Achang Ethnic Minority
Last updated by chinatravel at 2013-10-21
The Achang ethnic group is one of the 56 nationalities in China. According to statistics of the fifth nationwide census conducted in the year 2000, the population of the Achang nationality is 33936, most of whom live in Longchuan county and Lianghe county of Dehong Dai Autonomous Prefecture of Yunnan Province, and there are a few others living in counties of Luxi, Yingjiang, Tengchong and Yunlong. The Achang people have their own language but with no written words. The Achang language belongs to the kind of Burmese language, which belongs to the branch of Zang and Burmese, Han and Zang language system. And there are three kinds of dialects in the Achang language, such as Lianghe dialect, Longchuan dialect, and Luxi dialect. As the Achang people have lived together with the Han and Dai people for a very long time, most of them can speak and write both Chinese and the Dai language, and at the same time they have their own splendid oral literature. In history this group of people had very good relationships with other minorities like the Jingpo, Han, Dai, Bai people and so on.
The Achang people are one of the earliest ethnic groups recorded in Yunnan Province’s history. Some of the names from the Chinese historical records like Echang and Achang, referred to this nationality in different periods of history. After the founding of People's Republic of China in 1949, they were named Achang People in Chinese, according to their own wishes. They have lived in the valleys, basins and hillocks in the area of Gaoligong mountain ranges. The fertile land, moderate climate, and abundant rains in this region have provided good conditions for the development of agriculture of the Achang community. And they have been well known for good at growing rice from ancient times. The Achang people are mainly farmers, however, the handicraft industry is also very well developed and they are very famous for their adept at making long knives.
According to historical records from the book "General Information of Yunlong Region" by Wang Fengwen of Qing Dynasty (1644-1911AD), the Achang people in Yunlong area had lived there from the time when Zaogai was their chieftain during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368 AD) , in total as long as 35 generations. Their leader Zaogai made a rule that the title of the tribe leader could only be succeeded by the eldest son of the former leader, and from this period the hereditary rule began. Over ten generations from Zaogai's time, the Achang community became stronger and stronger and began to have trade relationships with kingdoms of Jinchi and Bo. In about the 10th centiry AD, they paid homage to the king of Dali kingdom. At that time merchants from other places taught the Achang people farming skills and therefore agriculture in this area gradually developed. During the Yuan and Ming Dynasties (1271-1644AD), Yunlong Prefecture was established and more and more people of Bai and Han nationalities emigrated to this area and at the same time some Achang people moved to live in Tengchong area in the west, and some began to live together with Bai and Han nationalities.
According to the historical records from"General Geography of Yuan Dynasty"(1271---1368AD) about this region, there had been Achang people living in today's Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefectures and Tengchong county before the Yuan Dynasty. While according to records in 'General Information of Yunnan Province ' written during Emperor Zhengde's Reign in the Ming Dynasty (1368---1644AD), it was believed that the Achang people were descendants of the Xunchuan people in Tang Dynasty (618---907AD). The Xunchuan people in the Tang Dynasty were administered by the Inspector of the Nanzhao Region, and at that time they lived a very primitive life with no silk or cottons, and no kings or leaders. During the process of development, the descendants of the Xunchuan people gradually became parts of Achang and Jingpo nationalities during the Yuan and Ming periods.
In the 16th year of the reign of Emperor Honghu in the Ming Dynasty (1383AD) , under the leadership of Zuona, the Achang people pledged allegiance to the emperor of the Ming Dynasty. During Hongwu period, Duanbo from the Han nationality was appointed the governor of Yunlong Region, and from then on the Achang ethnic group was degraded and at the same time they began to move to live in Dehong region in the southwest and as a result lost their home native land.
