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The Va ethnic minority (2)

(People's Daily)

09:53, August 11, 2011

Customs and Habits

The monogamous family was the basic unit of the Va society. Family property generally was inherited by the youngest son, while daughters were denied the right to inherit. A man was allowed to have more than one wife.

Men and women had sex freedom before marriage. Small groups of young men and women met and sang love songs. After giving their chosen partners betal nuts or tobacco leaves as a token of love, they could go to sleep together. Such freedom ended upon marriage. Marriages were arranged by parents, and the bridegrooms had to pay several cattle as betrothal gifts. Eloping used to take place as a result of forced marriages.

Most of the Va villages were built on hilltops or slopes. Some villages in the Ximeng area have a history of several hundred years and embrace 300 to 400 households. When a family built a new house, others came to help and presented timber and straw as gifts. Generally the house was completed in one day by collective effort. The "big house" of a big chieftain or a rich person was marked by a special woodcut on top. The walls were decorated with many cattle skulls still carrying horns. The other sections were the same as commoners' houses, built on stilts, and the space below was used for breeding domestic livestock. Before iron cauldrons were introduced into the area, the Vas used big bamboo tubes to cook rice, and the cooked rice was divided into equal shares by the hostess at the meal. They loved to chew betel nuts and drink liquor.

The Va people dress differently according to different areas. Men's garments consist of a collarless jacket and very wide trousers. Their turbans are usually black or red and their ears are pierced, through which red and black tassels are threaded. Young men like decorating their shins with circular ornaments woven with bamboo strips or rattan. A Va woman wears a black short dress and a straight long skirt with folds. She has a silver (or rattan) hoop round her head and silver necklets and chains of colored beads round her neck. Round her hips are many circular hoops of rattan. Va women are fond of bracelets round their wrists and earrings.

Religion In the past the Va people living in the central area of Ava Mountain were worshippers of nature, believing that all the mountains and rivers and natural phenomena had their deities. They were believed to bring good or bad fortune to people. The loftiest god for the Vas was "Mujij." whose five sons were believed to be the deities in charge of the creation of heaven, the creation of earth, lightening, earthquake and the bringing up of the Va people, respectively. There were also deities of water, trees and so on. Even stomach ache and skin itching were believed to be caused by gods.

Frequent religious activities were held to obtain protection from deities and ghosts. Every year the activities started with making sacrifices to the deity of water, praying for good weather and good harvests. Cattle were carved up and their tails cut off as offerings. "Latou," or the hunting of human head, remnant of the primitive customs, had been abolished with the influence of the more advanced neighboring ethnic minorities.

Apart from sacrificial ceremonies held by the whole village, many families also held their own sacrificial offerings. These involved chickens, pigs or oxen and cost a lot of wealth and time. It was estimated that the Vas in this area spent one-third of their yearly income on religion and superstition, and the amount of labor wasted averaged 60 days per capita annually.

In Cangyuan and Shuangjiang counties, some of the Va residents, influenced by the Dais, became followers of Lesser Vehicle of Buddhism. Christianity had spread into a part of the area.

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