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The Miao ethnic minority (4)

(People's Daily)

10:07, August 12, 2011

Marriages are usually arranged by parents, but unmarried young men and women have the freedom to court. Mass courting occasions sometimes take place during holidays, when young women from a host village gather to sing antiphonal love songs with young men from neighboring villages. If a couple are attracted to each other, they exchange love tokens. But they must still win the approval of their parents before they can marry.

In Chuxiong, Yunnan Province, the practice of setting up public courting houses for unmarried men and women prevailed until a few decades ago. After a day's work, they would visit these houses to sing, dance and court with their partners. The Miaos there also practiced the custom of "kidnapping brides." If the kidnapped girl consented to an offer of marriage, a grand wedding feast was held. If she did not, she was free to go.

Different Miao communities celebrate different festivals. Even the same festivals may fall on different dates. In southeast Guizhou and Rongshui County in Guangxi, the Miao New Year festival is celebrated on "Rabbit Day" or "Ox Day" on the lunar calendar. The festivities include beating drums, dancing to the music of a lusheng (a wind instrument), horse racing and bull-fighting. In counties near Guiyang, people dressed in their holiday best gather at the city's largest fountain on April 8 of the lunar year to play lusheng and flute and sing of the legendary hero, Yanu.

In many areas, the Miaos have Dragon Boat festivals and Flower Mountain festivals (May 5), Tasting New Rice festivals (between June and July), Pure Brightness festivals and the Beginning of Autumn festivals. In Yunnan, "Stepping over Flower Mountains" is a popular festivity for the Miaos. Childless couples use the occasion to repeat vows to the god of fertility. They provide wine for young people, who sing and dance under a pine tree, on which hangs a bottle of wine. Young men and women may fall in love on this occasion, and this, it is hoped, will help bring children to the childless couples.

The Miaos used to believe in many gods, and some of their superstitious rituals were very expensive. In west Hunan and northeast Guizhou, for instance, prayers for children or for the cure of an illness were accompanied by the slaughter of two grown oxen as sacrifices. Feasts would then be held for all the relatives for three to five days.

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