Torch Festival of Yi Ethnic Minority
Torch Festival of Yi Ethnic Minority in Yunnan
The Yis scatter over very widely and they are divided into many branches, so their festival culture is also very varied and colorful. There are festivals concerning producing, social intercourse and entertaining, commemorating, celebrating, and religious sacrifice offering, which have a great variety and rich quantity. The Torch Festival and Yi New Year are the grandest and spread over the largest area among the festivals.
The Torch Festival is popular in different parts of the Yi region, and only distinctive in times. It is generally held on about 24th of the sixth lunar month in Sichuan and Yunnan, and is held on about the 6th of the sixth lunar month in Guizhou Yi region. The period varies from 3-7 days. When it comes, some people butcher chicken and pig, and some butcher cattle and sheep as sacrifice offered to the ruler of heaven, the mother of earth and ancestors, praying for the safety of humans and domestic animals and for an abundant harvest of all food crops. At nightfall, torches of different villages burn competitively. Because Yi people believe that torch could get rid of evil and ghosts, they light up every corner of the house after the torch is lit. In some villages, the torch team of the whole village should go from house to house, and then gather happily at the edge of a village, on slope or in fields to play torch and hold a fire party. Young men and women wearing festival rich dress sing and dance heartily and play all night long. This is the same as what an ancient poem described: “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 Yi village at the night of the festival becomes a world of fire and a sea of songs and dance.
There are records about the origin of the Torch Festival in the “Kunming County Annals” in the Guangxu period of the Qing Dynasty: “There was a Yi woman Anan in the Han Dynasty. Her husband 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. (Another origin) King of the Yunnanzhao (a local regime in ancient China) Piluoge planed to meet of the rulers other five cities in the Songming Building. He wanted to trap and fire them to death so that he could swallow up their territory. Wife of king Dengdan named Cishan tried to persuade him 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.” It is said in folk legend that the festival stems from the history that the God sent pests to destroy crops in the human world and Yi people drove them away with fire. Some people also say that it is for commemorating the fight in which ancestors defeated the Prince of the Devils by attacking with fire. Most of the records and legends are forced interpretation. In fact, as a festival of praying for good harvest, it came into being as a result of the low productive forces of the ancient Yi society and their reliance on the natural power.
However, the content of religious sacrifice offering has decreased gradually and the function of entertaining is becoming stronger for present torch festivals. During the festival, such rich recreational, sports and entertaining activities as antiphonal singing, dancing, bullfight, horse race, wrestling, archery, and tug-of-war are very colorful, and business and trade activities are becoming brisk.
The Yi New Year is also called “Winter Month New Year” and “the Tenth Month New Year”, which is also an important traditional festival for Yi people. Because the Yi calendar only has ten months in a year, the New Year is usually spent at a time during the tenth lunar month and the eleventh lunar month lasting for 3-5 days. The specific time is different for different places. During the festival, people stop working and every household butchers pig or sheep for offering to ancestors and for eating happily to celebrate the coming of a new year together.