DAI LIFE, HOUSES, FOOD AND MARRIAGE

DAI SOCIETY AND LIFE

right Village life revolves more around community and home village than family or kin. The Dai are very loyal to their home village and identify with it even when they move somewhere else. Names are often bestowed by landlords and even schools rather than passed down through clans or from a common ancestor. The Dai have traditionally settled disputes among themselves with the guidance of village elders rather through the Chinese judicial system. Judgments and punishments were often made on Buddhist beliefs and scriptures.

Society was traditionally divided into aristocrats and commoners with various levels of aristocrats and commoners. Among the commoners the lowest of the low were the kachao (slaves). These classifications were abolished by the Communists. Administration was carried out through the tusi system. Tusi were hereditary rulers appointed with the approval of the Chinese. The system last for 500 years and was adapted the Chinese system in 1956.

Dai like chewing betel nut and drinking rice liquor. They favor glutinous (sticky) rice and have traditionally preferred a purple variety. The Dai often spend much of their time sitting around. Many have not ventured far from their village. One elderly Dai couple told the New York Times, "Before about five years ago, we had never seen a car. Now wherever you go you can take a bus. Before that you had to walk."

The Dai love water. It is said they bath 10 times a day, The water splashing festival is one of the biggest events of the year. Wells often have a small shrines built over them. Medical care is provided by medicine men known as moya. They have traditionally prescribed medicinal herbs, opium paste, camphor, tiger bones, deer antler and bear gallbladders, and used bloodletting and heat application. Modern medicine is used where its available

Dai Marriage and Family

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Upper class house

Marriage is a serious matter however. Marriages are usually arranged and organized by a matchmaker Bride-prices are high and grooms are required to do a three year bride service to the bride’s family. The wedding feast and service of the groom to the bride’s family are negotiated with the help of the matchmaker. Bride snatching is sometimes done to get out of paying the bride price. Weddings feature a "tie knots with threads" ceremony.

Dai have traditionally married within their village or community, often marrying cousins or partners with the same surname. Couple usually live with or near the bride’s family, and sometimes the grooms, until the inherit some property of the own. Divorces are easy to arrange. In the case of the woman she moves into her family’s house and sends her husband a candle. Remarriages are common.

According to the Chinese government: “The marriage of the Dais was characterized by intermarriage on strictly equal social and economic status. Polygamy was common among chieftains, who also humiliated the wives and daughters of peasants at will. The patriarchal monogamous nuclear family was the common form among peasants. Pre-marital social contact between young men and women was quite free, especially during festivals. It was common for the groom to move into the bride's home after the wedding. [Source: China.org china.org |]

If a couple decides they want to get married, the parents of the male ask a matchmaker to propose to the female family. Usually, marriage is smoothly carried out. If an agreement is not achieved, they couple discusses what to do, with eloping of staging an abduction being a last resort. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

Dai Courting Activities

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Courting dance at water festival

The Dai are famous for their dating and marriage customs. Young males and females flirt and date before marriage. Premarital sex is allowed and even encouraged. Teenage girls have traditionally had a room away from their parents so the can secretly meet their lovers and signaled their interest in a young man through atonal singing or by tossing him “love bag.” If he was interested they dated and later they may became engaged to marry.

The Dai young people are quite free in choosing their lovers. Crowded roads to markets and the festivals are good places to hunt. Pouch throwing at the Water-Splashing Festival is a traditional game played by young men and women seeking live. To prepare for this game, girls sew together a diamond-shape embroidered pouch with cloth of different colors and cotton seeds inside and males and females are divided into two teams led their own leaders "Naichang" and "Naishao". The two teams stand face-to-face about 20 meters away. At the beginning, all throw casually without aiming. Those who cannot catch the pouch are losers, and have to offer flowers or another gift to the thrower. By and by, the girls do not throw casually anymore, but aim especially at the boy she likes. If the young man also likes her, then they throw back and forth. The girl throws high and far intentionally, while the young man pretends to miss it. He admits "defeat", and gives her a present. Then they leave together. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

