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The Oroqen ethnic minority (3)

(People's Daily)

16:28, August 22, 2011

Customs

The Oroqens are a race of dancers and singers. Men, women and children often gather to sing and dance when the hunters return with their game or at festival times.

With a rich and varied repertory of folk songs, the Oroqens sing praises of nature and love, hunting and struggles in life in a lively rhythm. Among the most popular Oroqen dances are the "Black Bears Fight" and "Wood Cock Dance," at which the dancers execute movements like those of animals and birds. Also popular is a ritual in which members of a clan gather to perform dances depicting events in clan history.

"Pengnuhua" (a kind of harmonica) and "Wentuwen" (hand drum) are among the traditional instruments used. Played by Oroqen musicians, these instruments produce tunes that sound like the twittering of birds or the braying of deer. These instruments are sometimes used to lure wild beasts to within shooting range.

The Oroqens have many tales, fables, legends, proverbs and riddles that have been handed down from generation to generation.

Being Shamanists or animists, the Oroqens worship nature and their ancestors, and believe in the omnipresence of spirits. Their objects of worship are carefully kept in birch-bark boxes hung high on trees behind their tents.

The Oroqens have a long list of don'ts. For instance, they never call the tiger by its actual name but just "long tail," and the bear "granddad." Bears killed are generally honored with a series of ceremonies; their bones are wrapped in straw placed high on trees and offerings are made for the souls of dead bears. Oroqens do not work out their hunting plans in advance, because they believe that the shoulder blades of wild beasts have the power to see through a plan when one is made.

Wind burials are practiced by the Oroqens. When a person dies his corpse is put into a hollowed-out tree trunk and placed with head pointing south on two-meter high supports in the forest. Sometimes the horse of the deceased is killed to accompany the departing soul to netherworld. Only the bodies of young people who die of contagious diseases are cremated.

Monogamy is practiced by the Oroqens who are only permitted to marry with people outside their own clans. Proposals for marriage as a rule are made by go-betweens, sent to girls' families by boys' families.

The Oroqens originally peopled the region north of the Heilong River and south of the Outer Hinggan Mountains. But aggression and pillaging conducted by Tsarist Russia after the mid-17th century forced the Oroqens to migrate to the Greater and Lesser Hinggan Mountains. There were then seven tribes living in a clan commune society. Each clan commune called "Wulileng" consisted of five to a dozen families descended from a male ancestor. The commune head was elected. In the commune, which was then the basic economic unit of the Oroqens, all production tools were communally owned. The commune members hunted together, and the game bagged was equally distributed to all families.

The introduction of iron articles and guns and the use of horses during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) raised the productive forces of the Oroqens to a higher level. This gave rise to bartering on a bigger scale and the emergence of private ownership. That brought about profound social, economic changes. Individual families quit the clan commune and became basic economic units. The clan commune had disintegrated, though members of the same clan did live or hunt together in the same area. Organized under the Qing Dynasty's "eight banner system," the Oroqens were compelled to enlist in the armed forces and send fur to the Qing court as tributes. Most soldiers sent to fight in Xinjiang, Yunnan, Taiwan and other places lost their lives.

After the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911 came the rule of warlords who effected some changes in the administrative setup of the "eight banner system." Oroqen youths were dragged into "forest guerrilla units," and Oroqen hunters were forced to settle down to farm. Most of them later fled back to hunt in the forests. A few whom the warlords had made officers became landlords who hired Oroqen, Han, Manchu and Daur laborers to open up large tracts of land for crops.

The Japanese troops, who occupied northeast China in 1931, pulled down the cottages and smashed the farm implements of the remaining Oroqen farmers and drove them into the forests again. Oroqen youths were press-ganged into "forest detachments" officered by Japanese. The Japanese occupationists introduced opium smoking to ruin the health of the Oroqen people, some of whom were used in bacteria experiments. All this, coupled with incidence of epidemic diseases, had so decimated the Oroqen population that only some 1,000 of them remained at the time of the Japanese surrender in 1945.

Over a long period of time, the Oroqens had fought alongside other ethnic groups in China against Tsarist Russian and Japanese aggression to safeguard national unity.

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