The Husa and Lasa regions where the Achang people lived was administered by the governor of Luchuan Prefecture during the Ming Dynasty. In the middle of the 15th century, when Luchuan area was conquered by General Wangji of the Ming Court during three wars, it had been under the jurisdiction of Longchuan Prefecture. General Wangji appointed his subordinate generals Lailuoyi and Kuangben as rulers in Husa and Lasa respectively and from that time the two became hereditary rulers of the Achang people in these two regions. The Achang people learned the techniques of cultivating lands and forging iron wares from the Han nationality troops garrisoned in the border areas, which consequently promoted the separation of handicraft industry from agriculture industry. As a result the commercial economy in this area developed.
The hereditary chieftain system continued during the Qing Dynasty after the Ming Dynasty was overthrown. General Wusangui, the governor of Yunnan Province in the Qing Dynasty took charge of both Husa and Lasa regions where the Achang people had lived, and changed the names to Xunzhuang.In the 31st year of Emperor Kakngxi's Reign ( 1692AD), General Wusangui was defeated by Emperor Kangxi and the ruling power of this area wad given back to the original Lai and Kuang families. In the second year of Emperor Yongzheng's Reign (1742) the Husa and Lasa regions were administered by Tengyue Prefecture. During Emperor Qianlog's Reign in the Qing Dynasty , the Achang people of the Nandian area not only had to pay tribute and taxes to the feudal rulers of the local Dai nationality , but at the same time more than eighty percent of them were tenants of the local Han and Dai landlords. As a result they were exploited by both feudal rulers and landlords. During the period of the Republic of China, the warlords in Yunnan Province set up their own governments in Longchuan and Liangchuan areas and Population Registration System (also known as Baojia system) was established. However the traditional feudal hereditary chieftain system continued until the founding of People's Republic of China in 1949, lasting for more than 500 hundred years in total, and under that system, the Achang people not only had to pay many taxes including official tax, opium tax and land rent to the hereditary chieftain , but also they had to work for their rulers.
TOPCulture and Arts
The Achang people have very rich and colorful oral literatures, such as ballads, stories and legends. There are a lot of exquisite folk legends widely spread among the Achang people,such as the long epical oral epic poetry ' Zhepama and Zhemima, long epical poetry " Caozha", and "The Blacksmith Fights the Dragon King", folk stories like "Grain and Millet", "Cousins", and "Hipbone" , animal stories like "The Deer and the Leopard Exchange Their Jobs" , "The Old Bear Tears His Cheek Skin" and so on. All of these poetries, stories and legends are very simple, vivid and touching.
Singing in antiphonal style is a kind of very popular activity among young men and women during their spare time. And this activity can be divided into three kinds, the first one is called "Xiangleji", which refers to the folk songs sung by the young men and women outdoors in the wild countryside in an antiphonal way. Usually when they sing these kinds of songs, they actually improvise the songs according to their feelings when they see the sight around them. They can make songs involving the mountains, water, clouds , trees and so on. The second kind is called ' Xiangzuo ', and these kinds of songs are sung by young men and women at quiet night when they go out to date in the woods. They sing these songs very quietly, emotionally, and always for several hours all through the night. The last one is called "Xiangmole" , which is also a kind of songs between dating young men and women. These kinds of songs have very elegant, graceful and amiable tunes, deep meanings and vivid metaphors.
" Elephant Foot Drum Dance" and "Monkey Dance" are the two most popular types of dance among the Achang people. There are also various and colorful folk sports, such as swinging on swings, horse race, shooting, performance of Achang knife, martial arts and so on.
Achang arts include embroidery, red lacquer, dyeing and weaving, sculpture, silverware, and so on, all of which are very exquisitely made. Of all the industrial arts mentioned above, the art sculpture has a very high level and on most of the furniture, buildings and Buddha niches , carvings of various animals and plants can be seen. In addition, the art of architectures and paintings of the Achang people also has their own ethnic features.
