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The Miao Fertility Festival in Langde village - Tony Chen

click on image to go to enlargement - all text & images Tony Chen

The Miao in Guizhou, China have many interesting annual festivals such as Tiao Hua Po (dancing on the mountain slope), Sisters’ Meal Festival and Miao New Year. They also have a festival held once every thirteen years - The Fertility Festival.

The Fertility Festival of the Miao is called “Guzang Festival” in Chinese;“Neniu” in the Miao language (the language of my own home town). It means 'to kill buffaloes to worship forefathers'. According to tradition, during the festival long ago the Miao sacrificed many fighting buffaloes to worship their ancestors but this was regarded as too costly and the custom changed and fattened pigs are now sacrificed instead. However, I think that individual villages may make different sacrifices and have various ceremonies for the festival. I know that the Miao village of Fanzhao in Taijiang County, Guizhou province, celebrated the Fertility Festival in 2003 and they still used buffaloes for sacrifice. My description of the change to the festival is based on the one in my village - Langde.

My village is generally called Langde which consists of Upper Langde and Lower Langde. My own village is Upper Langde, 32 Kms away from Kaili city and 17 Kms away from Leishan county. My hometown is located at the foot of a scenic mountain with a murmuring crystal clear river in front. Groups of waterwheels by the river side produce beautiful folk songs day and night.

My father said that we have this festival every thirteen years and the festival runs for three consecutive years. People do not kill fattened pigs during the first and second years but only in the final year. So the most special year is the last one, namely the 13th year. As you can imagine, it is not easy to see many in one lifetime. I cannot remember what the last one, 13 years ago, was like. Fortunately my village held the festival from 22nd February to 2nd March this year (2004 ) and the one this year was a very spectacular one.

The 22nd February was the first day of the festival. On the late afternoon of this day relatives came to visit their relations in my village carrying a cluster of carp, steamed glutinous rice and a duck. There is a taboo that female relatives usually do not come on this first day, only men. Women come on another day. When the male relatives got to the edge of my village, they set off fire crackers. More fire crackers indicate the larger wealth of the relatives and the greater importance of the family of the host. This year 16 relatives came to my home. They were from 8 families; they were my two uncles, two brothers-in-law, my father’s brother-in-law and my sister-in-law’s three brothers. Some special guests came to visit my family too. They were a Japanese friend and 12 American tourists led by me. In the evening, the family and relatives ate the food that the relatives had brought. The meal included carp, steamed sticky rice, duck and rice wine.

The 23rd of February was the second day of the festival. On this day every family got up very early to boil water. Then, at about 6.00 a.m. in the morning, the relatives killed fattened pigs. Each family killed two or three fattened pigs depending on the number of the relatives visiting. I know of one family in my village which killed four pigs. My family killed three. There is a taboo that the head of the household cannot carry the sword to kill the pigs but the relatives must carry out this task. However, the host can help with boiling the water to get rid of the pigs' hair. At about 10.00 or 11.00 a.m. everyone began to have an excellent meal. During the meal, everyone must eat three huge squares of the fattened pork so that they will have good fortune in the future. The meal was of pork and pork offal but no green vegetables. There is saying that "the family will become poor if they eat vegetables with this meal".

In the afternoon, after eating this lunch, the villagers and the shaman climbed the highest mountain in Langde for a special ceremony. The purpose of the ceremony was to worship the mountain dragon and to ask him to come to the village and enter each home and visit each family living there so that the families could have good fortune in the future. In the afternoon of 23rd February it was raining in Langde. However, this did not stop the villagers from holding the ceremony because this was their big festival and I think that they had a special determination to do so. On the mountain, the men and the shaman all wore traditional costume. A duck - symbolizing the mountain dragon - whose bill was pierced through by a tiny rope, led the way from one hill to the other. The shaman followed the duck and held the rope. The other men and the villagers followed behind the shaman beating on a the bronze drum and playing lusheng (bamboo flutes). The ceremony on the mountain lasted until the late afternoon after when the participants returned to the village.

The 24th of February was the third day of the festival - the day of the cock. According to custom, it was forbidden to hold any ceremonial activities on this day. The villagers and their relatives could only drink rice wine and eat. However, the relatives usually began to return to their own homes on this day. On their departure from the village, their host gave each family a huge pig's leg weighing about 10 to 12 kilograms. The most esteemed relatives were given a pig's leg with a tail.

The 25th of February was the fourth day of the festival. On this day, the ceremony was to take the spirit of the mountain dragon inside each home to live there so the family would enjoy good fortune in the future. At 8.45 a.m. the ceremony began. The shaman and a group of men all wore traditional dress. These men were the leading people of the ceremony and of the community. They must be well thought of by the villagers before they can be selected as participants or else they cannot play the roles. When the ceremony started, the shaman went in front leading the way to each home. On entering each family's house they were offered cups of rice wine by the head of the family and fire crackers were also set off. While in the house, they played lusheng and danced in a circle to the rhythm of the bronze drum. When leaving the house, the owner gave them some red ribbons and cigarettes. There are more than 140 families in my village so it was nearly 5.00 p.m. before they arrived at my home but we still had some good pictures. It took them a full day to finish visiting the whole village.

From 26th to 28th February there were no ceremonies but the villagers ate and drank in each other's homes, mainly all in the same clan. Female relatives also began to participate on these days.