Carpet-wrapping is another courting activity carried by young Dai. On a road to a festival, market or religious activities, youn men wrap themselves all up in a carpet, except their eyes, and waits for girls they fancy. If a young man sees a girl he likes goes over to her and strikes up a conversation. If the girl likes him and responds positively to his advances, they wrap themselves together in the carpet and go to a quiet place. ~

When the weather cools after the Open Door Festival, and people are not busy with farming, girls go to the "Hanhong"— spinning field— when dusk falls in groups, carrying with them spinning wheels, bamboo stools, as well as tobacco, betel nut and fruit. Young men show up uninvited and sing and play musical instruments such as flutes. They come over and squat beside the “needfire,” talking and laughing with the girls, and move closer and closer to the girls they like. If a girl has no similar feeling, she politely refuses, or intentionally make some weird sound on the spinning wheel when he speaks to her. If she likes the young man, she takes out a stool hidden under her skirt, and asks him to sit down, saying: "Did you have your rice with pumpkin or salt?" There is a proverb in Dai that goes: "Having rice with pumpkin means satisfied and pleased with the girl, while having rice with salt means he comes to negotiate because he has difficulties." Therefore, if the answer is "with pumpkin", the girl snuggles up against the young man, who in the meantime has spread out his carpet to wrap them up. ~

Dai Flower Ball Festival Courting Activities

Dai youths express their affection for the opposite sex through a variety of courting activities, but chief among them is the Flower Ball Festival, which involves a bag throwing game like the one described above. According to Chinatravel.com: When the Water-Splashing Festival “is on the horizon, all the unmarried youths of the village and its environs get together to participate in the Flower Ball Festival. The event is carried out by having boys and girls stand in separate lines opposite each other, then the boy throws the flower ball, when it is his turn, to the girl he fancies the most and who is standing in the line directly opposite him (as can be understood, the girls line up first, then the boys take their positions opposite the girl of their choice, and, by pre-arrangement, any potential conflict such as two boys wishing to court the same girl is resolved by parents, well in advance of the Flower Ball Festival). Flower ball throwing is done round after round, because not every girl catches the flower ball on the first attempt (it is a requirement to eventually catch the flower ball). [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]

“The rule is if the girl doesn't catch the flower ball, the boy will give the girl a gift as encouragement, since further rounds will be played for those not having caught the flower ball. In the event that a girl does not catch the flower ball, she is required to pick a flower for the boy who cast the ball to her. In reality, a girl may deliberately fail to catch the flower ball many times over, in order to thus elicit more gifts (a certain amount of pre-arrangement here cannot be excluded). Not all boys and girls "paired" at a Flower Ball go on to become serious sweethearts, but many, if not most, do, as there is more to the ceremony than innocent children choosing a favorite - suitability issues such as social standing, inter-family relations, etc., plays a role as well.” \=/

Dai Women Willingly Seeking Work as Prostitutes

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An increasing number if young women in Yunnan Province are willingly going to Thailand and Malaysia to work as prostitutes or are being ordered by their families to work in brothels in these countries because the money is good. Girls from the Dai minority are particularly sought after in Thailand because they are regarded as beautiful and their language is similar to Thai.

One 20-year-old woman in the Mekong River village of Langle told the New York Times, “If you can’t go to Thailand and you are a young woman here, what can you do? You plant and you harvest. But in Thailand and Malaysia I heard it was pretty easy to earn money so I went....All the girls would like to go, but some have to take care of their parents.”

The girls work in bars and most of the money they take in tricks goes to their pimp or brothel owner. The money they earn comes from “tips” by customers. Many make their way across the border hidden in the baggage compartment of buses and hope to get lucky and meet and marry an overseas Chinese or at least bring enough money back for a better life for themselves and their families.

