Rationale of Research
I was born at the Laoman’e Village at Blang Hill located at Menghai county, Sipisongbana district, China’s utmost southwestern frontier bordering with Myanmar. As one of the Blang ethnic people who was born and grew up at this mountainous village, the isolation has been featuring our village life until the beginning of 2000s. The nationwide heated consumerism in China reached and further woke up our village. The tea leaves growing in the wild forest surrounding our village miraculously became one of the popular herbal drinks among the city people. Before that, we Blangs only pick up and cook the tea leaves as all-curing herbal medicine rather than some a valuable commodity, because we Blangs believe the tea leaves are possessed by the tea god, the protecting deity of our village.
The oral history of our village suggests the Burma-oriented Theravada Buddhism started to spread across our village as early as the late 800s. The still circulating legends say the Burmese monks ever helped our Blang ancestors to successfully combat the national disasters and diseases with their supernatural power. Under the virtue of their power of savage, our Blangs converted to Buddhism, which yet late dominated by the majority Dai people inhabiting at the foot of hills, who were relatively acculturated and economically prosperous compared our Blang ancestors. They occupied the ruling house of this region for centuries, while some of Blangs were sucked as their slaves until Mao reunited China under the present communist regime in 1949. Buddhism has been our major belief and practice mainly because the Buddhist temples have been the only place where our Blang youths can access the education though in the Thai-affiliated Dai medium. However, the tea leaves, the custom of worshiping the tea god has never declined even till the present. Rather, the tea leaves and the tea-ceremony have emerged as one of the essential and daily practice among the Blang monks.
The growing commodity economy in Laoman’e village catalyzed the migration of other ethnic peoples such as Hani people, and the Han people, disturbing the demographic purity of our village and further posing various challenges to our native culture. Driven by the mainstream agenda “enriching oneself” constantly promoted by all levels of Chinese governments in last three decades, Laoman’e villagers also pledged into the commercial ocean, though short of any trading skills and experiences. As a result, the tea leaves are over-picked from the wild forrest because their higher vale than from the man-planted tea trees; few and few Blang youths are still interested to seek the knowledge from the Buddhist doctrines. Han language thus appeared as the major langue in daily communication due to the growing Chinese economical influence around us, even within our village. Besides of the leverage of living standards in Laomang’e village, another virtue of this economic growth is we Blangs are not looked down by our former “Master”, Dad people, some of whom even started to seek the job opportunities at our tea farms.
So far, none of the English-Speaking and Chinese-speaking scholarship has paid the enough attention to our Blangs, expect some Christian missionaries had conducted some ethnographic investigation in favor of their strategy of local preachment. Several Chinese-speaking journal articles only limit on how to lift the Blangs from the poverty and backward education. Being that, it will be academically significant to undertake a careful study of the religious beliefs and practices of our Blang people and , with the specific reference to Tea and Buddhism, the two keen elements in our religious life.
Sticking to Durkheim and Weberian sociological theories, I also prefer importing the “thick description” of applied by Clifford Geertze in his interpretive anthropology. Meanwhile, the phenomenological approach should never be ignored to make myself as a relatively neutral observer.
The data collected so far
are regarded as descendants of the ancient Pu (Lolo) people, with the Pu that stayed in the mountains rather moving to the plains forming the nucleus of the people that became the Blang. In the old days many Blang villages were under the control of Dai landlords. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China , edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K. Hall & Company, 1994)]
The Blang speak a Mon-Khmer language and practice Theravada Buddhism and animism, and have traditionally made sacrifices at set times during the year. They have traditionally lived in villages with a 100 or so households in mountains between 1,500 and 2000 meters; and were governed by clan elders that decided how the land would be divided up. The Blang have no written language. They have traditionally used the script of the Chinese and the Dai. They speak two major dialects.
The Blang practice paddy rice cultivation on terraced fields and have traditionally raised dry land rice, maize, and beans for food and cotton, sugar cane and Pu’er tea for cash crops. They live in two-story bamboo houses with the second story as living quarters and fireplace in the middle of the main room and a bottom floor for keeping animals. These houses are raised in a couple of days because the entire community pitches in to help with the construction.