Bottle Gourd Flute-a musical instrument conveying love
The main musical instruments of the Achang people are Bamboo Lyre, Vertical Flute, Bottle Gourd Flute, March Flute, Bronze Jew's Harps, Three--Stringed Flute, Elephant Foot Drum, gongs and so on. A Bottle Gourd Flute is made of a gourd connected with three bamboo strings , which has seven tones, and which are usually in low volume and also slow and mellow. This instrument is usually used at night. A March Flute is made of one piece of bamboo, which also has seven tunes as well as a high volume, and an exquisite and bight melody. This kind of musical instruments are usually used at day time. Both of the two types of musical instruments aforementioned are not only the Achang people's favorite , but also the mediums transmitting love between young men and women.
Every year in the slack farming season, during the different festivals and assemblies, and at the breaks of their farm work, are the best times for the young men and women of the Achang people to date each other, to seek their lifelong partners. At such times, the young men would put the March Flute into the collars behind their necks or at their waists no matter where they go. Wherever he meets the girl he likes, no matter it is outside their village, around their buildings, or on the way to the local market, he will play beautiful music, ask the girl to stop for a while, come up and talk with her, and ask the girl's name. If the girl is single and has Mr. Right at that time, and further more if she is willing to make acquaintance with the young man, she will answer the boy's questions and chat ingeniously with that guy. At this moment the young man will volunteer to send the girl back home, while the girl will insist being sent all the way back home rather than stopping at half way, then the man will happily make beautiful folk songs with his flute and send the girl back home. True love begins from this moment.
Each time after the sunset, when finishing their supper and changing into new clothes, all the young men in the Achang community will quietly come out to the nearby place outside their lovers' houses, blow the bottle gourd flutes, and make elegant tunes to attract their girls to come out dating with them. While when the girls hear the familiar and amiable tunes, they will immediately go into their bedrooms and dress up, then make excuses to their family members and go out to date with their lovers. If it is the first time for the boy to come to the girl's family, the girl's mother or sister-in-law will open the door and welcome the boy to come inside , then the boy comes in and sits down ,at the same time, all the other family members will go away. At this moment the boy and the girl will sit down at the table, looking at each other full of tender and affection, or have an intimate chat with each other until dawn when the cock heralds the break of the day. Then the two lovers unwillingly say goodbye to each other and wait for the next meeting.
Both in the past and at present, there are numerous young men who have made acquaintance with beautiful girls and at last have had them as their lifelong partners , just with the help of the magic bottle gourd flute.
The ironwares made by the Achang people are extremely famous, of which the Husa Knife is especially well-known by the other ethnic groups nearby.
Husa Knife, which is also known as Achang Knife, has its name because it is widely produced in the Husa and Lasa regions of Longchuan county, where most of the Achang people live. This kind of knife is very exquisitely forged , with high softness as well as toughness, and even harder than hard irons. The sheaths which are made from materials of wood, leathers and silver also look very delicate. The Achang Knife has many types with various lengths and shapes. They can make knives used during working and productions, or in their daily life and also they can make the long knives used by hunters to protect themselves as well the kind of knives for butchers to kill animals, and so on. In addition,the Achang people also make knives for the other ethnic groups , for example they make Tibetan Knife and Jingpo Knife for the Tibetans and Jingpo people. Because of its exquisite workmanship, the Achang Knife is not only cherished by the Achang people themselves, but also popularly welcomed by the nearby nationalities such as Han, Dai , Jingpo, Lisu, Tibetan, Bai and so on. Nowadays the Achgang Knife has not only spread out of Yunnan Province , but also has been sold in areas like Beijing, Tibet, Qinghai, Xingjiang, Heilong provinces and so on. Further more, it is also welcomed and has been collected by many foreigners.
