Legends, fairy tales, poetry, stories, fables, ballads, proverbs, mythology and riddles form their oral literature. Genesis is a legend describing the origin of all things on earth. An Account of Floods tells how men conquered floods. Labare and Ahjigu are songs sung on solemn occasions such as weddings, funerals, festivals and religious rituals. [Source: China.org]

Myths and legends are mostly preserved in epics such as Ausemise, The Origin of the World, People in the Ancient Time, and At the Entry of Chanaya. Ausemise is the most widely spread and far reaching Hani mythological epic. Narrative poetry such as Arjiluoqiluoye and Zhasizhayi also occupies a high position in Hani literature. [Source: Chinatravel.com]

Hani folk handicrafts include spinning, dyed cloth, bamboo mats, wood and bamboo ware, iron and silver utensils. Hani are a very artistic people. Hani embroidery designs such as dragons, phoenixes, birds, and fish on Hani clothes, headdresses and leg wrappings are noted for their pretty colors and complex and sophisticated structures. The flowery cloth and backpacks made in Xishuangbanna and bamboo hats produced in Mojiang are well-known.

Hani Clothes

Man in traditional clothes

Generally the Hani prefer dark-blue, homespun Hani local cloth dyed with indigo to make clothes. Pigments have traditionally been obtained from the forest or field around their villages. Hani men basically wear tight shirt, loose pants and black scarf while the female dress with complex decoration. The ancient Hani did not have shoes and socks. They wore a sort of special wooden shoes, whose soles were not slippery and therefore good for walking on the muddy rice paddy. [Source: Chinatravel.com \=/]

Black is the favorite color of Hani People. All of the Hani people in Shenbaodill dress themselves in black, which has much to do with their deep and profound history, aesthetics, stage of social development, living environment as well as life style. For instance, people in Shenbaodi make a living by working on the terraced field. For these farmers and residents on high land, heavy and durable clothes that keep warm and endure dirty environment have obvious advantages. The Hani dresses and ornaments signify their agricultural life and work on the terraced fields. For instance, the embroidery and silver ornaments on the clothes stand for the terraced fields which go layers upon layers. The crabs, clams and fish suggest Hani People's adoration for water. \=/

The dress of the Hani varies in different places due to different Hani branches. Hanis in Xishuangbanna wear jackets buttoned on the right side and decorated with silver ornaments. They wear black turbans. Women there, as well as in the Lancang area, wear skirts, round caps, and strings of silver ornaments. Both men and women wear leggings. In Mojiang, Yuanjiang and Jiangcheng, some women wear long, pleated or narrow skirts, while others have knee-length trousers with embroidered girdles. Women in general like to wear earrings, silver rings and necklaces. Married and unmarried women wear different hairstyles. [Source: China.org ]

Hani men in traditional clothes usually wear trousers and a coat that opens in the front and wrap their head with a black or white cloth. Some Hani men wear sarongs and embroidered jackets but otherwise their clothing is not as colorful as women’s. Hani men in Burma sometimes shave their head except for one Chinese-style lock hanging down the back.

Hani Women's Clothes

left Hani women wear smock-like blouses and pleated short skirts, with a pair of pants underneath them in cool weather and gaiter-like anklets in hot weather. Many women wear this costume all the time, including when they work in the fields. Women mostly wear coats without a collar and with buttons on the right side, and trousers or skirts of varied length. Some places such as the front of the garment and the sleeves are embroidered with colorful patterns and decorated with laces. Jackets, hats and shoulder bags are regarded as works of art. The patterns of embroidery and applique are often unique for each Hani subgroup. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China]

Hani women wear mostly black or blue clothing. According to legend, all Hani women at one time wore indigo costumes. But then one day a man stole another man's wife, and to keep her from being recognized he dressed her in bright clothing, and since then the entire tribe has followed this custom. Silver is a sign of wealth, and it adorns belts, necklaces and bracelets as well as the headdresses.

Most Hani women make their own clothes and they take great pride in their cotton weaving skills. The cloth is made on bamboo looms with foot-operated bamboo pedals, a hand-operated wooden carding system and poles for the yarn. Until recently the cotton was grown locally and home spun and often dyed with indigo.

