Yunnan Minority Festivals

The minority groups of Yunnan have (as you may have already imagined) have developed a joyous collection of festivals that are usually characterized by singing, dancing and blasting fireworks into the air. Many of the festivals date back hundreds of years, and if you have the opportunity you’d better plan your trip to coincide with at least one of them. Besides the glorious landscapes and food of Yunnan, minority cultures are some of the best pieces of the Yunnan pie, and festivals are without question the best place to sample a slice. Check out our list of festivals and their places and times to make sure you get in on the action.

Third Moon Fair

Chinese name:
三月街 (Sānyuè Jiē)
When:
4th lunar month, days 23 – 25 (usually May)
Where:
Dali
Ethnic groups:
Bai

The Third Moon Festival is your best chance to catch many of Dali’s different ethnic groups assembled in one place and showcases markets and traders touting a head-spinning cache of Dali goods – including horses. Eating, drinking, dancing and entertainment are all part of the fun, and you can catch appearances by herb-trading Tibetans, Yi horse-traders and (if you’re lucky) the rarely-seen Liso from the western mountains. The Bai also come in great numbers and don their colorful traditional costumes for dancing and trading extravaganzas.

Surrounding Three Spirits/Three Temples Pilgrimage

Chinese name:
绕三灵 (Ràosānlíng)
When:
4th lunar month, days 23 – 25 (usually May)
Where:
Dali
Ethnic groups:
Bai

The Three Temples Pilgrimage is not as solemn as it sounds. The party starts from the South Gate of town and marches to the Sacred Fountainhead Temple (Shèngyuán Sì; 圣源寺) in Xizhou (喜洲; total distance 20 km or 12.5 mi). After dancing and singing until the break of dawn, the celebration moves to Jingui Temple (Jīnguī Sì; 金圭寺) and then hits up Majiuyi Temple (Mǎjiǔyì Běnzhǔmiào 马久邑本主庙).

Torch Festival

Chinese name:
火把节 (Huǒbǎ Jié)
When:
6th lunar month, day 24 (2014: Jul 21)
Where:
Most minority villages; Lijiang and Dali have strong participation
Ethnic groups:
Yi, Bai, Naxi, Lahu, Hani, Lisu, Primi, Blang, Jino

One of the most dangerously fun festivals in all of China, the Torch Festival invites locals to put up ten foot-tall torches around town, break out bags of highly flammable pine resin powder, and then throw handfuls of fire at each other. How does this work? As the madness proceeds into the evening, the tall torches crumble to smaller handheld pieces. Next, locals pick them up to use them as personal flames, over which they throw the pine resin. The result is a thunderous burst of flame aimed at their target. It’s all in good fun and usually no one gets hurt, but it is amazing that they haven’t yet burned the town down.

Water Splashing Festival

Chinese name:
泼水节 (Pōshuǐ Jié)
When:
mid April
Ethnic groups:
Dai

The Water Splashing Festival is basically the same as the infamous, wet and wild Thai New Year. People go around spraying each other with water guns and dumping buckets of water on heads from balconies. The water washes away the sin from the past year, so make sure to get drenched; you might need it if you just arrived from the Full Moon Party.

Closed Door Festival & the Open Door Festival

Chinese name:
关门节 (Guānmén Jié); 开门节 (Kāimén Jié)
When:
Jul-Oct
Where:
Xishuangbanna
Ethnic groups:
Dai, Blang, Derung, Va

This is Xishuangbanna’s equivalent to Lent and Mardi Gras. The Closed Door period can be compared to Lent, when men become monks and no marriages are permitted. Later on, during the Open Door, people let loose and party like it’s Mardi Gras to encourage a good harvest.

Bullfight Festival

Chinese name:
斗牛节 (Dòuniú Jié)
When:
Early Jul
Where:
Miao villages
Ethnic groups:
Miao

The importance of the cow and the bull in Miao culture cannot be overstated. They rely on the animal for nearly everything in their daily lives, and the Bullfight Festival is their way to celebrate their special connection to the beast. During this time, the cattle are fed extra well and even given some wine to bolster their spirit.

Sword Pole Festival

Chinese name:
刀杆节 (Dāogǎn Jié)
When:
2nd lunar month, day 8
Ethnic groups:
Lisu

There is a Lisu legend of an ancient Han hero who taught them to make swords, and every year on the eighth day of the second lunar month they celebrate their gratitude to him during the Sword Pole Festival. The two main events of the festival are “Diving into the Sea of Flames” and “Ascending the Pole of Swords.” For these shows five young men put their bravery on display as they first walk over hot coals and then clamber up a ladder of 36 sharp knives, both with bare feet.

Munao Festival

Chinese name:
目脑节 (Mùnǎo Jié)
When:
1st lunar month lasting 2-3 days
Where:
Liuzhu
Ethnic groups:
Jingpo

The Munao Mass Dance is the highlight of this festival, which includes five days of singing and dancing. Its purpose is to bring luck and happiness to the coming year.

Sanduo Festival

Chinese name:
三朵节 (Sānduǒ Jié)
When:
2nd lunar month, day 8
Where:
Lijiang
Ethnic groups:
Naxi

This traditional festival of the Naxi takes place at Sanduo Temple in Baisha and puts on a large sacrificial ceremony.

 

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