The history of knife forging among the Achang people already has a long history of over 600 years. It is believed that in the Ming Dynasty, among the troops stationed in this area, some soldiers specially worked to make weapons , and they had high level techniques in forging weapons. Later these men intermarried with the local Achang people and gradually were assimilated by their culture. Then the Achang people inherited and developed the techniques of smelting and forging from the Ming Dynasty troops and made various knifes of their own features with more and more exquisite workmanship. There are detailed divison of work among different villages and each village has its own famous brand products. The whole Husa area is just like a factory of handicraft industry , with each village as one workshop well known for one kind of product, such as the black long knife and beautiful steel knife made in Laifu Village, the broadsword and small pointed knife from Mangdong Village, the curved sickle with sawtooth from Yaojie Village, the back knife made in Xin Village, the sheath made in Mangdong Village, and so on. The reasons why the Husa knives are durable in use are that , first, they are made with specially--chosen materials , secondly, the quenching technique is well mastered by the artisans, and further more they are well scraped and then have a beautiful shape. So if you get one knife made by the Achang people and whet it a little, it will be very sharp indeed. Some of the old artisans can make very good knives with both high quality of softness and hardness, as a result they have very high flexural stiffness ratio , for example, if you have a knife like this, you can tie it to your waist just like a sash when you do not use it, while when you need it , you can untie it and then it naturally straightens up and this kind of technique is really unique and marvellous.
The Achang people in Husa and Lasa regions generally believe in Hinayana Buddhism. Every year they have regular religious activities such as ' Closing the Door Activity, ' Opening the Door Activity' and Burning Woods ' . In the past the Achang people living in Lianghe area usually believed in ghosts and gods, and every year at the time of spring ploughing and autumn harvest they would worship the God of Land. During that period all the people in the village would go to the farm fields to spill chicken blood and thrust chicken feathers into their farm fields in order to wish the ghost and god to protect their crops. In addition, as they have been influenced by the Han nationality , they also worship their ancestors.
Besides their religious festivals the Achang people in the Husa and Lasa regions also have several other important festivals, such as Going to the Market Day , Traditional Dancing Day, God--Worshipping Festival, Eating New Food Festival , Water Sprinkling Festival , Closing the Door Day, Opening the Door Day, and so on, most of which are quite similar to the festivals of the Dai nationality nearby. In addition, the Achang people also have festivals like the Torch Festival, Buddha Worshipping Festival, Wood Burning Festival, Watering the Flower Festival, Worshipping the Ancestor Festival, and so on. Of all the festivals mentioned above, the Torch Festival and the Worshipping the Ancestor Festival are the two most popular and splendid ones with lots of various activities.
Worshipping the Ancestor Festival
This festival is held every year in April according the local calender , in order to commemorate the two ancestors of the Achang people ---- Zhepama and Zhema, for their merits of punishing the evils and giving happiness to their descendants. At this time the Achang people make the best food to worship them and then kill some dogs and eat their meat as well as some taros. If people can catch some pythons , it will be considered as very good luck.
The Torch Festival is held every year on June 24th, according to the local calender in order to pray for a good harvest and no pests or natural disasters. On this day the Achang people kill pigs and oxes for sacrifice. And people will eat baked pork with rice noodles. In the evening they light the torches and hold it to walk around their villages.
Water sprinkling festival
Just like the local Dai nationality, the Achang people also have the Water Sprinkling Festival. This is a very good opportunity for the young people to seek their lovers and during that time usually the girls families will prepare eight big delicious dishes of food to treat the young men who come to seek their lovers. The numbers of the boys and girls must be equal to each other and then the party begins. The young man has to take away the head of the chicken on the table during the dining without detection by others, otherwise if he is detected and the chicken head is discovered by the girl, the young guy will be punished by drinking a cup of wine. While if he is not detected by the girl, the girl will have to drink a cup of wine instead. If the unlucky guy who is detected just when he is doing the 'stealing' , he will not only be punished by drinking wines, but also will be laughed at by the girl. In the end the young man will have to give the money according to the price of the food to the girl without her detection.