The Blang in China inhabit the southwest corner of Yunnan Province in Xishuangbanna and Lincang prefectures and the Simao Zone. They are also found in Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. There are fairly large numbers of them of Myanmar where they are known as the Paluang. In Yunnan they live mainly in the Menghai and Jinghong counties in Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture. More specifically they are found in the Mt. Blang, Bada, Xiding, Mengman, and Daluo areas of Menghai County, Xiaomengyang and Damenglong of Jinghong County, and Mengpeng Town and Mango Village in the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture. They are also scattered Blang communities in the neighboring areas Shuangjiang, Yongde, Yunxian and Gengma counties in the Lincang prefecture as well as the Lancang and Mojiang counties in Simao prefecture, and in Baoshan (Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences).
The Blang people live among and near the Dai ethnic group and have heavily influenced by them and share many things in common with them, including the Theravada Buddhist religion and clothing styles, The Blang inhabit steep mountains with humid forests and eke out a living in border area lands. Their communities are mostly mountainous islands surrounded by flat area dominated by Dai and Han farmers. The area the Blang inhabit is warm and has plentiful rainfall, fertile soil and rich natural resources. The main cash crops are cotton, sugar-cane and the world famous Pu’er tea. In the dense virgin forests grow various valuable trees, and valued medicinal herbs such as pseudoginseng, rauwolfia verticillata (used for lowering high blood pressure) and lemongrass, from which a high-grade fragrance can be extracted. The area abounds in copper, iron, sulfur and rock crystal.
Blang Population and Names for Themselves
Blang population in China: 0.0090 percent of the total population; 119,639 in 2010 according to the 2010 Chinese census; 91,891 in 2000 according to the 2000 Chinese census; 82,280 in 1990 according to the 1990 Chinese census. There were 58,476 in 1982 and 52,000 in 1978, according to censuses taken those years. [Sources: People’s Republic of China censuses, Wikipedia] The Blang are also widely known as the Bulang and Palaung. The Blang have a lot of names, which they themselves or are called by other ethnic groups. The names they call themselves vary from one area to another. Those living in Xishuangbanna call themselves “Blang;” and those in Simao use “Benzu”. In other places they call themselves other names like “Lawa,” “Wu,” “Wuren,” “Aerwa”, “Yiwa”, “Wa”, “Wenggon” and “Awa.” in the past, the Han people called them “Puman”, “Plang” or “Meng”; the Bai called them “Buen;” the Lahu call them “Kapu;’ and the Dai call them “La.” Other names for the Blang ethnic group are: “Da”, “Mila”, “Manl” and “Abe”. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, they were designated as “Blang” minority by the Chinese government.
In China they live in: 1) Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture: Menghai County (Blangshan, Badashan, Xiding, Qitu and Daluo Townships) and Jinghong County; 2) Lingcang Prefecture: Shuangjiang, Yongde, Yunxian, Gengma and Zhengkai Counties; 3) Simao Zone: Langcang, Mojiang and Jingdong Counties (Ethnic China ethnic-china.com). The Blang use different names to refer to themselves in different ways according to the area in which they live: 1) Those living in Xishuangbanna refer to themselves as “Blang.” 2) Those living in Zhengkai and Jingdong refer to themselves as “Wu.” 3) Those of Langcang and Wendong refer to themselves as “Weng hong” 4) Those of Shuangjiang, Yunxian, and Mojiang refer to themselves as “Awa.” 5) Before 1949 the Chinese and other neighboring peoples called them all Puman.
Pedro Ceinos Arcones wrote in Ethnic China: The Chinese government considers all the Bulang to be one national minority, in accordance with its limited policy in the field of ethnic
identification. However, considering the different names for themselves used by the peoples labeled Bulang, the different dialects or languages that they speak, as well as the fact that their cultures have evolved in different ways in the different regions in which they live, it is clear that further independent studies must be carried out in order to clarify the true ethnic identities of the Bulang peoples.
The Dai and several smaller ethnic groups living mainly in the Sipisongbana Dai Autonomous Prefecture and in the Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture in southwestern Yunnan Province, though smaller pockets of Dai live in and around the Yunnan cities of Xinping and Yuanjiang, as well as in other autonomous counties in Yunnan Province.
Sipisongbana is a region in southern Yunnan, near Burma and the Golden Triangle opiumgrowing region, known for its tropical forests, green mountains, and ethnic minorities. About a quarter of the people are Dai, another quarter are Han Chinese and the remainder include members of the Miao, Zhuang, Jino, Bulang, Lahu and Wa minorities. Sipisongbana means “Twelve Thousand Fields” or “Twelve Principalities.” It was once the center of a kingdom that stretched into Burma, Thailand and Laos. During World War II it was the site of some bombing raids and many of the tribal people fled into Burma, Thailand and Laos. When the Communist took over the region they ended the kingdom, and the king became an academic in Kunming. Large numbers of Han Chinese moved in to the area during the Korean War when the region was used to grow rubber trees for the war effort.