On the afternoon of 29th Febrary the villagers started to dance to lusheng and bronze drum and a magical tree was planted in the centre of the ground. Men and women in festival dress danced together, the girls wearing plenty of silver. I noticed that all the girls who had married into other villages or places also came back for the dancing. Everyone from my village joined in the dancing, whether rich or poor, male or female, young or old. Seeing this scene, a deeply homesick feeling rose up from the bottom of my heart and I really wished I could stay and join in with them. I was full of regret because I had to leave in the evening of 29 February to take care of my American friends. When darkness fell more people would come as the next day would be the last day of the festival and the festival would reach its climax. On 1st March girls from other villages would also come to join in the dancing. But I had to leave on the evening of Feb 29 because we had to go back to stay overnight in Kaili and my tour had to depart. The festival had gone on for many days, but I cannot forget it. I cannot forget the scene of people dancing together and it was such a shame I could not stay to the end - so I hope I can join them the next time in 13 years!

This article has been submitted by Tony Chen Hualong, a Miao from Langde village in Guizhou province, China. He took the photos accompanying this article during the 2004 Miao Fertility Festival and hopes that you will enjoy them. See his website www.alongdiscovery.com. Contact Tony. See his articles on the Miao in Guizhou.

to Jpeg 53K E16e Tony Chen with the Shaman on 25 February 2004, the fourth day of the festival, when the spirit of the Mountain Dragon was taken into each house in the village by the Shaman and the leading men of Langde village, Guizhou province
to Jpeg 57K 220e Tony Chen, his girlfriend, mother, niece and father on 29 February 2004, Langde village, Guizhou province
click on image to go to enlargement - all text & images Tony Chen
to Jpeg 58K e32e 25 February 2004, the fourth day of the festival, in Langde village, Guizhou province, On this day, the ceremony was to take the spirit of the mountain dragon inside each home to live there so the family would enjoy good fortune in the future. The shaman and a group of men all wore traditional dress. These men were the leading people of the ceremony and of the community. They must be well thought of by the villagers before they can be selected as participants or else they cannot play the roles. When the ceremony started, the shaman went in front leading the way to each home. On entering each family's house they were offered cups of rice wine by the head of the family and fire crackers were also set off. While in the house, they played lusheng and danced in a circle to the rhythm of the bronze drum. When leaving the house, the owner gave them some red ribbons and cigarettes.
to Jpeg 47K e19e 25 February 2004, the fourth day of the festival, in Langde village, Guizhou province, On this day, the ceremony was to take the spirit of the mountain dragon inside each home to live there so the family would enjoy good fortune in the future.
to Jpeg 57K e30e 25 February 2004, the fourth day of the festival, in Langde village, Guizhou province, On this day, the ceremony was to take the spirit of the mountain dragon inside each home to live there so the family would enjoy good fortune in the future. The shaman and a group of men all wore traditional dress. These men were the leading people of the ceremony and of the community. They must be well thought of by the villagers before they can be selected as participants or else they cannot play the roles. When the ceremony started, the shaman went in front leading the way to each home. On entering each family's house they were offered cups of rice wine by the head of the family and fire crackers were also set off. While in the house, they played lusheng and danced in a circle to the rhythm of the bronze drum. When leaving the house, the owner gave them some red ribbons and cigarettes.
to Jpeg 57K e27e 25 February 2004, the fourth day of the festival, in Langde village, Guizhou province, On this day, the ceremony was to take the spirit of the mountain dragon inside each home to live there so the family would enjoy good fortune in the future. The shaman and a group of men all wore traditional dress. These men were the leading people of the ceremony and of the community. They must be well thought of by the villagers before they can be selected as participants or else they cannot play the roles. When the ceremony started, the shaman went in front leading the way to each home. On entering each family's house they were offered cups of rice wine by the head of the family and fire crackers were also set off. While in the house, they played lusheng and danced in a circle to the rhythm of the bronze drum. When leaving the house, the owner gave them some red ribbons and cigarettes.
to Jpeg 54K e17e The Shaman and and leading men of the village at the dancing on 29 February 2004, Langde village, Guizhou province
to Jpeg 58K e24e 29 February 2004, the fourth day of the fertility festival in Langde village, Guizhou province. The villagers started to dance to lusheng and bronze drum and a magical tree was planted in the centre of the ground. Men and women in festival dress danced together, the girls wearing plenty of silver. All the girls who had married into other villages or places also came back for the dancing. Everyone from the village joined in the dancing, whether rich or poor, male or female, young or old.
to Jpeg 53K e23e 29 February 2004, the fourth day of the fertility festival. The villagers started to dance to lusheng and bronze drum and a magical tree was planted in the centre of the ground. Men and women in festival dress danced together, the girls wearing plenty of silver. All the girls who had married into other villages or places also came back for the dancing. Everyone from the village joined in the dancing, whether rich or poor, male or female, young or old.
to Jpeg 53K e22e 1st of March 2004, the final day and dramatic climax of the fertility festival in Langde village, Guizhou province. The whole village is dancing together with women who have married outside the village and who have returned for the dancing plus girls from other villages.
to Jpeg 56K E14e Tony's girlfriend  resplendent in her festival costume dancing on 29 February 2004, Langde village, Guizhou province
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this page last updated 17 July, 2011