Many are unable to save much even after a couple of years. Some do quite well and this is often reflected by the nice homes — with satellite television, air conditioning, generators and tile designs — in the home of their parents. Some families with several daughters live in chateau-like homes with chandeliers, leather-covered sofas, golden Buddhist altars and fancy home entertainment centers. Dai boys often don’t like the set up because the girls who return from Malaysia and Thailand come back snobby and don’t want to have anything to do with them.

Dai Women and Children

Women have traditionally done all the agriculture work, with the exception of heavy work done by men, and sold stuff in the markets. Old married women in the Dai tribe have no identity of their own. When they are introduced their name is not used, They are simply referred to as their husbands' wife.

The Dai are very gentle with their children, seldom beating them. In the old days boys of eight or nine years of age became monks for two or three years, and sometimes as long as ten years, and were regarded as adults after receiving a Buddhist name and mastering the Dai scripts and Buddhist scriptures. These custom was abolished in the Cultural Revolution but have made a comeback in recent years. Secular schools are often in conflict with temples because many children to go to temples to learn Dai writing while secular school focus on Chinese writing.

Dai Threading-Tying Wedding

The wedding is usually held in the bride's house. A bamboo table is set at the inner end of the central room, on which two cooked chickens, a cup of wine with betel leaf, as well as sticky rice, salt and white thread are set. The person who presides over the wedding MC is seated at the most honorable place of the table, while the other relatives and friends sit around the table, close to him. Bride and groom kneel before the presider, who gives a congratulation speech, while others are listening with their right hands on the table, showing politeness. After the speech, bride and groom run and try to grab the betel leaves in the cup. Whoever gets them first will have a final say in the future family life. Then bride and groom separately pick up a dollop of sticky rice, and dip it in a cup of wine. Chicken and salt are also offered as sacrifice. ~

During the wedding ceremony itself, the host first prays for the bride and groom, then he takes a long white thread and begins to tie it around the hands of the new couple as a symbol of a long, healthy and happy life together. Thereafter the other family members of both the bride and groom perform the same symbolic thread tying ritual upon the bride and groom, and lastly, invited friends of the couple do the same. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]

During the ceremony the presider picks up the white thread on the table, circles it over their backs and shoulders of the bride and groom, and put the ends on the table again, implicating that their souls have already been fastened together, and they will live to their deaths in bliss together. Then the presider fastens the two short threads respectively to their wrists. At this time, others at the table all fasten threads to their wrists, and wish their love be as pure as water in the Lancang River, and their life be as sweet as sugarcane. After the thread-fastening ceremony, one of the two chickens is given to the presider, while the other is divided between the single men present, encouraging them to find a girls' love soon. At last, an old person kneads some sticky rice into a triangle, and puts it on the tripod of the fire pit, with salt on it. The rice burns and falls into the fire, foretelling a stable life and a solid love. ~

Dai Thread Tying

The Thread Tying Custom is known in the Dai language as Shu Huan, meaning "tying the souls". Shu Huan is a social event that involves the extended families of both parties to the wedding, as well as specially invited guests. It is done both at an official "engagement" ceremony that takes place any time between the 15th of December (the Opening-of-the-Door Festival) to the 15th of September of the following year (the Closing-of-the-Door Festival), and during the marriage ceremony itself. The purpose of this well-wishing ceremony is to pray for the bride and groom, and to tie thread for them in the hope that theirs may be a happy and well-suited union. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/] According to legend the custom of tying thread as a symbol of the marriage union goes back a long, long ago, to a young noble girl, who often wondered about what type of man she would marry. One day, the girl mused to a very young male servant - a boy of roughly her own age, in fact: "I wonder who I will eventually marry?" The young boy answered matter of factly, and without the slightest hesitation: "You are going to marry me." Upon hearing this, the girl, in a fit of rage, grabbed a knife lying on a nearby table and threw it at the boy, making a deep gash in his forehead, which would leave a permanent scar. Moreover, the young boy, for his impertinence, was driven out of the country. \=/

