The Blang people mainly live in the Menghai and Jinghong counties in Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture in southwestern China's Yunnan Province, with a small portion scattering around Shuangjiang, Yongde, Yunxian and Gengma counties in the Lincang prefecture as well as the Lancang and Mojiang counties in Simao prefecture. It has a total population of about 91882.
History and origin
According to records on the history of the Han Dynasty, the origin of the Blang people can be traced back to the ancient Pu tribe who were believed to be their ancestors settled in the Lancang and Nujiang river valleys in Yongchang area. In the so called "Nanyi Chaos" in the Yuangkang Year of Hui Emperor in Xijin Dynasties (297-299AD), some of the Pu people began to migrate from north to south. Among them, some came to the Yongshou (that is Yongde and Zhengkang today); some went down the Langcang River and finally came to Shuangjiang, Gengma, and Menghai; some just stayed where they were, and then developed into the Blang people today.
Some of the Blangs call themselves "Buang", some say "Awa", "Aerwa", "Yiwa", "Wa", or "Wenggon". The Han or Dai people like to call them "Puman", or "Plang" or "Meng". Other names for the Blang ethnic group are: "La", "Da", "Mila", "Manl', "Kapo", or "Abe". After the Republic of China was founded, they are officially called "Blang".
The Blang people have their own spoken language, but they do not have written script. As the Blangs are scattered in different areas of southwest China, the language they speak also differs slightly from one place to another. One of their major dialects is spoken in the Xishuangbanna area and another in the Zhenkang County (known as the Wu dialect).Most of the Blangs can speak Chinese, Dai and Va languages. Some of the Blang literalists can use the Dai written script. Today Chinese is widely used.
The Blang people wear simple clothes. They like clothes of dark color such as black or dark green and blue whether they are men or women. There is not much difference in different areas.
The Blang men have the habit of having tattooing in the body, including arms, chest, bellies or backs. These tattooing are of the patterns of wild animals, birds or beast or other different shapes. It was usually dyed with carbon ash and snake bile. The Blang men usually wear collarless jackets and black loose pants. They often have turbans of either black or white.
The Blang women dress very similarly to the Dai women. They wear collarless jackets over the so called Tong skirts. They tie their hair into a bun and cover it with cloth. They also like earrings, necklaces and bracelets. Young women like wearing flowers in the hair. Many of the women are fond of dying the cheek red.
Hair styles: Most of the Blang women have their hair done in a peculiar way with ornamental articles. A silver hair pin with nice pattern of three- trail-snail, known as "gazigazong", is their favorite. Most of the women like to tie their hair into a bun with layers of white or blue cloth, just like the shape of the three-trail-snail.
There used to be a legend about the snail and the beautiful young lady named Yiying. Women today do their hair in the way in honor of the miserable girl, hoping that they can always be free of misfortune and bad luck, and that their happy marriage may last forever.
The foods of the Blangs feature special ethnic characteristics. The main food of Blang people is rice. It is usually accompanied by corn, buckwheat, beans and peas, potatoes, and red rice. Sticky rice is their favorite. Most of the families have three meals a day, and at lunch they have cold rice. The rice is done either braised or steamed. Blang men are especially good at cooking bamboo tube rice. The rice, covered with bamboo pulp, and mixed with the taste of fresh bamboo and the fragrance resulted from charcoal baking, is very delicious. Their daily vegetables consist of cabbage, greengrocery, melons, beans, radish, eggplant, hot pepper, leek, tomato and so on. Women may go up the mountain and collect the edible fungus, mushrooms, bamboo shoot, dasheen, wild potatoes and wild potherbs to cook. Meat includes pork, beef, mutton, chicken, and sometimes animals like sparrow, bamboo mice, snake and elk are edible too. Other foods include fish, shrimp, and crab.
The Blangs in Xishangbanna do their cooking by steaming, frying, baking, pickling, or pounding. Sample dishes include fried meat, barbecued meat, grilled fish, fried cake, deep-fried spider.
The Blangs are also fond of sour food and they often preserve food in salt. There are pickled bamboo shoots, meat and fish. Some of the Blangs are fond of raw meat too. They eat raw pork, fish and the animal blood.
The Blangs in Simao area like porridges very much. They have porridge with chicken, porridge with field mouse, and porridge with dog meat. Porridge with field mice are quite rare, therefore, it is usually used to entertain the honorable guests.
The Blangs drink tea and wine. There is the tradition of smoking among men and women. Men like strong, hot tobaccos, while women smoke mild and soft tobaccos. Today most of the young women no longer have that habit while young men still have.
Etiquette and taboo
It is polite to take off the shoes before entering the house in the Blang villages. It is forbidden to touch the head of Buddha, monks, and the elders.
Certain woods are considered to be holy and it is forbidden to cut down any trees and take away any soil or stones from the holy wood. You can not relieve the bowels there too.
Don't go into the host's bedroom unless you are formally invited. And don't trample or span the fire place in the room as it is believed to be unlucky for the house owner. The altar holding offerings to the household god in the main room of the house is considered to be a holy place. Don't touch it.
The turbans that the Blang men wear symbolize their dignity. Therefore, don't touch them on the head especially those of the elders.
If you come to the wedding of the Blangs, you will get ready to accept the ablution rite. That is, you will be served by both the bride and the groom at the gate to wash your hands before you go into the reception.
