Maonan Ethnic Minority

By the end of the year 2001, the Maonan Ethnic Minority in Guangxi has a total population of 74,000, which accounts for 0.16% that of the whole autonomous region. The Maonan people are mainly scattered in the Huangjiang Maonan autonomous county in the north of the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region and counties of Hechi, Nandan, Du’an, etc. The quantity of the Maonan people living in Huangjiang takes up about more than 80% the total population of the Maonan Ethnic Minority . The county of Huangjiang has a reputation of “hometown of Maonan people”. The Maonan Ethnic Minority has its own language but no written language. It has the Chinese characters in common use.

General Ethnic Information

As one of the ethnic groups in China that live in mountainous areas , the Maonan Nationality has a very small population. They call themselves Anan, which means 'people who live in this area'. They are actually the aboriginal ethnic group of Lingxi area,and Lingxi used to be the name of today’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in ancient times.  In spite of a very small population, the Maonan people are well known in China for their long history and unique culture. Most of the Maonan people live in areas of Shangnan, Zhongnan, and Xianan in Huanjiang County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, with Maonan Mountain as the center of their inhabited area. The place of Xiatuanliuyu is the political, economic and cultural center of the Maonan ethnic group. In addition, there are a few of the Maonan people who live in counties of Nandan and Duyun. According to the fifth national census of population conducted in the year 2000, the Maonan ethnic group has a population of 107,166. The Maonan people have their own national language, which belongs to the branch of Zhuang and Dong Languages, Han and Zang Language System, and they don't have their own written language. As they have lived together with the Han and Zhuang nationalities for a very long time in history, most of the Maonan people now can also speak the languages of Han and Zhuang nationalities besides their own language, and the Chinese characters are widely used by them to write.


As an intelligent and industrious nationality, the Maonan people have created their own splendid cultures and arts in their long history of productive practices and life experiences. The Maonan people have quite abundant and colorful mythologies, legends and folk tales, which vividly reflect their moral outlook, social values and artistic culture. Examples of them include the Legend of Pangu, Legend of Sanjiu, the Story of Taishiliuguan, the Legend of Dingkahua, Peak of Seven Girls, Stone of Mutual Love, and so on, which have widely spread from generation to generation in the history of the Maonan people. They also have quite unique and special folk songs, which are very rich in content. The love songs chanted by the young men and women in the open air are each made up of eight sentences , and each sentence includes seven words. This kind of songs are called Bi, and as at the end of every two sentences there is the pronunciation of Luohai, they are also called Luohai Songs. And during wedding ceremonies and other happy festivals, they sing another kind of celebrating songs, which are called Huan, and each song is composed of eight sentences, with five words in each sentence. There are also narrative songs which are chanted by one single person to tell historical stories and origins of their ancestors. This kind of songs are each made up of four sentences, with seven words in every sentence, and several songs are put together as one group, which is called Paijian in their own language. In addition, there are also widespread Maonan Operas, most of which are their traditional operas that reflect the historical stories including the experiences of life and wars as well as the happy and sad love stories of the ancient Maonan people , and also some tell the ancient folk legends. 

The Maonan people are very good at weaving and carving techniques, which have their own unique national features. The bamboo wares they make are famous for their wonderful techniques. The well known beautiful bamboo caps, which are also called Dingkahua, are weaved from very thin bamboo splints which are as thin as half the thickness of a match. When finished, with delicate and exquisite patterns , the caps just look so pleasing to the eye and the mind. The wooden fake masks carved by the Maonan people are very vivid and lifelike. The stone pillars and tables engraved by them , with vivid dragons, phoenix, unicorns, cranes, pines and other geometrical patterns are all praised  and loved by the different ethnic groups living around them.

In Nanmu Village of Zhongnan area, Huanjiang County, the Maonan people are adept at forging silver wares, the techniques of which are passed down from generation to generation. The silver bracelets, necklaces, unicorns, caps with the images of five young boys, are all  widely loved by girls, due to their delicate and exquisite patterns and designs as well as perfect workmanship.  