Hani Women Headdresses

The famous foot-high conical headdresses worn by Hani women are called u-coes. They are made from cotton, and embroidered and decorated with colored beads, silver balls, strands of colored wool, shells, long red boas, tassels, bird feathers, silver coins and bells. Sometimes they are decorated with monkey fur, dog fur, beetle wings and French, Burmese and Indian coins that date back to colonial days.

The clothing, hairstyles and headdresses worn by women often indicates their age group, marital status and the Hani branch or family grouping she belongs to. A great difference exists among the clothes of women of different branches of the Hani. Their headdresses are usually very sophisticated. During festivals and special events, they wear embroidered cloth around their waist and silver ornaments of various designs in front of their chest. [Source: Ethnic China]

right Hani babies sometimes wear embroidered skull caps decorated with coins and red pompons. Small girls receive their first bonnets when they are six or seven, and they given ornaments as gifts to attach to the bonnet as they get older. When the decorations become to heavy a bamboo frame is attached to the bonnet to hang them from. The u-coe's of some older women weigh over 11 pounds. The style of headdress varies somewhat from village to village and even among individuals within a clan. The most beautiful u-coe's are said to be found at the village of Napey in Thailand and Loi Mwe in Burma. [Source: "Vanishing Tribes" by Alain Cheneviére, Doubleday & Co, Garden City, New York, 1987]

Some women wear their headdresses nearly all the time. They have covers to protect them from the rain and sometimes they even wear them to bed at night. The only time the headdresses are removed is when there is a possibility they might be damaged — for example, when carrying bags of grain or vegetables.

Clothes of Yeche Hani Women

The dress of the Yeche women in some areas of Honghe County is unique. Women there wear a kind of soft hat with a pinnacle made with white cloth, at the back of which there is a length of swallow-tailed fringe embroidered with elegant patterns. On their upper body, they wear a collarless indigo-blue short-sleeve coat made of local cloth, opening at the front with no buttons, and wrap their waist with colored belts, which are over ten centimeters wide. On the lower part of their body, they wear tight shorts that tightly hug and reveal the shape of the buttocks, which is regarded as an attractive part of a woman’s body. The area below the shorts is uncovered. Yeche women often wear these clothes while farming in the fields and chopping wood in the mountains. This type of shorts, named "Laba", is greatly favored among young girls, who make the shorts themselves or fashion them from pants. To do the latter they roll the pants edges tightly against the legs up to the buttocks, and tuck them inside the waist. The pleats of the pants appear as seven lines in the shape of V. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China ~]

Yeche women take pride in wearing many clothes, as it represents a wealthy family and is attractive looking. The upper garments can be divided into three types: coats, shirts and underclothes, and they usually add several dark blue artificial hems on the lower hem of the underclothes, revealing the several rows of clothing. During New Year or big festivals, they sometimes wear seven coats, seven shirts and one piece of underclothes. On top of this they wear silver bracelets on their wrists and silver necklaces before their chest. On either side of their waist hang many silver pieces that clatter and jingle when they walk. ~

According to legend the Yeche women didn’t always wear shorts. A long time ago, when the Yeche people were migrating from around Kunming to south, they were surrounded by a powerful group. In order to survive, men blackened their faces with pan soot and women changed into shorts. They set out along several different routes broke free from the encirclement and made it to the area of southern Yunnan that they inhabit today. To commemorate this success, the Yeche women continued wearing shorts. ~

Hani- Akha Tree Bark Clothes

bark clothes

Pedro Ceinos Arcones wrote in Ethnic China: “During a trip to one of the remotest Hani villages in Xishuangbana Prefecture, Ms Zhao Fei found an old man seated on a bark tree cloth cushion. Surprised, she asked him about the origin of this cushion, the old man answered that in the past, as they were very poor, and some people had no money to buy clothes, it was common to make cloth from bark tree.” This fascinating discovery in the village of Mango, Mengla County. was the start of Zhao Fei’s first book “Muma Qiaozi”— “Favorite Sons of Muma” (the Hani goddess). Muma is the main goddess and ancestor of the Hani. [Source: Zhao Fei. “Mumaqiaozi” ( Favorite Son of Muma, Yunnan Nationalities Press, 2011; Ethnic China *]