In a different place, the young boy became a young man, and a very successful one at that: he eventually became the country's king. As was the custom at the time, rulers of neighboring states and countries chose intermarriage as a means of defusing potential rivalry, so a marriage between the young king and the girl of the country from which the young man, as a boy, had been rudely kicked out, was arranged. On the day of the wedding, the girl immediately recognized the groom-to-be as her former servant, for the scar from the deep gash she had given him as a boy was clearly visible on his forehead. The girl was so overwhelmed with remorse - and also with awe at the boy's prophetic words - that she placed her right hand between the hands of her groom-to-be, and proceeded to tie their hands together, as a sign of her eternal devotion to her coming husband and king.

Dai Customs and Taboos

According to Chinatravel.com: at sacrificial occasions: 1) Tourists are forbidden to enter a stockaded village when the Dai are engaged in the worship of the stockade god. 2) Tourists are required to take off their shoes before entering a Buddhist temple. 3) Neither may a tourist step on the shadow of a monk, nor touch the head of a monk. Proper etiquette calls for passersby of all nationalities and faiths to show respect to a monk by placing their palms together in the universal gesture of prayer, and nodding a greeting, however slight the movement. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]

At weddings, childbirths and funerals: 1) A tourist may not enter the home of a pregnant woman or a sick man. 2) A special object made of bamboo hanging near the main door of a home signifies that a pregnant woman is nearing childbirth, and this means that all visitors will be refused. 3) A tourist may not enter a home where a member has just died. Moreover, a tourist is forbidden to attend a Dai funeral ceremony without express permission of the family. 4) A bamboo keg for holding water is always hung near the door where a death has occurred in a family. Inside this keg are placed sour leaves, and after the funeral rites have been completed, all participants sprinkle a small amount of this special water over their heads, in order to turn away evil spirits. \=/

Dai Wells and Love of Water

Water is holy and auspicious to the Dai. In the Water-splashing Festival, water splashing has an auspicious meaning; when someone moves into a new house, people come to give their congratulations, and help carry things into the new house, while shouting "water-water-water"; when friends gather together, they lift their drinking cups, and wish other prosperity with the toast "water". The respect and affection that the dai have towards water is perhaps best reflected in the special kind of well they have in their villages.[Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

Approaching a Dai village, one of the things that people notice first is the old-tower-like well on the edge of the village. There is an arch one meter high on the front side of the tower. On both sides of the arch and on the top of the tower, there are various kinds of auspicious animal sculptures. The tall tower body is decorated with various colors. It and the fence around it combine together, forming the well cover. To fetch water, people stand outside the fence, scooping up water with long-handle wooden or bamboo scoops, and then pour it into water buckets or pots. The attractive and clean appearance of the wells demonstrate the importance of water to Dai people. On top of this the Dai go out of their way to keep the well clean and maintain order around it: no children play beside the well; women never do washings at the well; nor men take water buffalo there; every one is always ready to wash the well platform and the fence, as well as clean up weeds and rubbish.

Dai Villages and Homes

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Dai village

The Dai usually live in villages with 40 or so households. Large villages have up to 100 households. The villages are usually established along rivers or streams and often feature huge banyan trees and a delicate Buddhist temple or pagoda.

The Dai often live in large stilted bamboo houses built above the damp ground in tropical rain forest regions. Chicken and pigs are kept below the house, and a fenced garden surrounds the house. A typical house is 10-by-10 meters and two to three meters above the ground and has wooden and bamboo supports, walls and floors made of woven bamboo and a steep-pitched thatched roof supported by bamboo rafters. The house is usually divided into an inner bedroom and outer living room with a fireplace that serves as a kitchen. Those that can afford it have planked floors and tile roofs.

Traditional Dai houses have a pointed roof and a second-story veranda. Many Dai use brick and concrete to build their homes now. Some Dai houses have been influenced by the Chinese. Built at quadrangles around courtyards, they are only a meter above the ground, have mud brick walls, and thatch or tile roofs.