In Blang villages, pregnant women are forbidden to take part in any religious ceremony and ritual.
Since the Blangs live together with Dai people, they use the Dai Calendar too. They celebrate the New Year's Day at the same day when the Dai people are having the Water Splashing Festival. But they do not have dragon boats, and they do not splash waters at the day. April 15th is the traditional "Kangshan Festival", and during the time young people should send presents to the elders, performances of folk music (singing and dancing) and traditional martial arts is presented. People will get together for comity meals too.
Flower Festival: It is celebrated on February 2nd according to the lunar calendar. At the time, all the women from the village go up to the mountains to collect flowers with long narrow flags in their hands. All the flowers they get in the Flower Tree are erected at the center of the village. Paper scrip and colorful flags are also put onto the same tree. Then all the people in the village will circle around the tree, cheerfully dancing to the beat of drums and gongs and other instruments. Puffed rice are thrown to the tree by women while they are dancing. This is done as a symbol of unity and prosperity for the village. Young men and women will take the chance to find their ideal spouse too.
Gang Yong Festival: The Blangs regard bamboo rats as their totem. During the days of the planting season in April and the harvest season in September, Blangs will celebrate the Gang Yong Festival to worship the bamboo rats. In the past, every time the festival took place, all the villagers would put on new dress, carry bamboo baskets and take the rattraps. They all went up the mountains to the bamboo forest to catch bamboo rats.
Once having caught the bamboo rats, people tie them on the stick and put flowers on them. Two people carry them to go around the village. A person will follow the rat lifters, shaking a broken bamboo pole, and reciting aloud the blessing and greeting words. Finally, they carry the rats to the house of the Shaikh, and cut off the rat head for him. The rest parts will be chopped up and allotted one portion to each family. Then people will take their part back home for the ritual. It is believed that by such a ritual there will be prosperity in the village and bring ample food and clothing for the family in coming year.
The Blang ethnic group has a unique literature of their own and these are passed down from generation to generation by oral tellings. The rich oral literature includes legends, folk tales, stories, poetry, riddles and ballads. Most of these are about the origin of human beings. Among them, the most famous ones are "Yanbu Lingga", "the legend of the birth of human from gourd. And there are myths about the creation of the world, such as "the myths of God Gumiya", "the story of how the rhinoceros created the world". Besides these, there are stories about "the elephant and the swan", telling how brave the Blangs are, and how they fight against the evils. All these are how the Blang tell their history, impart their knowledge and express their feelings.
The Blangs also like singing and dancing. Young people like a courting dance called the "circle dance." Young women are in the inner side of the circle while young men are at the outer side. Te girls dance gracefully while moving in an anticlockwise direction while boys will dance like tigers in the circle. Yong men sing love songs to those who he loves. The Circle Dance is the most popular among the groups of young people.
The Blang men like Wushu very much. They reveal their energy in the "knife dance." Dancing is mixed with Wushu there. They can play Long sword, single stick or short stick. From these, their spirit of bravery is shown.
Residence and buildings
The Blangs live in the two-story house and the house is usually built according the shape of the earth. Sine they live in the sub-tropical area, where there is abundant rain and moisture, the love the two-story house. Like the Dai people, the homes are made of wood. Most of them are made of bamboo with thatched roofs.
Celebration of the erection of new house: When a new house is being built in the Blang village, it is a tradition that all the villagers would come for help. Therefore, it is also a tradition for the house owners to hold a ceremony to host all the villagers, friends and relatives. It is something similar to the tradition of the Dai people.
The ceremony begins at noon when the sun is at the best. Fireworks are played around the house.
The first men to get upstairs into the house are those holding a bull head. They sing songs of blessing; they dance while getting up the wood steps. Girls, in their festival bests, then stand along the stairs holding basins of water. Girls splash water to the young men as symbols of blessing. Then men with household trunks, women holding bedding and clothes, girls carrying dishes go into the new house in succession.
When everyone is upstairs, things are sorted and put into the right place. After that, fire is made and guests are seated. Feast is given to all those participate. People sing and drink and enjoy themselves to celebrate the occasion.
The bamboo products, the textile goods and the dye works made by the Blang groups feature special ethnic characteristics.
Bamboo products:The Blang people reside in places where bamboos grow, so bamboo strips and rattans are commonly used to make into family appliance and utensils. Most of the Blang men are able to make bamboo products by hand, such as bamboo basket, bucket, dustpan, mat, table, and workbox. Most of the products are be used by themselves and some are taken to the market for sale or exchange.
Textile goods: The Blang women are good at spinning and weaving. Raw materials like cotton, ramee and hemp are used to make into textile products of damask and brocade. This kind of cloth is thick and lasting and therefore favored by the local residents. In some of the Blang villages, loom is being used now, which has improved the quality of their textile products.
Dye works:The Blangs use simple way of dyeing. They choose different kinds of plants and flowers to make different colors. For example, blue is made from a plant after soaking, pounding, filtrating and depositing. When dyeing, they put the liquid with the cortices into a big pot and boiled together with plain white cotton cloth. After repeated infusion, they get colored cloth.
Ancestor worship is also popular for the Blangs. They believe that men's production, lives, happiness and miseries are all governed by ghosts or gods and all the living things have souls. Since most of them live together with the Dai people, most of them practice Hinayana Buddhism. Monastery can be found in almost every village. There are also those people who practice Shamanism and Totemism and have similar custom with those of Dais.