactchina.com/hulusi-flute.
The Dai are a very hospitable people and will always take in guests, except during a pregnancy within the household or shortly following a family death. During these times it is important to stay well clear of the Dai house, which will be marked by a bucket hanging near the door of the house. The Dai diet consists largely of meats, fish and a variety of rice’s depending on the region and particular group. Other seafood is also extremely popular. Bamboo shoots are very common.
We hope that you have enjoyed this unique insight into the areas and customs of the Dai people and will come back soon for an introduction to another fascinating ethnic group!
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