Traditional Dai House

The villages of the Dais in Dehong and Xishuangbanna are found on the plains or level ground, near rivers. Lakes or streams, and among clusters of bamboo. The buildings generally are built on stilts, often half concealed behind by grapefruit and pawpaw trees, betel palms, coconut palms and other kinds of trees and greenery. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

A traditional Dai house is two-storeyed, and roughly square in shape. The upper storey serves as the living quarters for the family, while the lower storey, which may be only partially walled in, but is generally partitioned into more than one room, serves as a storeroom for grain, etc., and as a shelter for livestock. The living quarters contain, besides bedrooms, room for working, for dining, and for receiving guests. There is traditionally a balcony for washing clothes. It is here that the household water supply, its water tank, is located. The advantage of having the living quarters raised above ground are obvious: it reduces the risks to life and property during high water conditions (flooding), being well above ground, it is free of dampness, ground chill, and it is generally free of insects, especially mosquitoes. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]

Dai Bamboo Houses

The most typical building material in Dai culture is bamboo, and the building style of the typical Dai house is called "Gan Lan". The columns, beams, purlins, rafters, and walls of the house are of bamboo, as is the gate leading to the house. In fact, the grass, or thatch, that covers the roof of a Dai traditional house is held together in tufts, or bundles, with the help of bamboo twigs, which are quite elastic. In some areas, the roof consists of bamboo shafts split in half, then tied together to form a seamless roof. Obviously, the greater the bearing requirement the larger, or sturdier, the bamboo. Thus the house's main framework will be made of the largest bamboo shafts, while narrower bamboo is used for walls, for the roof, and as a final covering over the bearing framework of the floor, if wooden planks are not to be used. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]

Traditional Dai bamboo houses are built the level grounds beside rivers and lakes in Xishuangbanna. They are exquisite and unique, and often half concealed behind by grapefruit and pawpaw trees, betel palms, coconut palms and otehr kinds of trees and greenery. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

The supporting framework of a Dai bamboo house is usually made of dozens of big bamboos and wooden floor boards laid two meters above the ground. The house is divided into the upper floor and the ground floor. There is no wall downstairs, where cattle, fowls and work tools are kept. People live upstairs. There are gaps in the bamboo walls wide enough to let in light and air, so usually no window are needed. At one end of the house is the stairs. Climbing up the stairs, you can see a corridor. On the front side is the balcony, there is usually a water urn. People do washing, dry clothes and enjoy the coolness of the night on the balcony. The inner part of the upper floor is divided into a central room and a bedroom by a bamboo fence. The roof is like an "A," and covered with "Caopai", which is woven with couch grass. Perhaps because the house resembles a huge upheld hat, there is a story behind it: When the famous Chinese general Zhu Geliang came to Xishuangbanna in the A.D. second century, a youth named Yanken, went to ask him how to build a more convenient house for the Dai people. Zhu thought for a moment; then inserting a few chopsticks in the ground and put his own hat on them, and said: just build in this way. ~

A bamboo house is called "Hen" in Dai. It is said that "Hen" is the shortened form of "Hongheng", which means a phoenix spreading its wings. The inventor of the bamboo house, Payasangmudi, a story goes, wanted to build a kind of house that was both practicable and convenient but failed. Then, the King of Heaven, Payaying, transformed himself into a beautiful phoenix and flew in front of Payasangmudi. The phoenix instructed him with various body movements to build an ideal bamboo house: dampness-proof and beasts-proof, which fit the wet and hot climate in Xishuangbanna. Therefore, Payasangmudi named this kind of bamboo house as "Hongheng". In order to remember Payasangmudi as the inventor, people changed "Hongheng" into "Hen Payasangmudi", which means Payasangmudi's house. ~

Today, housing styles are much different than in the old days. Various bamboo houses are called "Hen" but they are greatly outnumbered by wooden houses. Tiles have taken the place of "Caopai" on the roof. And there are glass windows in the wall. However, the construction style of traditional bamboo houses still remains. ~