The prefecture of Sipisongbana is unique in China. For it’s semi-tropical climate and abundance of flora and fauna, it enjoys special protection, as demonstrated by the declaration of numerous Nature Reserves and the development of a model of tourism that largely focuses on a respect for nature. Today almost one third of Sipisongbana is protected forest.
The Dai Autonomous Prefecture of Sipisongbana is where over a dozen ethnic minorities live together, including Dai, Hani, Bulang, Jinuo, Lahu and Yao. During the Tang Dynasty and the Song Dynasty, this area was under the administration of local authorities under the Dail-based Nanzhao and Dali kingdoms. During the period of Chunxi of Song (1180 A.D.), a Dai leader named Bazhen established a local authority in Mengle called “Circle of Golden Hall in Jinglong”, taking Jinghong as the centre. In the Yuan dynasty the central government set up a local government called Cheli Overall Ministration, which was changed into Cheli Xuanwei Department in the Ming and Qing Dynasties. In the early 20 century at the time of the Republic of China, the Sipu Frontier Chief Office was established. The Dai Autonomous Region was established in 1953. It became the Dai Autonomous Prefecture in 1955. It embraces the counties of Jinghong, Menghai and Mengla, covering a land of 19, 220 square kilometers.( Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences).
According to a Dai legend, once there was a Dai leader named Payalawu. In order to catch a golden deer, he climbed 9,999 mountains and crossed 9,999 rivers, and at last arrived at a beautiful golden lake. The golden deer jumped into the lake, and immediately lotus flowers broke out on the water and hundreds of birds singing. Payalawu deeply fell in love with this “nice and mysterious land of happiness” — Mengbalanaxi, which is Sipisongbana today. In the Dai language “Xishuang” means twelve, while “Banna” refers to a thousand fields. In the year 1570, the governor of Cheli, Dao Yingmeng, divided his region into twelve tax units called “Banna”, on which he later set up twelve districts. Sipisongbana is charming and beautiful place, with abundant in natural resources. There are over 20,000 kinds of plants, and more than 200 species of rare birds and animals. At the same time, it is the original producing area of “Nanyao” (southern herbs) and “Pu’er Tea”.
History of the Blang
The Blang are one of the original peoples of southwest Yunnan Province. It is thought that they have lived in the mountainous border area between China and Myanmar for more than 2,000 years. Many scholars believe that the Blang are descendants of the so called Pu (Lolo) peoples who lived in the Xishuangbanna area at least since the Qin Dynasty, about 2,200 years ago. The Wa and the De’ang are also thought to have descended from the Pu people and all three groups are considered to be the aboriginal peoples of southwest Yunnan. During the 8th and 9th centuries the Pu were known as “Puzi” meng. According to chronicles of travelers from those days they were huntergatherers. In the beginning of the 14th century, some of the Blang living in Xishuangbanna Prefecture came under the rule of the Dai Tusi (local Dai leader who ruled on behalf of the Chinese emperor). This is how they started being influenced by Dai religion (Theravada Buddhism), cultural and political life—an influence which continues to this day. Blang living in Xishuangbanna Prefecture were influenced the most by the Dai. Those living in Lincang and Simao have maintained the most unique features of traditional Blang culture.
During the Ming Dynasty they started neglecting hunting and harvesting and took up farming. Differences between Blang living in one region and those in another increased as some Blang were influenced by the Han culture and others by Dai culture. Literature from those days refers to the Blang as follows: 1) “They are dark-skinned and live on the mountain peaks. Clothing, weddings and funerals are as the Bai Luoluo”. 2) “They ride horse without bridle; they walk barefooted and are good archers”. 3) “They live on the mountain peaks where they cultivate the land, burn the mountain and cut the trees. Every field is cultivated for several years. During the Qing dynasty, most of the Blang had already settled in a territory roughly the same as their current location. Though nominally subdued, they stirred up revolts several times against the Tusi and the emperors. The most important uprising was in 1861, when the Blang from
Mojiang joined the Hani who were already in rebellion against imperial rule. This uprising lasted for seven or eight years.