The clothes of the Achang people are compact, simple and beautiful. Men mostly wear blue, while, or black front opening jackets, and black trousers with a wide and short bottom. While the young guys usually like to wear white wimples , but they will change into black ones after getting married. The elderly people like to wear fur hats. Whenever the young men wear their wimples, they like to make a forty centimetres long ear of grain at the back of their head. Whenever the men go out to the market or attend festival activities, they like to take with them a satchel as well as an Achang knife, which will make them look more handsome and natural. The women wear different clothes depending on how old they are and whether they are married. The unmarried young girls usually wear side opening and front opening jackets , black long trousers with a belly band on their waists as well as black wimple on their heads. The young girls in Lianghe regions also like to wear straight skirts. The married women like to wear blue--black front opening jackets, and have their lower legs bound by leg wrappings , and they also like to make high wimples with black cloth , which just looks similar to peaked caps , with four for five colorful silk balls sagging from the top of the wimple, and this dress up is really unique and with extravagant features. Whenever going out to the market , visiting their relatives or friends, and celebrating festivals, the Achang women will dress up carefully. They take out all the beautiful jewelleries they have collected, wear their big earbobs, pretty bracelets, silver neck rings, and at last put up long silver chains on the buttons at the front of their jackets as well as waists. When all of this is finished, the Achang women will look shiny and silvery all over the body with elegant demeanour. When you go to visit the Achang villages you will find that all the young men and women here like to put a flower on their wimple . The flowers not only make them look more handsome and beautiful, but also it is a symbol of upright personality and pure minds.
The Achang people usually have small monogamous families. The young men and women like free and independent love. Usually there are activities conducted by the young men such as going into the girls' families and talking with them to see if they fit each other . But the the marriage is at last fixed by the parents from both families. In the past there was no marriage between people sharing the same family names. But they have intermarried with the Han and Dai people very frequently for a very long time. Levirate marriage is very popular among the Achang people. Widows can marry other men but they can not take away the properties from their original husbands. And the children still belong to their fathers' families.
At the wedding banquet of the Achang people, the bride's maternal uncle will be first invited to sit at the most important position of the table, and a cold dish of food made from the brains of pigs should be served. At the end of the banquet the bride's uncle will give her a piece of back leg of a pig with its tail, which is called Pork from the Bride's Family, indicating that the bride will never forget and always appreciate the fostering and deep affection from her parents.
The Achang people have three meals a day and like sour food. In the past the young men and women had the habit of chewing tobaccos and betel nuts, as a result their teeth were always dyed into black colours , that is why they had the old belief that ' Black Teeth Means Beautiful '.
The main food of the Achang people is rice. And they also like to take food like rice filum made from small pieces of rice as well as rice noodles . The rice filum is very convenient to eat. You just have to put it into boiled water for a few minutes and then take it out and mix it with some spices before you eat it. If you mix it with pork and chicken, you can make different flavors.. Rice noddles can also be cooked in boiled water, however cold rice noodles can also be eaten. The Achang people also like to put a spoon of hot soya flour into the rice noodles together with hot pepper, mixture of garlic , ginger, monosodium glutamate and so on, making a wonderful snack of soya rice noddles at last, which tastes hot,spicy and soft and is a snack often eaten by the Achang people in summer.The Achang people like to eat taros and the legend goes that in ancient times whenever there was good harvest, the Achang people would absolutely eat taros as well as kill dogs . Most of the Achang women can make soybeans , bean powders, and they often make cold noodles with peas.The meats they eat are mainly from he pigs and cattles they raise. They like to make boiled pork rice noodles using pork , that is to kill the pigs and burn them with wheat straws or rice straws, until the skin of the pig becomes yellow, then clean it , cut it into small pieces and mix it with vinegar, garlic, pepper and so on and at last eat it with rice noodles. Raising fish in the rice fields is the main source they get fish. When cooking fish they usually fry the fresh fish in hot edible oil and then take it out and steam it with water and sour peppers before finishing the cooking process. The most characteristic dish of fish is called sour and hot after--harvest fish, as they put the fish fries into the rice field when planting the rice, and get the fish out after harvest. Salted preserved vegetables ,beancurds , and soy sauce are made and eaten all through the year, as they are requisite at every meal in the Achang family. The wine is a very popular beverage all through the year and the Achang women always make sweet wines from sticky rice, which has very intense bouquet and sweet taste. Adults and old people usually drink white spirits. Nowadays most of the Achang people can make white spirits through distillation and then preserve it in a big earthen jar for the use of it in festivals as well as treat the guests.
