The Hani ethnic minority

2009-08-07 10:39 BJT

The Hani people celebrate their New Year in October, as their lunar calendar begins in that month. During the weeklong festivities, pigs are slaughtered and special glutinous rice balls are prepared. Relatives and friends visit each other, go-betweens are busy making matches, and married women go to see their parents. They also celebrate the June Festival, which falls on the 24th of that month. This is a happy occasion especially for the young people. They sing, dance, play on swings and hold wrestling contests. At night, people in some places light pine torches while beating drums and gongs to expel evil spirits and disease. Like their Han neighbors, the Hanis who live in the Honghe area celebrate the Spring, Dragon Boat and Moon festivals.

Legends, fairy tales, poetry, stories, fables, ballads, proverbs, mythology and riddles form their oral literature. Genesis is a legend describing the origin of all things on earth. An Account of Floods tells how men conquered floods. Labare and Ahjigu are songs sung on solemn occasions such as weddings, funerals, festivals and religious rituals.

The Hanis are good singers and dancers. They use three- and four-stringed instruments, flutes and gourd-shaped wind instruments. Popular are the "Hand Clapping" and "Fan" dances. The "Dongpocuo" dance popular in Xishuangbanna is a typical Hani dance; it is vigorous, graceful and rhythmic.

Origins and History

Historical records indicate that a tribal people called the "Heyis" was active south of the Dadu River in the 3rd century B.C. These were possibly the ancestors of the Hanis of today. According to the records, some of them had moved to the area of the Lancang River between the 4th and 8th centuries. Local chieftains then paid tribute to the Tang court and in return they were included on the list of officials and subjects of that dynasty. The Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) established a prefecture to rule the Hanis and other minorities in Yunnan. The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) exercised its rule through local chieftains, who were granted official posts. During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) court officials replaced the chieftains.

The social development of the Hanis was uneven in different areas before 1949 in 1949. Those in contact with the Hans were more developed economically and culturally. The feudal landlord economy was dominant during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Productivity was more or less on the Han level but the peasants were exploited harshly by the landlords who seized large tracts of fertile land.

The situation in Jinghong, Menglong and Xiding was different. Vestiges of primitive communal land ownership still remained. There, the majority of land was public property. Commune members owned paddy fields and tea plantations, and could reclaim and cultivate communal land. However, private land ownership was fairly developed in Menghai, Mengsong and Mengla counties. Landlords and rich peasants possessed most of the arable land there, as well as the tea plantations, forests and wasteland. Poor peasants were subjected to exploitation in various forms.

In counties like Honghe, Yuanyang, Luchun, Jinping and Jiangcheng, the economy was in a sort of transition from primitive economy to the feudal landlord economy. Peasants were burdened by exorbitant taxes and levies enforced by the chieftains, who were both land owers and political rulers.

In the Ailao mountains, the Hanis were impoverished and suffered under various forms of exploitation. In one village, which had some 150 households 50 years ago, only 17 families were left at the time of liberation due to famine and disease.