De'ang Ethnic Group has a population of 17,935 (2000 census), which mainly lives in Luxi County in Dehong Dai-Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture and Zhenkang County in Lincang Prefecture of Southwest China's Yunnan province. Some of the population scatters in Gengma and Yongde counties in Lincang Prefecture, Baoshan County in Baoshan Prefecture and Lancang County in Simao Prefecture in Yunnan Province. Most of the De'ang villages are not far from the villages of the Dai, Jingpo, Wa and Han people.
De'ang is a word in the local language. Ang means "rock" or "rock cave", and De is added to show respect. It is said that the ancestors of De'ang people once lived in caves, so it's possible that the group call themselves De'ang in commemoration of the ancestors and their history of living in the caves.
De'ang is one of the oldest tribes in the southwestern frontier of China. As the history records, De'ang Nationality dates back to "Pu" people, the earliest residents living in the mountain regions along Lancang River and Nu River in the second century.
During the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) and Jin Dynasty (265-420), a tribe named "Baipu group" lived in Yongchang Prefecture, which covered the present Baoshan, Dehong, Lincang, Simao, and Xishuangbanna prefectures. In Nanzhao Kingdom (649-902), these people were called "Puziman" (Puzi means barbarians). In Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368), they were called "Pu people" or "Puman" (Man also means barbarians in Chinese). In Qing Dynasty (1616-1911), De'ang group developed out of Pu people and became an ethnic group (they were also called Benglong people in Qing historic records). They lived in Yongchang Prefecture (the present Dehong prefecture and Zhenkang, Gengma and Mengding counties). After the founding of PRC in 1949, they were named Benglong Nationality and officially renamed De'ang Nationality in September, 1985.
De'ang people call themselves "De'ang". Other ethnic groups call them "Benglong". The local annals of Yunnan mention them as "Benglong", "Bengzi" people after Qing Dynasty. They were officially named "Benglong" in 1949, and "De'ang" in 1985.
De'ang people have their own language, which includes three local dialects: Bulei, Ruojin, and Rumai. De'ang people have long been living together with Han Nationality, Dai and Jingpo ethnic groups; so most De'angs also speak Chinese, Dai and Jingpo languages. De'ang nationality does not have its own written system. They use the written languages of Chinese and Dai language widely.
De'ang women's costumes are usually black, red or colorful (Hua in Chinese), so they are called "Red De'ang", "Black De'ang" and "Hua De'ang". De'ang women generally wear long straight skirt, bamboo-woven waist-girdles, big eardrops and coverings for the legs.
De'ang women's dress differs depending on their dialects, their ages and whether they are married or not. Women from the Red and Hua De'ang shave head and wear black head wrapping, big eardrop, silver circlet neck ring and silver bracelet. They wear black edge-to-edge blouse faced with a piece of red cloth and four or five big square silver buttons. They wear bamboo girdles with delicate ornamental designs. Red De'ang women usually edge the skirt with a piece of cloth that has bright red horizontal 16-to-20-cm strips. Black De'ang women decorate their blue-black skirt with several red, green or white thin strips and Hua De'ang women sew red, black or red-blue strips on their straight skirt.
De'ang women's dress varies at different ages. Their dresses are very simple before they are 13. They wear child's dress when they are from 1 to 6, and girl's dress from 7 to 12. Young women's (from 13 to the time they get married) dress is elegant and colorful. They wear short indigo or blue garment with a white turndown collar, narrow sleeves and buttons down the front. The collar, with a white inner layer and an indigo outer layer, is edged with colorful pompoms. The two shoulders of the blouse are set with three pieces of red cloth and they are also edged with pompoms. The wristbands are rimmed with two thin pieces of red cloth and the end-ridge of the lower hem of the dress is rimmed with a thin red line, decorated with various flowers, beautiful designs and colorful pompoms. Young De'ang women wear bright-colored and beautiful straight skirt. The major difference of a De'ang woman's dress before and after she is married is that a married woman wraps her head with double-layered indigo cloth, and the wrapping can be of the length to her waist. What's more, they do not tie red pompoms onto the ear ornament (Ertong in Chinese), and they don't wear neck ring. Old women like to wear black garment with loose sleeves, round collar without red lace or pompoms. They wear less waist girdles and their waist girdles are usually black. Old De'ang women do not wear any earbob, bracelet, or finger ring.
De'ang men usually wrap their heads with black or white scarves. They like to wear silver ornaments on their ears, neck and hands. They wear ear ornament (Ertong, and at the end of which are strung red pompoms) on the left ear and silver earbob on the right ear. They wear several silver circlet neck rings on their neck. De'ang men generally wear a short black or blue jacket buttoned to the left side and short and loose trousers. They wear on their shoulder cloth bags edged with many red pompoms.
