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Yangbi Culture

Origin of the Yi Torch Festival

 There are records about the origin of the Torch Festival in the "Kunming County Annals" written in the Guangxu period of the Qing Dynasty: "There was a Yi woman Anan in the Han Dynasty. Her husband was killed by evildoers, and she swore that she would not submit to the killers. So she jumped into fire and died at that day (the 24th in the sixth lunar month). People felt very sad and held the festival for her.

 A description of another origin story from a different source goes: “King Piluoge of the Yunnanzhao (a local regime in ancient China) planned to meet of the rulers other five cities in the Songming Building. He wanted to trap and burn them to death so that he could swallow up their territory. The wife of King Dengdan—a woman named Cishan—tried to persuade her husband not to go, but he refused. Then she put an iron bracelet around the arm of her husband. He went as scheduled and was burned death. Cishan identified and brought back her husband's body according to the iron bracelet. Piluoge heard of her virtue and wanted to draw her over to his side, but Cishan closed the city gate and committed suicide. So people of Dian (an ancient name for Yunnan) burned torches to grieve over her."

 In a folk legend, it is said that the Torch Festival stems from a time when God sent pests to destroy crops in the human world and Yi people drove them away with fire. Some people also say that the festival commemorate a fight in which ancestors defeated the Prince of the Devils by attacking them with fire. Most of the records and legends are forced interpretation. Chinese historians say the Torch Festival for praying for good harvests and came into being as a result of the poor harvests by the ancient Yi society. Over the years the religious elements of the festival have diminished and the entertainment value has increased.


Yi Torch Festival

The Yi Torch festival. features courtship rituals, music, dancing around huge bonfires and bloodless bullfights. In the daytime, a ceremony is held to offer prayers to the gods or spirits associated with their lives. Prayers to earth God are made with chicken blood. After sunset, people light torches to send the gods backs. One Yi told Smithsonian magazine, “The celebration is all bustle and excitement. We slaughter goats and chickens, drink liquor, sing songs and dance, We also invite our best friends to a big feast."


 The Torch Festival is celebrated on the 24th day of 6th lunar month in July or August in southwest China by the Bai, Naxi and Yi people. Participants light torches in front of their houses and set 35-foot-high torches---made from pine and cypress timbers stuffed with smaller branches---in their village squares. The Bulang, Wa, Lisu, Lahu, Hani and Jinuo minorities hold similar festivals but on different dates.


 "The Torch Festival" has traditionally been celebrated by many Chinese ethnic groups around 24th day of the sixth lunar month. During the festival, Yis in all villages carry torches and walk around their houses and fields, and plant pine torches on field ridges in the hope of driving away insect pests. After making their rounds, the Yi villagers gather around bonfires, playing moon guitars (a four-stringed plucked instrument with a moon-shaped sound box) and mouth organs, dancing and drinking wine through the night to pray for a good harvest. The Yis in some places stage horse races, bull fighting, playing on the swing, archery and wrestling.


 The Yi Torch Festival is held at different times among different Yi groups. It is generally held on about 24th of the sixth lunar month in Sichuan and Yunnan, and about the 6th of the sixth lunar month in the Guizhou Yi region. The length of the celebration varies from three to seven days. When it comes, some people butcher chicken and pig, and some butcher cattle and sheep as sacrifices offered to the ruler of heaven, the mother of earth and ancestors. The Yi also pray for the safety of humans and domestic animals and for an abundant harvest of all food crops. At nightfall, torches are lit and villages compete to have the best torch. Recreational, sports and entertaining activities include antiphonal singing (alternate singing by two choirs or singers), dancing, bullfight, horse race, wrestling, archery, and tug-of-wars. Business and trade activities are carried out.


 Because Yi people believe that torches get rid of evil and ghosts, they light up every corner of their house after the torch is lit. In some villages, torch teams go from house to house, and then gather at the edge of a village, or on slope or in fields to play torch games and hold a fire party, where young men and women decked out in their finest festival dress sing and dance and party all night long. An ancient poem describing proceeding centuries ago goes: "The mountain seems wrapped by rosy cloud; Uneven torches move back and forth with people which are like ten thousand of lotus flowers blossoming in mirage, and stars all over the sky fall down to the human world."


 The festival honors a woman who leaped into a fire rather make love with a king. Before the village torch is lit people gather around it and drink rice wine. The village elders use a ladder to climb to the top of the torch as they distribute fruit and food to the villagers while they boisterously sing the "Torch Festival Song." The torch is then solemnly lit. The villagers light their torches off the village torch and sing and dance and eventually make their ways to their homes and light the torches there.

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