The typical Achang food includes cold celery powders, cold meat, pickles and "Hand Making Rice Noodles".
Sticky rice cake and rice noodles are two kinds of characteristic food of the Achang people. When making the sticky rice, they first wash the rice and then put it in clean water for about half a day , after that put the rice into a rice pot and steam it before eatting it. Sticky rice cakes are very soft and tender with good mouthfeel . You can also put the cakes on a leave of a banana tree and eat it as it becomes cooler and cooler , while you can also fry it or bake it, steam it or burn it, it is always fragrant, crisp and delicious , and you will never get bored of eating it frequently. Hand Making Rice Noodles is a popular kind of food among the Achang people living in Husa region of Longchuan County. Make the noodles from local high quality rice and then make condiments from the mixture of ' fire burned pork ', pig liver, pig brains, pig intestines, peanuts, sesame, garlic, pepper, coriander, salt, monosodium glutamate , soy powders and vinegar. When eating, put the noodles in your hands , serve with condiments , then send the noddles into your mouth . This kind of rice noodles are delicious in taste, rich in nutrition, easily to be absorbed by your body , and at last provide a good memory forever.
The custom of inhumation
Some of the people dying from cachectic diseases, or women dying from dystocias , should first have cremation and then inhumation. People who die outside their villages should not be taken back into the village. After the death the corpses should not be stepped across by human beings, cats, dogs or other animals. The deceased can be buried with their favourite things , but metals are not allowable, as a result the metal false tooth has to be taken out . During the funerals, the ceremony is usually held by a special wizard, chanting sutras all night long accompanied by funeral music , gong beating, and filial songs. After the funeral no gongs or funeral tools should be touched , otherwise it would be believed that there will be more death in the village.
Generally speaking inhumation is held after people's death. But abnormally dying people should be cremated.
Etiquettes and taboos
It is not allowed to kill livestocks or any other animals on January 1st according to their own calender. After a baby is born, in the next seven days men from other families are not allowed to enter the courtyard of this family.
The bedrooms in the Achang families are located on either side of the main room, the bedroom of the old people are on the right side, while others' are on the left side. Male seniors are not allowed to enter the married juniors' bedrooms. Unmarried men can live in the wing rooms or upstairs of the wing rooms. Women should not live upstairs. When men are down stairs, women should not go upstairs. Women can not step over or walk on farm tools or other instruments.
The Achang people are very enthusiastic and hospitable , always respect the elderly and love the young ones, and they also have many traditional good etiquettes. If a guest comes for a rest, the host should provide good tea or wines, ask the guest to sit at a better place. If the guest is younger or junior, he should not refuse to sit at a side seat or lower seat. When provided with tea or wines, one should not take it without comity. The Achang people has the custom of asking the guest to have more food, so whether or not the guest likes to drink tea or wines, he had better taken it. When asked to eat more, no matter the guest is full or not, he should stretch out his bowl and welcome it , with both of his hands as well as stand up, which will be considered as respectful. Usually this custom is just symbolistic, the host wants to show his friendship or even sings a folk song to ask the guest to have more food as well as expresses his hospitality, which is the real reason of this custom.
When an engagement or oath is cancelled, the photos or hairs taken from the other person should be given back rather than burn them. Otherwise it is believed that after the photos or the hair is burned, the person will be very sick or even get mad.
Marriages between the people sharing the same family names are not allowed. They also have the custom of having the son-in-law come to live with the girl's family. However the man has to use the girl's family name after going to live with her family. The wedding ceremony of the Achang people lasts for three days, during which the bride and groom will propose a toast to each guest one by one, and the guest has to put some coins into the cup after finishing it.
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