Before 1949, there were fairly big social differences between different Blang groups. In the regions of Lincang and Simao there was a strong feudal system. They had lost the previous communal ownership of the land (except for the cemeteries), and had devolved into a private property system that handed over vast amounts of land to landowners who rented it out to peasants at exorbitant rates. During the years of the Republic of China, the Bai-Jia system was introduced in this area, in order to better control the minorities living in the mountains. In Xishuangbanna, they lived under a more feudalist system. Under Dai rule, they appointed hereditary chiefs, known as “Ba”, who ruled over several small villages and collected taxes for the Tusi. These small villages, which were made up of between 20 to 100 families, had communal property over farmlands, forests and pastures. But even though they all had the right to work the land, nobody had the right to sell any portion of the common property. At the time of the Revolution of 1949 the first steps taken to privatize the land mostly benefitted the newly emerged landowners.
Communist communes were introduced in the Blang region in 1958 and cooperatives were established several years later. The communist movement brought dramatic changes to Blang traditional culture and their economic life. The Blang living in Blangshan and other remote areas of Xishuangbanna Prefecture are facing hard times in recent years, due to the removal of some services formerly provided by the government, such as health services, education, and infrastructures, resulting in a lack of opportunities to enjoy the benefits of a market economy. \*\
Chinese View of Blang Social History and Development
According to the Chinese government: “Before liberation in 1950, social development was uneven in different Blang localities. The Blang communities in the Lincang and Simao prefectures were fairly developed socially and economically, as their members lived together with Hans and other more socially advanced peoples. Except for cemeteries and forests, which remained common property, land had become privately owned.
A landlord economy had long been established, with landlords and rich peasants taking possession of the best land through exorbitant interest rates, mortgages, pawning and political privileges. Poor Blang peasants, aside from being at the mercy of landlords and rich peasants of Blang origin, were exploited by propertied classes of Han and other ethnic minorities. The Bao-Jia system (an administrative system organized on the basis of households, instituted by the Kuomintang government in 1932) tightened political control over all the Blang areas. The Kuomintang government, in collaboration with local landlords and tyrants, caused great suffering to the Blang people by excessive levying of taxes and forced conscription.
“The Blang communities in Sipisongbana Mt. Blang, Xiding and Bada areas were less socially developed and more poverty-stricken. The Blangs had long been subjected to the rule of Dai feudal lords, who exacted from them an annual tribute of money and farm produce. The Dai landlords appointed a number of hereditary headmen called “Ba” from among the Blangs. Each “Ba” had several Blang villages under his rule and collected tributes for the Dai masters. Blang society in Sipisongbana retained varying degrees of public ownership of land by the clan or the village, aside from private ownership. A small number of villages had retained characteristics of the primitive commune, which was composed of 20-30 small families who had a common ancestor. Commune farmland, forests and pastures belonged to all the members. Families and individuals had the right to utilize this kind of land, but could not buy or sell it. As productivity developed, however, the patriarchs took advantage of their positions to gradually grab property for themselves, and began to exploit clan members.
“Most Blang villages in Sipisongbana had primitive commune features. Each village consisted of some 100 households belonging to several or a dozen clans of different blood relationships. While farm implements, houses and farm animals belonged to individual households, land, forests and water sources were the village’s common property. The different clans took permanent possession of different parts of the public land and allocated their share to small families under them on a regular basis to enable farming on a household basis. The households were entitled to the harvest. Just as each small family depended on its clan membership for the use of land, each clan relied on its affiliation to the village for its right to use the village land. Once a clan moved elsewhere, its land reverted to the village. When a newcomer applied for land, a meeting of headmen would decide how much to allocate. Members of a village commune were engaged in the same kind of political and religious activities. Public officials of the commune, namely the headmen, were elected.
“Gradually, however, private ownership of land emerged. Many village commune members lost their land, becoming tenants of headmen or rich households. Their land henceforth assumed a completely private nature: it could be sold or bought, mortgaged or rented. Patriarchs or the elected headman of a village commune, taking advantage of their position, often took permanent possession of large amounts of good land.
“Production was at an extremely low level before liberation in Sipisongbana’s Blang area. Agriculture was the economic mainstay of Blang society, with dry rice as the dominant crop, followed by tea and cotton. At the beginning of the spring ploughing season, patriarchs would organize clan members to clear forest land and allocate it among individual households for farming. Harvests were poor. The Blangs’ low income contrasted sharply with their heavy economic burden, which included tribute, high interest to money lenders, different kinds of taxes and corvee.
