Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Monday, April 29, 2013

Beyond the Great Wall - Sister's Rice Festival

There are 1.5 billion people who live in China, and approximately 92% are Han Chinese, that is ethnically Chinese. Most of this blog explores the Han culture. However, in the outer regions of China, beyond the great wall,  various ethnic "minorities" abound. In fact, there are 56 officially recognized ethnic "minorities" in China, which accounts for about 125 million people.
Photo Credit: Yuen Yan

The Sister's Rice Festival, also known as Sister's Meal Festival, takes place in late April, and lasts three to five days. This is a traditional courting festival, but it is also a time to celebrate the spring, and the Miao culture.

Along with bull fighting, dragon boat races, singing, dancing and eating, the Miao girls wear their finest and meet with their suitors. The girls accept and reject their suitors with bundles of rice,  especially prepared, which hold a symbolic treasure inside.

Miao Family Prepare to Leave
Copyright: David Newbegin
Miao girls prepare for the festival by gathering local herbs and flowers which are ground and used to dye glutinous rice in order to produce the Sister's Rice - colorful rice, usually in blue, pink, yellow and white, that represent the four seasons.
Big Meal Sister's Rice
Copyright David Newbegin

The girls bundle the rice for prospective suitors with various treasures: a red chili is an absolute refusal, a leaf is an invitation for friendship, and a thorn tells the boy that "he is the one". A pair of chopsticks with the rice is a declaration of love, however one chopstick is another refusal.

Silver Festival Costume
Copyright: David Newbegin
Women wear beautifully embroidered clothes. The young women are decked out in their finest silver that has been cleaned and polished by their mothers, aunts and grandmothers in preparation for the festival. The girls of courting age wear special headpieces and phoenix crowns. The silver represents light, and is believed to dispel evil spirits. The silver is also a symbol of wealth and beauty, and girls wear up to 10kg of it.

The girls do a traditional dance to the beating of the drum for hours, jingling and shimmering in the sun.

Miao Drummers
Copyright: David Newbegin

Below is a 14 minute video of the Sister's Rice Festival which shows the preparation of the rice, the courting traditions, the courting songs and the dancing girls. You can hear silver ornaments clinking profusely in the background.

A special thanks to Flickr member David Newbegin for the above photographs of the Sister's Rice Festival. To see more of his great photographs of his time in China, access his photostream here
To learn more about the Miao, check out our other posts for Beyond the Great Wall, including an overview of the Miao and the Lusheng, a traditional bamboo instrument.

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