The most characteristic part of the De'ang dresses and adornments is the girdles that De'ang women wear. A grown woman often wears several girdles, which are often made of rattan or bamboo. Their girdles are often painted red, black or green, and are usually beautifully decorated.
Legend goes that De'ang women didn't wear any girdles long time ago and girls could fly all over the sky. They worked together with men during the day, but they flied into the sky in the evening. Men felt lonely and hoped to stay with them all time, so they begged the god to help them. The god told them that the only way to keep the women on the ground was to weave hoops with rattan and put them around the women's waists. So men made rattan hoops and loop them over the girls' waists when they are asleep. The girls could not fly anymore and had to live with men. The hoops gradually developed into today's girdles, the beautiful ornament.
De'ang women's girdles vary in the material, color and ornament. Hua De'angs use grass or rattan to weave the girdle, and they like the natural color. Young girls dye their girdle bright colors. Red and Black De'angs use rattan strips to weave their girdles, which are then painted red or black. The strips of the girdle are very thin, so women often wear 20 to 30 girdles. Some women use bamboo strips to weave their one-fingerbreadth-wide girdle, on which are carved various beautiful decorative patterns and floral designs. They wear three to five girdles. Some women wear bamboo strips girdles, the front part of which are coated with silver or white tin pieces. Their girdles glitter and are very delicate. Black De'angs make girdle with thin rattan strips. They bind several strips into one girdle, paint it black, and wrap the front part of the girdle with silver or white tin threads. They also wear on their waist a piece of aluminum, on which some colorful threads are wrapped. Seen from the front, the waist glitters brightly.
De'ang people believe that the more girdles a woman wears and the more delicate her girdles are, the more diligent and intelligent she is. Mothers usually pass their girdles to their daughters instead of their daughters-in-law. Girdles are usually treated as a love token when young men and women date each other. So young man often tries his best to make elegant girdles and present them to his sweetheart.
Most De'ang people take rice, and some also take corn, wheat and potato as their staple food. They steam or stew their food. They are adept at making various snacks such as bean curd, tofu, rice noodles, rice cake, Tangyuan (a kind of stuffed dumplings made of glutinous rice flour served in soup), etc. They grow many vegetables, of which bamboo shoot is available all year around. They not only eat fresh bamboo shoot, but also make it into pickles and dry it for future use.
De'ang people like to add some prickled bamboo shoot into the stewed food, even when they stew chickens, fry meat or cook fish. Influenced by the Han cooking habit, they also eat prickles of Han flavor and preserved bean curd.
The major prickled vegetables are as follows:
Braised vegetable prickles: Way of making: wash the leafy green, cook it in the pot, put into some prickled bamboo shoots, meat, cooking oil or some fermented soy beans. The cooked food tastes a little sour first and then a little sweet. Then they squeeze the vegetable prickles and get the sour liquid, which De'ang people use as their own vinegar, together with some chilies.
Prickled Padong vegetable: Padong vegetable is also called Jizhua (meaning chicken claw) vegetable. People pick the tender sprout of the Padong tree, dry them in the sun for a while to remove the water. Then they wash the sprouts, dry them, and prickle them before sealing the prickles in an earthen pot. Finally they put the pot near the fire pit and roast the pot by the fire for three days to make the prickles.
Prickled leafy vegetables: Way of making: keep the radish leaves in a sealed container until the green leaves turn yellow. Take out the vegetables and wash them. Dry them in the sun to remove the water. Chop up the vegetables and put them in an earthen pot and seal them. Put the pot upside down, and prickle the vegetable for about ten days. Take out the vegetables then and cook them for a short while in a cooking pot, then dry them for storage. When it's necessary, people usually take out some and make tea, which tastes like sauce.
De'ang people like strong tea. They are also famous for growing tea trees. In the De'ang Ruins located in Yingjiang and Luxi counties of Dehong Prefecture, there are some old tea trees, which are about two or three hundred years old and are one chi (a traditional Chinese unit of length, equal to 1/3 meter) in diameter. People say the ancient De'ang people left behind these old trees. Because De'ang people are skillful at growing tea trees and they have had a long history of growing tea trees, they are called the "ancient tea farmers".
Tea has played an important role in De'ang people's life. People use tea as the gift to meet old friends, or the gift when they propose marriage. When they plan to host a dinner, they use tea as the "invitation card". They use tea to apologize. If they want the tribal headman to mediate the dispute between them and the other people, they always wrap a roll of tea and a roll of tobacco and present them to the headman before they begin to appeal.
No living things can be killed during the three months between the Close-door Festival (September15th of the Dai ethnic group calendar, also June 15th of the Chinese lunar calendar) and the Open-door Festival (December 17th of the Dai calendar, also September 15th of the Chinese lunar Calendar).