The Blang have traditionally been animists and shamanist, with ancestor worship being a big a part of their way of life. Blangs have traditionally believed that men’s lives and well-being are governed by ghosts or gods and all the living things have souls. Many of the Blangs in Xishuangbanna are Theravada Buddhists, in part because of the influence of the Dai ethnic group. For those Blang, their Buddhist temples and social systems are similar to those of the Dais. Monasteries can be found in many Dai villages.
Pedro Ceinos Arcones wrote in Ethnic China: There are major religious differences between the Blang of the Lincang and Simao districts and those of Sipisongbana Prefecture. The traditional religion of the Blang was polytheism, expressed primarily in the worship of nature and ancestors. In Sipisongbana they follow Theravada Buddhism. All young people spend some time in the temple, where they learn how to read and write the Dai language. All the festivals, both Buddhist and traditional, are organized by the monks. All villages have their own Buddhist temples, where they carry out both Buddhist and Blang traditional religious ceremonies.” In Menghai, Dai influences are found everywhere. The names of the Blang’s deities—Yingba, Payana and Payaying —are similar to those of Dai deities.
“Those who specialize in religious activities are the Baimo (shamans), the Huotou (religious chiefs) and the Buddhist monks. Nowadays traditional and Buddhist beliefs are intertwined. For instance, before planting seeds they ask a Buddhist monk to tell them on which mountain to plant them. Then, the monk divides three handfuls of rice into three banana skins with the names of three mountains. According to the results determined by these three banana skins, the seed is planted. The monks are present at all important ceremonies of the agricultural cycle. Reading Buddhist scriptures and sacrificing chickens are meant to guarantee a successful harvest. Animal sacrifices appear in all their religious ceremonies.
In the Shuanjiang, Zhengkai, Mojiang, and Jingdong counties, the Blang still strongly maintain their traditional religion. As in the past, the Blang believe that there are many gods that can influence the life of mankind. Therefore, they dedicate different kinds of ceremonies to request protection and to avoid evil. Throughout the year, they hold festivities related to and on behalf of the most important gods. such as: 1) The God of the Ovens; 2) The God of the Earth; 3) The God of the Mountains; 4) The God of Fire; 5) The God of Thunder.
Blang Funerals and Stair Burial
The death of a person is followed by scripture chanting by Buddhist monks or shamans to “dispel the devil,” and the funeral is held within three days. Each village generally has a common cemetery divided according to clans or people having the same surnames. The dead are buried in the ground except for those dying a violent death, who are cremated.
Every Blang village has a public cemetery called “Shan (hill).” The Blang people regard “Shan” as a place where spirits of the ancestors reside and all those who die a normal death are to be buried there. Although inhumation and cremation are both applied by the Blang people, inhumation is the main form of burial. Coffins are made either of wood or thin Bamboo strips (Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities).
The ancient tradition of “stair burial” and “piling burial” are still practiced today. In the “stair burial,” the dead are buried according to age and generation in different stairs of a stair-like cemetery. In most cases, a cemetery has four steps. The dead of an age over 70 are buried in the highest one, those from 60 to 70 in the second, those from 30 to 40 in the third, those less than 30 in the fourth. The dead must be buried facing upward with the head to the west and the feet to the east. There is no tomb. Due to the narrowness of the graveyard, the old burial place must be reused according to the age of death when everywhere has been occupied. “Piling burials,” in which a burial place often is shared by many male or female corpses of an age section, is thus formed. When a Blang living in Xishuangbanna dies, his family informs the headman called a “Zhaoman.” “Zhaoman” give notice to all the villagers to show their sympathy. The family members clean the body of the deceased and dress him or her with new clothes. The body stays in the house for one to three days, during which Buddhist monks or shamans chant sutras or recite scriptures to release the soul from purgatory. Then, the dead are put into a coffin. Some tea leaves, bananas, rice and wax chips are put into the hands of the deceased and white string is tied to one of the thumbs. When the coffin is to be carried out, the string is cut, representing the separation of the deceased from his or her family and cutting the soul’s way back. The family members hold a memorial ceremony in the graveyard with wax chips, salt, and grain on the following day.
