Xinping Yi and Dai Nationality Autonomous County, which is called “Hometown of Huayao Dai People” is the biggest settlement of Huayao Dai in China, with 42,000 Huayao Dai People living along the valleys in Gasa, Mosha and Shuitang.
The beauty of Ailao Mountains and Honghe River nourished Huayao Dai people. The name “Huayao”came from its unique and elegant way of dressing, which is a long belt around every woman’s waist. Every belt is a beautiful embroidery work with multicolored exquisite patterns, and shining silver bubble and little bells.
Historical evidence shows that Huayao Dai people are royal descendents from Ancient Dian Kingdom. Dian Kingdom in Yunnan was conquered by the Western Han, so was Yelang Kingdom and Qiong Kingdom in the period of Western Han Dynasty. Therefore, Dian people were forced to leave their hometown and go south. Finally they crossed Honghe River, found their new home in Ailao Mountains and settled down.
Time travelled to Qing Dynasty when many tribes of Dai people scattered in different part of Yunnan. Han Dai people mostly live in Dehong, while Shui Dai in Xishuangbanna, and Huayao Dai in Xinping Honghe Valley. According to historical record, Dai people are gentle and fond of water since they usually live in hot areas.
Huayao Dai people have a unique way of dressing, as wearable art and visible history on the body. Their self-made clothes are decorated with tassels, silver bubbles, little ring-bells and bracelets. The unity of layers and colors are like nature itself, exquisite, dainty, chic and perfect, as a full display of superb weaving techniques and aesthetic level. Not to mention, it is both elegant and decent to wear.
Huayao Dai people also have a unique way of expressing love. The grandest festival for them is called Huajie Festival, annually in January of Chinese lunar calendar, known as the “Oriental Valentine’s Day”. It’s a day for single youngsters to meet, get to know each other through face-to-face communication and hopefully find a date. What’s interesting is that young ladies will prepare delicious meals with soft rice, dry eel and salted duck egg for her date and feed him spoon by spoon, with love and joy.
Huayao Dai people have strong belief in nature. They believe there are spirits in water, mountains, trees and other plants. In a word, their religion is about spirits in everything, so their mortuary customs and rituals are quite different, which is called Twice Burial. Every rite in the funeral is mysterious, illustrating the connection, communication, affection and departing between the living and spirit of the dead.
Though without their own language, a lot of mysterious and fascinating legends and myths are passing down from generation to generation. For example, the Creation of the World reflects the heaven, the earth and human. Nanpengdong reflects flood submerges the heaven, and young sister marries to her brother to breed. Some stories reflect the sadness and happiness of human, such as Lang E and Sang Luo, Peacock and Lai Meiha, the Origin of Dragon Worship Festival, Niutou Mountain and Earth Forest, Man and Tiger, Cucurbit Giving Birth, Ten Sons of Dragon Giving Birth and so forth. These stories describe human life in the prehistoric times in various ways with rich imagination, magnificent colors and miraculous scene, making important contribution to the progress of social civilization.
Huayao Dai is supposed to be living fossils for historical research of Dai people. Their geographically remote living area makes it possible to preserve valuable cultural heritages, such as their elegant and even royal way of dressing, special festival Oriental Valentine’s Day, belief in nature, ancient castle-like houses built with earth, wedding customs, unique funeral ritual Twice Burial, ancient farming civilization, teeth dyeing and tattoos, displaying the glory of ancient “Pushui” culture and primitive Dai culture.
That’s the life of Huayao Dai people, the art they carve on their body, the beauty they put on their teeth, and the craft they stuff into pots and pans. That’s the culture Huayao Dai people inherit, the tradition they insist, the hope they pass on from generation to generation. That’s the figures mingling in Honghe Valley, the grace and elegance you can’t miss!