De'ang people worship snakes. People usually regard a big tree near the village the "snake tree" and build fences around it. They offer sacrifice to the tree once a year. It is not allowed to cut down the "snake tree", nor can people walk near to the tree.
De'ang people view one of the big trees around or near the village the place where the village deity lives. They sacrifice the tree during the Spring Festival every year. It is not allowed to cut down the sacred tree, nor can people relieve themselves near the tree.
There is a piece of pointed wood placed on a sand pile in the center of the village. The wood is the symbol of the deity of the village, called Zaowuman in De'ang language. Zaowuman is the guardian angel of the whole village. It is not allowed to touch the tree or relieve oneself near the tree.
De'ang people present two jars of clean water before the deity of "shemeng" in a bamboo house with couch grass roof in the forest near the village. Strangers are not allowed to enter the house.
De'ang literature mainly takes the form of folklore, including folksongs, fairy tales, legend stories, and so on. Young people communicate by songs. So love songs account for a large part of De'ang folksongs. There are also some long sad melodies, such as the Legend of a Lusheng Tune, the Melody of the History (which was about the migration story of the ethnic group) and the Melody of Life in Burma (about the life of De'ang people who left hometown and worked in Burma).
The Legend of the Lusheng Tune
The legend goes that a pretty and clever girl named Yu Nan fell in love with a brave hunter Yan Wa. But Yu Nan's father bitterly opposed their love because Yan Wa was poor. To stop the two young people from meeting each other, Yu Nan's father forced her to leave home and live in a small house in the wild mountain. Yan Wa went to meet his beloved girl immediately after he knew where Yu Nan was staying, only to find that she had been eaten by a leopard. The grieved and angry Yan Wa killed the leopard and cut off its head and tail. He collected Yu Nan's clothes and went to Yu Nan's parents' home. There he started to play his lusheng (a reed-pipe wind instrument). The sad tune sounded like weeping and condemnation. At dawn, when Yu Nan's mother came downstairs and saw Yu Nan's clothes placed together with the head and tail of the leopard, she realized what had happened to her daughter.
The unfortunate tragedy shocked all De'ang people. From then on, no parents would interfere with their children's marriage. The story, known as the legend of the lusheng tune, is sung at De'ang people's wedding ceremonies nowadays.
De'ang fairy tales are interesting. There are several tales about the origin of human being. For example, the Gourd and Human tells the story of how humans came out of the gourd. The Heavenly King and the Mother God of the land is another story. It was said that 102 leaves were blown off a tea tree in heaven, and they were turned into 51 brothers and 51 sisters on Earth. They fought against devils on the land and finally won. They all returned to heaven except Daleng and Yaleng, who stayed on Earth and they were the ancestors of the intelligent and brave De'ang nationality.
De'ang people have rich folktales. The Frog and the Embroidering Girl tells the marriage between a frog fellow and the embroidering girl. The story sings for the goodness, honesty of De'ang people.
De'ang people are good at singing and dancing. Whenever they celebrate a festival, hold a wedding party or build a house, they invite folk singer to sing poems. Their musical instruments include lusheng (a reed-pipe wind instrument), flute, sanxian (a three-stringed plucked instrument), kouxian (a stringed instrument played by plucking the string and blowing), drum and mangluo (a percussion instrument popular with minority nationalities in Yunnan Province). One unique De'ang musical instrument is the "water drum", which is called "gelengdang" in the local language. The water drum no longer exists in other nationality society. The water drum is made by hollowing out a piece of round wood, which is 30 cm in diameter and 70 cm in length and covering the two ends with cow skin. People put some water into the drum before they use it. During the important festivals, the leading dancer hangs the water drum in front of his breast. He dances while beating the bigger drum end with a drum hammer held in his right hand and the smaller drum end with his left hand. Then people follow his steps, form a circle and dance happily.
De'ang people also do a lot of folk dances. Their folk dances mainly include the following kinds:
Drum dance: De'ang people play drums or small cymbals (a musical instrument in the form of a round metal plate. It is hit with a stick, or two cymbals are hit against each other) whenever they dance. Drum is the soul of De'ang folk dances.
Bamboo pole dance: it is a funeral dance, played only at the funeral ceremony of old people who died at the age of 70 or above. The dancers wear clusters of bells around the waist. They beat the ground with four thin and two thick bamboo poles and dance. The bamboo poles are a symbol of horse, and the sound of the beating is a symbol of clops. They dance three times a day (in the morning, at noon and in the evening) in the three days while people keep vigil beside the coffin. The dance is both extol of the dead person's merits and a hope for the soul of the deceased to go to the heaven easily (by riding the "horse").