Blang Festivals in Sipisongbana
Most of the Blang in Sipisongbana Prefecture are Buddhist. They have been strongly influenced by the Buddhist Dai, but they nevertheless have retain many vestiges of their ancient culture and tradition. They use the Dai calendar and celebrate New Year’s Day on the same day as the Dai are have a Water Splashing Festival. But they do not have dragon boat races and they do not splash waters on that day. April 15th is the traditional “Kangshan Festival”. During that time young people send presents to their elders, enjoy performances of folk music, singing and dancing and traditional martial arts. The Blang also celebrate a torch festival in which participants light torches in front of their houses and set large fires in their village squares. The festival honors a woman who leaped into a fire rather make love with a king. Before the village torch is lit people gather around it and drink rice wine.
The Shela, Tanshela or Taluoluo Festival is celebrated in the first month of the lunar year. It is held to honor the deceased relatives. Each family collects banana skins, the monks write the relatives’ names on it in the Dai language. Meat is offered in four places: on the relatives’ graves, at the temple, at the village gate and at the centre of the village.On the second day, gifts are presented at the temple and those who bring them sleep there, as it is believed that, on that night, they might be able to meet their deceased relatives.
The Flower Festival is celebrated on the second day of the second lunar month. Village women go up to the mountains to collect flowers with long narrow flags in their hands and use the flowers to erect a Flower Tree at the center of the village. Paper strips and colorful flags are also put onto the same tree. People circle around the tree, dancing to the beat of drums and gongs and other instruments. Puffed rice is thrown at the tree by women while they are dancing as a symbol of village unity and prosperity. Young men and women engage in courting activities. The Gangyong Festivity in honor of the Bamboo Rat is held in first or sixth lunar month, with no fixed date. According to legend, the bamboo rat was the animal that handed over cereal grains to the Blang, and helped them to develop their system of agriculture. That is why every year the rat is venerated on this festival day. The young go up the mountain and catch a bamboo rat. They tie it to a stick and decorate it with flowers. Two men, carrying the stick, go round the village. After prayers the people reach the house of the village headman, cut the head of the bamboo rat off, and deliver it to their chief, who cuts the meat into small portions that are shared among the families of the village, who praise it beside the family god.
The Water Splashing Festival is famous festival, which clearly reflects the influence of the Dai, is held on the 29th day of the second lunar month. It is a religious holiday in honor of the ancestors and lasts for three days.
The Festival of Reading Scriptures is a Buddhist festival is held on the15th of August according to the Dai calendar (fifth lunar month). Starting early in the morning everyone goes to the temple bearing gifts.
The Closing of the Door Festival is another traditional Buddhist festival, held on the 15th day of the ninth month of the Dai calendar (sixth Chinese lunar month). On this day the village people lock themselves inside their villages and fields to concentrate on farming activities. The Opening of the Door Festival is held during the ninth lunar month to mark the end of the harvest. The doors are then opened in order for the people to enjoy life. At this time the young start their courtship season.
The Cloth Taking Festival is held around the tenth lunar month, on a date fixed by the head of the village and the priest. every family in the village buys a yellow piece of cloth about 4 to 8 meters long and get together at the Zhaoman or headman’s house, who escorts them all to the temple. It is a day off work, pigs and cows are slaughtered and all kinds of banquets are prepared. At night the young people sing and dance.
Blang Love Customs
Young Blangs have freedom to choose their marriage partners within a framework of parental approval and social convention. Traditionally, they could publicly join in social activities and courting when they reached the age of 14 or 15 after the teeth-dyeing ritual. “Chuan guniang (dating girls)” is a traditional way of courting for the Blangs. In most cases it is held in groups, but sometimes in pairs, too. When the moon rises, boys put on their best clothes and take their Sanxian (a triple-stringed instrument) to the bamboo houses of the girls and sing beautiful songs to win their heart. Girls dress themselves up elaborately, light fire, and open the door to ask the boys in. They show their feelings and express their minds tactfully by serving cigarettes, tea and singing songs. This is a very common way for the communication of their feelings, thoughts and cultivation (Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities).
Among the Blang of Sipisongbana, when young people are 15 or 16 years old, they carry out a rite of passage known as Poke. Pedro Ceinos Arcones wrote in Ethnic China: “After the young men return home after spending some time in the Buddhist temple, they begin to play musical instruments, especially the sanxiang and the tanqing and to sing songs of love. Together they visit girls of the same age in their houses.Usually a group of girls are embroidering together at dusk, waiting for the boys that will arrive with their music in small groups, generally of three or four, but sometimes even ten. The boys greet the parents of the girls that welcome them. The parents are happy because their daughter has many suitors. The boys sit near the fire to talk with them, singing and playing musical instruments. When it seems that a girl begins to harmonize well with one of the boys, they begin a song dialogue, by means of which they ask different questions that the other will answer. The other boys, seeing that the girl does not pay attention to them, get bored and leave to visit other houses, leaving the couple alone to sing and talk by the fire.
