China's Dai minority - customs and culture
The Dai minority of China are a colorful people who live in the steamy jungles of southern Yunnan province. Their culture and customs have grown up largely independent of the rest of China and are a unique aspect of Chinese today that is rarely seen.
Dai ornamentation and typical costumes are certainly worthy of note. Women of the Dai nationality are usually slender and elegant, earning them an association with the regal peacock. They usually wear colorful cutty skirts and enjoy getting festively adorned - ornaments like bracelets, rings, earrings and necklaces are used when dressing up and a silver waist belt is common, as well. Older Dai women usually tie their hair in a white scarf, and carry a tongpa (铜帕), a kind of handbag made of silk with intricate patterns, while younger Dai girls prefer to carry less ornate leather bags.
Dai men today usually wear a collar-free Duijin (对襟), a kind of Chinese-style jacket with buttons down the front, and baggy trousers. They will frequently wrap their head with white, black, or dark red cloth or don a wool hat.
Together with colorful and festive clothing, Dai people love performing elaborate dances. Folk dances such the elephant-leg drum, the egret dance, and the pavane are all popular. To the Dai, the peacock is a symbol of happiness, beauty and benevolence. The elegant and graceful Dai peacock dance, called a pavane in English, features up to three performers imitating the activities of peacocks, such as flying off the nest, strolling leisurely, and looking around alertly.
The most well-known of all Dai holidays is the Water-Sprinkling Festival, which is also one of their most important festivals. It falls on the fourth month of the lunar calendar and generally lasts three to four days. The first day is called Mairi (麦日) and is similar to New Year's Eve. On this day, people will do a thorough cleaning of their house and prepare a big dinner. The second day is called Naori (恼日); nao means 'empty' in Dai language, and this day is considered to fall between the past year and the upcoming year, not belonging to either.
Water-Sprinkling Festival actually originated in India and is a type of ancient Brahmanistic rite. For Water-Sprinkling Festival, Dai people, old and young, man and woman will go out on Mairi and throw water on each other. This raucous, joyful occasion generally turns into an all-out water fight, everyone laughing the whole time.
However, water-sprinkling is not the only activity held on this day - other festivities include dances, setting off fireworks, and dragon boat races. Along with the festivities and sprinkling of water, Water-Sprinkling Festival is an occasion for young girls and boys to find future mates. They will play games together and girls will give out elaberately made flowery bags to boys as a token of love.
The fun-loving, laid-back Dai people of southern Yunnan are a fantastic addition to the 56 people groups of China. With their peacock elegance and colorful decorations, Dai culture is instantly inviting and appealing. Make sure to travel through the warm jungles of Yunnan to see this unique piece of China today!