The festivals of the Maonan people include the Temple Festival in the fifth lunar month, the Qingming Festival on which they go to the cemeteries of their ancestors to worship them ,  the Lantern Festival, on which they make fake birds using rattan leaves and also put various food into the bellies of the fake birds they make. The activities held during the last two festivals mentioned above are their unique ethnic activities. The festivals of the Maonan people have two obvious characteristics, one is that they will definitely worship their ancestors, and the other is that they always have activities of singing ballads and sometimes they sing in antiphonal style. 

The biggest festival of the Maonao nationality is the Temple Festival celebrated in the fifth lunar month after the summer solstice every year, and it is also called Fenlong Festival. This is a very special and unique festival of the Maonan people. It is always celebrated two days before the Fenlong Day according to the lunar calendar. The main activities held on this festival are to worship their gods as well as their ancestors. All the men and women in the village will participate, even the girls of this village who have got married and moved to live with their husbands' families as well as the relatives and friends of the people in the village will come to attend the activities, which makes the festival much more ceremonious and exciting. Also at this time, each family will make steamed sticky rice with five colors, and steamed pork with rice flour, some even prepare a pig to roast it to celebrate. The Maonan people will also pick some branches form willow trees and put them in the main living room, then they divide the steamed sticky rice into several small groups and pinch them into small balls before sticking them densely to the willow branches, and by doing this they express their wishes for abundant fruits and grains as well as a bumper harvest. 

The Maonan people also celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival, which , however, has a different meaning and significance with that of the Han Nationality. Among the common Maonan people, this festival is also called Medicine Festival, during which they always pick up some herbs such as moxa leaves, calamus, turmerics, and some kinds of rattans , then put them together and boil them in hot water, at last they drink the water in order to have a better health. Sometimes they also grind the herbs into small pieces and use them to make dumplings or cakes, which are believed to be able to cure their ailments as well as detoxify the body. 

The Pumpkin Festival of the Maonan people is celebrated on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month every year, and this day is also called the Double Ninth Festival. All families on this day will gather together all the pumpkins with different sizes and colors they have , and put them one by one on the floor for people to judge. The young people then visit each family and at last choose the Pumpkin King, which is chosen and judged not only from the exterior appearances, but also the interior pulp and seeds, the quality of which is judged from the size and color outside. At last when all the young people reach the unanimous decision, a strong and robust one from them will split up the Pumpkin King using a knife , and then the owner of this pumpkin will take out the pumpkin pulp and pick up the best seeds, which will be used to sow next year. After that they slice the pumpkin into small pieces and boil them in millet porridge. After boiling them for a long time, they first put one bowl of the porridge in the temple to worship the Pumpkin King, then all the people in the village will share the porridge together.

Many ethnic groups in China take the Double Ninth Day as the Day of Old People, and therefore they keep the custom of respecting and loving the old . So do the Maonan ethnic group. However, they celebrate this day and show their love and respect to the old in a different way. For the old people who are over 60 years old and in poor health, the Maonan people will hold activities of donating grains and fruits . Their children prepare a big feast at home and invite all the relatives and friends to come. All the guests will bring some good grains, rice, or fresh fruits for the old people in this family. The rice donated by the relatives and friends is called One Hundred Family Rice, which is stored in the house separately from other foodstuffs. Later when they make food for the old people, they get some of the rice donated by others and mix it with their own rice. When the donated rice is eaten up and the old people are still in poor health, they will again hold the ceremony of donating rice at a proper time. This custom actually shows the Maonan people's love for the old people, and it is quite in accordance with the common people's traditional moral values , as a result, it is supported and paid much attention to by the local government.

The Vernacular Architectural features of the Maonan Nationality
From generation to generation, the Maonan people have always lived in the mountainous areas , as a result, the stones in the mountains are widely used by them to build houses. Stone columns are used to support their storeyed buildings. The steps in front of the gate of their courtyards are made up of flagstones, and quarry stones are used to build the base and walls of their buildings. Even the door sills, flat roofs, bullpens, pigsties, tables, stools, water containers and basins are all made up of or engraved from stones materials.  

The Maonan people usually live with each other who share the same family names or cognations. The villages are usually situated near the mountains, and most of the villages are very small with about a dozen families. Even the biggest villages have no more than 100 families. Their houses are usually constructed with two storeys, and tiles and adobes are also used to make the roof and walls respectively. The family members live on the second floor, at the front part of which balconies are built,too. The first floor is used to keep the livestocks and store sundries. These are traditional features of the Maonan buildings.