When the love between a couple grows deeper the man proposes to the girl. Flowers often serve as a symbol of serious love in many Blang mountain areas. To express his deep feelings a young man presents a bunch of flowers collected in the mountains to his girlfriend. If the girl is sure of his sincerity, she picks out the most beautiful flower and wear it in her hair to show the are boyfriend and girlfriend. If they decide to marry, the boy sends emissaries to the girl’s parents on his behalf, which are rejected several times to demonstrate that their daughter should be well treated. They finally accept him. They begin to spend nights together and, after a period of one year, they should celebrate the wedding.
Blang Wedding and Marriage Customs
Traditionally the Blang wedding ceremony was repeated two or three times for a couple. After the engagement, the girl was invited to the young man’s family, and a “Shuanxian (thread fastening the couple) ceremony” was held. It is necessary to choose a favorable day, usually in the 4th, 6th or 8th month of the Dai calendar. Before the marriage the bridegroom gives tobacco to the chief of the village and informs him of the impending marriage. The following day a pig is sacrificed to invite everybody in the village. They then invite the chiefs to the house of the parents, and offerings are brought to the Buddhist temple. The girl says goodbye to her previous boyfriends and other friends. After the first wedding the couple departed and each went back to their own home. During the day, the groom worked at his own home but at night, he went to the girl’s house and lived with her. This period, named “congqiju (live with the wife)” or “wangmenju”, lasted for three years. Three years later, if they still loved each other deeply and had children, a second ceremony was held on an auspicious day. This one was grand and solemn. Both the families of the bride and groom held feasts, to which all the villagers and relatives were invited. The head of the clan and other elders gave their blessings to the couple by fastening them together with a thread. After this ceremony, the bride was regarded as formally married to the groom and she went to live with him. She then formally becomes a member of the man’s family. After another three years, if the couple chose to live by themselves, a third ceremony was held. These days, most couples have only one wedding ceremony.
The Blangs seek spouses outside their own clans and practice monogamy. With a few exceptions, mainly parental interference, young Blangs are fairly free to choose marriage partners. A divorce can be settled during any phase of this extended matrimonial process. Usually they kill a pig and invite the children of the village, who then walk the streets shouting: “So-and-so has gotten divorced.
Blang Teeth Dyeing
Among the Blang of Sipisongbana, girls dye their teeth with a darkened wood from the time of the Festival of Closing the Doors to the time of the Festival of Opening the Doors. Boys usually have already done the same in the temple. When young people have colored teeth it is understood that they can begin to talk of love.
The Teeth Dyeing ceremony indicates that a Blang youth has matured into a grown-up member of society, and can join in various social activities. In the past, when a boy reaches the age of nine, he was sent by his parents to a Buddhist temple to learn religion as a “Panian (small monk).” Five or six years later, he returns to secular life.
At the age of around 15, the boys parents prepare a small handbag (called Tongpa), a long sword, and a blanket for him. If they are rich, he might also get a silver or copper box with tobacco, betel nuts, and liquid lime for chewing betel nuts. His clothing changes, too. He cuts his hair and, receives new clothes and white cloth leg-wrappings. When a girl reaches the age of 14 or 15, her father gives her a small bamboo stool, a small bamboo basket, a spinning wheel, and a new dress. He also prepares a piece of pan steel for blackening her teeth. Then, they conduct a ritual to indicate her maturity. The main business in that ritual is blackening the teeth. All the boys and girls around 15 gathered in a bamboo storied-house, where the smoke of the burning branches of a tree name “Kaoagai” is used as a dye. Boys and girls dye each other’s teeth black. After that they can attend social activities as adults, and acquire the right to date and get married.
Another way of teeth dyeing is chewing tobacco and betel nut. A little tobacco is wrapped in a betel palm, together with some Saji, radish, betel nuts, red lime, is put into the mouth and chewed and sucked for about 20 minutes. The remains after chewing are bright red. The teeth gradually get black after doing this many days. Betel nuts are regarded by the Blang as cool and can protect one’s teeth and improve one’s appetite.