Gayang dance: it is the dance of Yang people, one branch of De'ang ethnic group. It still exists in Longchuan County in Dehong Prefecture and Mengxiu County in Ruili Prefecture.
Circle dance: The dance is popular in Zhenkang County in Lincang Prefecture nowadays and is usually a dance of men.
De'ang people live in the pile dwelling of bamboo houses. The framework of the house is made of wood, and the other parts, the rafter, floor, walls, doors and stairs are made of bamboo, and the roof is covered with couch grass. De'ang people like to build their houses near the mountain, with the front door facing east. There are mainly two types of houses: the square type and the oblong one. The typical and common bamboo house is in Dehong Prefecture. It is square and has a yard and has a main storied square house and a subsidiary cottage. People live on the upper floor of the main house, where there are bedrooms, a living room and rooms for storing grains and sundries. The lower floor is used for raising the stock. The subsidiary cottage is built beside the main house and is used for storing firewood and the pestle.
The bamboo house looks like a Confucius student's hat. As the legend goes, De'ang people build their houses in the shape of Zhuge Liang's hat. In the period of Three Kingdoms (220-280), Zhuge Liang, the general of Shu Kingdom (221-263), led his army to put down the rebels in the south. When he arrived in a De'ang village, he was attacked and hurt. Fortunately, De'ang people saved him. When Zhuge Liang left the village, he left his hat to show his thanks for the villagers. Later, the hat became a bamboo house that has a same shape as the hat.
De'ang people are adept at weaving bamboo articles and couch grass rafts (the material for house roof made of couch grass) and collecting wild plants. Silversmith craft is also a traditional business of the De'angs, and is known among the neighboring nationalities.
Tea is an indispensable part in De'ang people's daily life. De'ang people prefer to strong tea. When making tea, they put the tealeaves into a teapot and pour into water (generally speaking, De'ang people put much more tea leaves than common people do). Then they boil the tea until the water turns into deep coffee color. De'ang people like to drink this kind strong tea very much. They feel quite refreshed if they can have a cup of tea after a day's work.
Tea also plays a significant role in De'ang people's social life. Tea is used to express their good wishes and welcome. When a guest has arrived, the host serves him or her a cup of tea. People take some tea as the gift when they visit their friends or relatives. It they want to invite their friends to have a dinner, they sent them a small package of tea tied with two pieces of red crossing threads. When people apologize, they also present others some tea.
Almost every family plants tea around their houses or around the village. De'ang children play in the tea tree forest, young people date in the tea tree forest, and old people enjoy their life in the forest. So the tea trees are also an important part in their life.
Presenting food to the elders
The De'ang people living in some villages in Zhenkang County still have the custom of presenting food to the elders to show their care and respect.
Before the Water Splashing Festival, every family will prepare a good meal and get ready to present the food the elders in the village. On the festival day, before the family has the reunion dinner, they take some dish from every dish and put the food in a bamboo utensil. A young girl or the young daughter-in-law of the family will take the food and go to visit the elders together with other young people of the village. The elders will meet the young people at the doorway. Then the young people stand in a line and give the food to the elders respectfully when saying their good wishes and kneel down. At this time, the elders will ask the young to stand up and express their thanks and good wishes.
De'ang people bury the dead in the ground. There is a public graveyard in the village. When the villagers die, they will be buried there no matter they are rich or poor. De'ang people dig a hole in the ground and bury the dead. They don't build graves, nor do they put up tablets for the dead. The families of the dead will invite the Buddha to recite the scripture to console the soul of the deceased person seven days after they bury the dead. De'ang people do not identify their family's burial place, nor do they put wreaths there.
There is an old story about how the funeral custom formed. A tong time ago, there was a tribal chief named La You in a De'ang village. His wife, Ha Mu, gave birth to a son at the age 40. The boy was named A Tuo. Unfortunately, A Tuo died of malaria at 10. The heartbroken couple asked a carpenter to build a big house in the mountain and placed A Tuo's body there. For three years, they had their servant to send their dead son three meals a day. One day, when the servant was on his way to the big house, a heavy rain and the flood stuck him. Then he saw three disciples of Sakyamuni pass by. The servant offered the meal to them respectfully. At that night, La You and his wife had a same dream. In their dreams their son told them that he hadn't received any meals sent by them until that night. The astonished couple asked the servant whom he had given the meal to. The servant told them what had happened. Then they realized that it was useless to sacrifice meals to the dead. From then on, De'ang people didn't identify their relatives' graves after their death. They didn't put wreaths there. And they only worship Buddha.
The De'angs believe in Hinayana, a southern branch of Buddhism and is quite popular among the nationalities of De'ang, Dai and Achang in southwestern Yunnan. They regard Sakyamuni the only Buddha. No matter how many statues they put on the niches, the statues are always of Sakyamuni. They never worship any other Buddhas.