Dai Food

Rice is the staple food. The Dais in Dehong prefer dry looser-grained rice, while those in Xishuangbanna like sticky rice. The Dai are fond of pork, beef, duck, chicken, shrimp and fish; they seldom eat mutton. In some areas, dog meat is popular. In general, the Dai love flavors that are sour and/or spicy hot. Cabbages, carrots, bamboo shoots and beans are among the popular vegetables. The Dais also love wine, liquor, and betel nuts. [Source: China.org china.org |]

Dai cuisine pays special attention to "sourness, hotness and fragrance", using cooking methods such as steaming, roasting, pickling and chopping. Steamed food usually involves chopping ingredients such as pork, pig brain, steamed and bamboo shoot and and wrapping them in palm leaves and steaming them in a steam box, Roasted dishes mostly use fragrant couch grass as condiments. Fragrant couch grass is a herbage plant, whose prime function is adding fragrance and getting ride of fishy smells. There are many dishes prepared with this cooking method, such as roasted fish, roasted meat, roasted chicken, roasted bamboo shoots and roasted mushrooms. Some roasted food can be made with fillings, for instance roasted fish. To make this: place condiments into the fish belly, wrap the fish with fragrant couch grass, and then roast it on a charcoal fire. It is savory and crisp, and wonderfully delicious. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

Most pickled dishes are sour, They include pickled tendons of beef, pickled oxhide, pickled pig heads, pickled pig hoofs pickled fish, pickled bamboo shoots and pickled peas. Usually they are pickled after having been cooked, and immediately eaten after taken out, These go well with wine. Some are also pickled raw, and roasted before eating. The last cooking method, chopping, refers to chopped raw materials, like chopped raw beef, chopped raw venison, chopped raw rice field eel. First chop the raw material into chips, then mix it with salt, shallot, garlic, pepper powder, coriander, and wild Chinese prickly ash, and lastly add lemon juice into it. Some people also add pork skin that has been cooked into milky color. Nowadays, these are not eaten as much as they once were due to health concerns. Besides being fond of sour and spicy hot dishes, the Dai also enjoy foods that are slightly bitter, such as bitter gourd and bitter bamboo shoots, both of which everyday vegetable dishes are as common to a Dai household as is apple pie to an American household. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/ ~]

According to to Chinatravel.com: Since the Dai live in areas that are hot and humid, replete with a cornucopia of large insects, they have learned to incorporate this rich protein source into their diet. Therefore, dishes and snacks made of insects constitute a large part of the Dai diet, and enhance it with their special flavors. In addition to the cicada, the bamboo worm as well as a number of species of spiders are the most commonly used insects in the Dai diet, which also includes exotic foods such as field turtle and the eggs of giant ants. The Dai also have a liking for partially-fermented wine that is generally homemade. These are more often than not sweet wines. Although tea is a local specialty, the Dai prefer their tea made of large-leaf tea sorts that are not highly perfumed. Other typical Dai products include sun-dried pork, sun-dried eel, and salted eggs.” \=/

Dai Fragrant Bamboo Rice and Soaked Cakes

Xishuangbanna, which is known as "the kingdom of plants", produces lots of rice. Clever and skillful Dai women make use of rice to cook various kinds of staple food. They tread on the Mu Dui (a wooden tool) to pestle rice, once a day, only enough for use that day. It is a custom that the Dai people do not eat rice cooked the previous day. From November to February is Fragrant Bamboo season and a good time to enjoy the Fragrant Bamboo Rice. Fragrant Bamboo is a kind of thin bamboo with long joints, which is called "Maihaola" in Dai, meaning rice-cooking bamboo. It is called the Fragrant Bamboo because of a layer of fragrant film in the stem. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