The Maonan people have three meals a day and they take different foods made from rice and corns as the main food, and grain sorghums, millets, sweet potatoes and pumpkins as the secondary food. Maonan Food, which is the main food of the Maonan people in summer, is cooked using sticky corns and bamboo sprouts mixed with vegetables and seasonings. The Maonan people are also good at making other kinds of delicious food using rice or corns as their secondary food in summer, which is very helpful for them to relieve summer-heat as well as quench thirst. All families like to eat sweet potatoes very much and they prepare them as one kind of secondary main food after autumn comes.

The Maonan people like to pickle sour meat, sour snails and sour vegetables, which are their traditional food to treat guests. The Maonan nationality are very hospitable and have a lot of etiquettes. When having dinner, no matter how old the guest is, he or she will be invited to sit together with the seniors and the hosting family always prepare the best and the most delicious food for the guests.

The Maonan people grow a lot of vegetables, which are available all through the year. There are peas, cabbages, pumpkins, sweet potato leaves, bean pods, banana roots, green vegetables and radish, of which pumpkins are the most commonly eaten vegetable in autumn and winter, and they could be sliced into pieces to make porridges as well as steamed alone .  

They get meat mainly from poultries and livestocks, such as pigs, oxen, chickens, ducks and so on. Some of them like to eat the meat of dogs, and they have the custom of killing dogs to eat during the Ghost Festival. Most of the Maonan people like to eat food which is cooked half ripe, as they believe that some kinds of vegetables and meat, especially chickens, will lose their delicious flavor if they are boiled to be too much ripe. However, the Maonan people only boil the ducks until they become very ripe, as a result , there comes the popular saying in the Maonan cuisine "unripe chickens and ripe ducks".

Most of the adult men of the Maonan people like to drink. And they even have the custom that it will be considered to be impolite to treat their guests without wines. Some families make wines themselves using grain sorghums and corns. However, in recent years, they have drunk more and more white spirit sold in the markets.

Most of the Maonan people like to drink tea and they always drink it in summer to relieve heat. Whenever they need to walk a long way, they take with them some balaustines or their local green peppers to eat and quench their thirst.

Typical Food: Minglun Sliced Pig is a well known dish of the Maonan nationality. It is made from their local pigs , which are steamed with seasonings. In addition, they also have some other famous food, such as, sweet potatoes, Luoshisuan which is made of sour pork, meat , vegetables and snails, Sour Garlic , Duck Blood Sauce, beancurds, and so on.

Customs in Daily Life

The dress of the Maonan people is quite similar to that of the Zhuang nationality people living nearby. Men like to wear blue or green side opening or front opening shirts. While women like to wear front opening upper outer garments with two embroidered laces, and trousers with embroidered borders. They also like to plait their hair or tie it in a bun. In the meanwhile, the Maonan women like to wear accessories such as bracelets and silver jewelries, and bamboo caps with delicate patterns are their favourite. 

The Maonan people usually have monogamous families. In the past their marriages used to be arranged by parents and there used to be the old customs of Not Living With Husbands after Getting Married and levirate marriage. Nowadays the marriage system has changed a lot.

When people die, they are buried in the earth and monks or Taoist priests are invited to chant scriptures at the funeral.

During festivals, the Maonan people like to treat their guests by cooking beef in a hot-pot. According to their custom, they first put a big iron cauldron over the fire pit, at the time of having dinner, all the people sit around the cauldron, and put the fresh meat and vegetables into the boiling water in the cauldron before eating it with seasonings, and they also drink wines at the same time. This is the most common way to treat guests among the Maonan people. 

On the first day of the first month of the lunar new year, people are not allowed to speak foul languages or abuse others in whatever situation. If there are sick people in a family on this day, they should put two sticks in front of the gate of their courtyard, and other people should not come inside when seeing the sticks, which mean that there are patients inside. Also on this day people should not tread the kitchen stove by their feet, and when they burn woods while cooking, they should put the thicker end of the wood into the fire first.

Religious Belief

The Maonan people believe in both Daoism and Buddhism , and they worship several gods. In addition, they also hold a lot of superstitious religious activities.

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