In the book Zhao Fei explains to the reader “how the old man Dan Nong agreed to show the whole process of fabrication of a bark cloth, and how his son, Nong Cai, carried on the whole process. The most suitable tree to make this bark cloth is the Antiaris toxicaria, which, as its name suggests, is known to the Hani also for the potent poison present in its fruits and other parts of the tree. *\

The full process of making cloth from the tree’s bark involves four main steps. 1) The first is to select a tree in the forest. Once selected two small incisions are made in its bark, and later the outer part of it is carefully peeled, showing a white inner peel. To peel of this new white layer, it must be cut in two sections up and down on the tree trunk, creating a piece about 90 centimeters long. Working slowly the white inner layer is separated off the trunk, in a laborious process that can take the better part of a day. 2) The second step is the cleaning of cloth. In a nearby river the tree bark is soaked once and again, and shook between as many times as considered necessary to render a cloth wet and clean. 3) The third step is the drying; a process that last about a week in which the human intervention is minimum: only to extend the cloth between two tree branches and hung a big stone on each end to increase the softness and the size of the cloth. 4) Once the cloth is dry, it can be cut according to the designs desired, to make skirts, jackets, blankets, cushion, bags or caps.

Hani Music and Dance

Hani like to sing and are known as good dancers. Hani musical instruments include drums, cymbals, Jew’s harp, three- and four-stringed instruments, flutes and gourd-shaped wind instruments. Popular are the "Hand Clapping" and "Fan" dances. The "Dongpocuo" dance popular in Xishuangbanna is a typical Hani dance; it is vigorous, graceful and rhythmic.

There are two types of Hani folk songs: Habare and Anqigu. Habare—solemn toasting songs—are usually sung at religious rituals, festivals, weddings or funerals. Anqigu mountain songs are about love and feature pretty and light melodies. Hani lads enjoy playing three or four string instrument while girls love Bawu (a sort of flute shaped musical instrument made of bamboo) and Xiangmie (a small blowing bamboo instrument). There are heard at important festivals or during the courting season. Bawu is the unique Hani musical instrument, which can generate elegant and touching melody that express one's personal emotions. [Source: Chinatravel.com]

Traditional Hani dances are Fan Dance, Wood Peacock Dance, Lezuo Dance, Money Stick Dance, Hand-clapping Dance, Three Strings Dance and Big Drum Dance. All these dances are linked with ancient legends. The Big Drum Dance is featured at many festivals.

Hani Songs

Wang Hao, Pauline D. Loh and Cang Lide wrote in the China Daily, “Every Hani has a song in his heart. It is these songs that have channeled the wisdom of their ancestors down through the ages. And now, while the rest of China spirals towards urbanization at breakneck speed, it is these songs that keep the Hani in harmony with nature and with themselves - almost like musical mantras for protection. [Source: Wang Hao, Pauline D. Loh and Cang Lide, China Daily, June 10, 2012 ==]

“Zhang, 48, is a Hani from the Red River and she quotes from the songs often. In fact, she had them documented and published in Chinese from the original Hani language, and then translated into English. The volume is called the Songs of the Four Seasons. This little book is part of a bigger series that Zhang and her team painstakingly researched, edited and published. It is an encyclopedic collection that covers every aspect of Hani culture and lifestyle, with particular emphasis on the macro and micro ecosystems that make the region so unique. ==

“As Zhang showed us around her beloved rice terraces, she recites a Hani song as she climbs with us: "While all the stars are partying in the sky, /The palm trees are dancing happily on the earth." The images conjured by the easy ditty can still be seen everywhere at the Honghe Hani Rice Terraces. In yet another song of the four seasons, the Hani are reminded, "the wisdom of past sages is like oil squeezed out of rock, and it is the life blood of our people." ==

Image Sources: Nolls China website, Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: 1) "Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China", edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K.Hall & Company, 1994); 2) Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~; 3) Ethnic China; 5) China.org, the Chinese government news site china.org | New York Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated September 2022

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