To make Fragrant Bamboo Rice, the first step is to cut the bamboo in segments, each segment with a joint at the bottom. Then put rice, which has been soaked in clean water, into the segments, and plug the openings with palm leaves. The bamboo segments smolder on a charcoal fire, until the heat-induced fragrance flies out. When they are ready, take the bamboo segments out of fire and knock them, making the rice soft and loose on the inner wall of the bamboo. After that, cut the bamboo segments open. Inside there is fragrant bamboo rice with milky bamboo film. ~

Ind addition, rice pounded into powder or grinded into thick liquid, can be used to cook various kinds of Baba (a kind of rice food). Rice liquid, added with Shizi Flower powder, gingili, peanuts and brown sugar, is to be wrapped up with palm leaf and then steamed, to make what is called "Haonuosuo" in Dai, meaning Shizi Flower Baba. Dark reddish brown in color and savory and sweet, it also be dried in the sun, cut into thin pieces, and fried in the oil. ~

"Haobeng" means soaked cake in Dai. To make it mix pounded rice powder with brown sugar, yolk and gingili together, and make small thin cakes, which should be aired. Before eating, roast them on a fire first, making the cakes bulge, and become more crisp and delicious. Another kind of Baba, made of cooked sticky rice and other condiments, is called "Haoji'a" in Dai. This kind of Baba can be eaten fresh, roasted, as well as chipped and fried. Rice can also be cooked into such staple foods as Bajiao Zong, Rou Zong, Mixian, Migan., and made into fragrant and sweet sticky rice wine. ~

Dai Economics and Agriculture

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Dai woman in a market

The Dai have traditionally been wet-land rice farmers. They were one of the earliest peoples to produce rice in Yunnan. As early as the A.D. 7th century, they used elephants as plow animals. Today, rice takes up 70 percent of their agricultural land

The lives of the Dai are ruled by the rhythm of the agricultural seasons. The harvest is the most important time of the year. Transplanting is usually done in May or June. In the summer the dikes are repaired and the water flow into the paddies is regulated. The harvest is usually in November or December. The Dai grow cabbage, sweet potatoes and dry land rice on mountain slopes prepared with slash and burn techniques. .

Because the Dai control a lot of land for their population size they produce only one crop a year while their Han neighbors usually produce two (one rice and one wheat or rapeseed). Unlike the Chinese, the Dai don’t use night soil (human excrement) as fertilizer and their yields are lower than the Han. During a good year Dai farmers harvest about 1,000 pounds of rice per acre. They used to rely on water buffalo but now are increasingly using tractors. Shoulder poles are still used for carrying stuff.

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Dai hammered silver jar

The Dai are mainly self sufficient farmers. They are not known as being traders or peddlers. Most trading is done between highlanders and lowlanders at markets held every four or five days. Cash crops currently grown include tea, sugar cane, tobacco, cotton, camphor, rubber and tropical fruits such as pineapples and mangos. Rubber is grown on plantations. Fishing is done with poisons and explosives mostly for consumption.

Landlords and wealthy peasants have traditionally owned much of the land. A largely feudal system remained in place until 1957, when collective agriculture was introduced. Now farmers largely operate under a contract system with the state owning the land and farmers cultivating it in return for paying taxes or turning over part of their harvest to the state.

In July 2008, two people were killed in Menglian county in Yunnan Province when 500 to 1000 Dai rubber growers armed with knives attacked police, injuring 41 officers and damaging eight police cars. Menglian county has a large minority population. The protesters were angry with a local rubber firm over the sale of their crops.

Many Dai that live near Laos and Myanmar in Xishuangbanna grow rice and have rubber plantations in the hills. Many villagers raise and tap rubber for their primary income.

Image Sources: Atlanta Chinese Dance Company, Nolls China website http://www.paulnoll.com/China/index.html , Joho maps, twip com, Nature Products, Beifan , Travel China

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 ethnic-china.com *\; 4) Chinatravel.com \=/; 5) China.org, the Chinese government news site china.org | New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated July 2015


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