Dai like 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
In the ancient Chinese documents, the Dai folks were called"the tribes with golden teeth" and "the tribes with black teeth" — believed to be a reference to their ancient habit of chewing betel nut, which turns the teeth and mouth black and red. In the old days, young men and women of these ethnic groups liked to scrape black ash and coat their white teeth and make their teeth black or purple, a sign they were adults. An ornate silver covered jar with hammered designs of legendary figures carries three small boxes: one each for tobacco leaves, betel nut and lime. The designs are related to Theravada Buddhism.
Today, Dai and Bulang people of Xishuangbanna, particularly women, love chewing betel nut. First they cut the betelnut fruits into thin slices, mixing them with ash and tobacco threads, pack them with piper betel leaves, and chew and suck on them in their mouth. Sometimes, they cannot find any betel leaves then they use young tree leaves. Users believe betel nut drives away insects, toughens up the stomach, cures tropical diseases like malaria, and enhances physical fitness.
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. Wang Zhusheng wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “The tusi was the basic political system in the Dai regions before 1956. The term refers to the central authority's system of appointing native chieftains as local hereditary officials. The tusi polity was autonomous. The tusi had complete power over legislation, administration, and the military within his domain under the condition of obeying the orders and commands of the imperial court and providing tributes, taxes, and corvée to the court. Combined with the original feudal structure of the Dai, the tusi became not only the official government administrator in the area but also an officially recognized lord over the other local minorities. [Source: Wang Zhusheng “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia - Eurasia / China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994 |~|]
According to UNESCO: "Chiefs were appointed by the central government as ‘Tusi’, hereditary rulers from the 13th to the early 20thcentury. The Tusi system arose from the ethnic minorities’ dynastic systems of government dating back to the 3rd century B.C.. Its purpose was to unify national administration, while allowing ethnic minorities to retain their customs and way of life." The tusi had his administration to conduct daily affairs. For the control of the mountain peoples in his domain, the tusi had special headmen, guan or liantou, in charge of collecting taxes. In this way, the tusi built a pyramid-type structure, a true monarchical system; every tusi region was virtually an independent kingdom. The Dai tusi system lasted for over 500 years; it was the oldest tusi in China. |~|
In 1956, the local polity was reorganized into a unified structure with the following levels: state; province or autonomous region; prefecture or autonomous zhou; xian (county); and xiang (district). The xiang (the people's commune from 1958 to 1985) is the lowest level of state authority and the basic administrative unit. A xiang includes several administrative villages, which consist of a number of natural villages. The xiang government is appointed by the xiang people's congress, which is elected from candidates recommended by the Communist party and functions under the leadership of the xiang party committee. The head of the administrative village is appointed by the xiang government, while the head of the natural village is elected by the villagers. |~|
The basic household unit is a nuclear family made up of parents and unmarried children (and sometimes a daughter with her husband in bride-service). In the areas connected where Han Chinese influence is stronger. extended families exist. Average family size is four to five people. Dai families are usually patrilineal and parents live with the unmarried children. In case a couple has no son, the man is welcome to live with his bride's family.
In terms of inheritance, upper class families have traditionally strictly followed patrilineal primogeniture. The eldest son inherited the titles, offices, and the majority of property (mainly the land), while the other sons shared the remaining properties. Among common people, family wealth is usually divided by all sons with the eldest son inheriting the house; the unmarried daughters and matrilocal sons-in-law also have the right to inherit part of the property. |[Source: Wang Zhusheng “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia - Eurasia / China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]
The Dai identify more with community than with kin group. They identify themselves with their homeland, the place where they were born, even when they live elsewhere. Dai kin terms are of the Eskimo type This joint family system makes no distinction between patrilineal and matrilineal relatives; instead, it focuses on differences in kinship distance (the closer the relative is, the more distinctions are made). The system emphasizes the nuclear family, identifying directly only the mother, father, brother, and sister. All other relatives are grouped together into categories
There are some regional variation. In Xishuangbanna, grandfather, maternal grandfather, and their brothers share the same term (ipu ); grandmother, maternal grandmother, and their sisters share the same term (ija). Parents' brothers share the same term with parents' brothers-in-law (polong), whereas mother's brother's wife shares the same term with father's brother's wife (mielong). Brother's and sister's children share the same term (lan ) with the children of brother-in-law and sister-in-law regardless of generation.
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.
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]
Dai Customs and Taboos
The Dai are very hospitable. Tea, tobacco, betel nut and wine are typically offered to guests after they arrive. The hosts prepares special dishes to honor the guests, including fish, chicken, pork, vegetables, sweet bamboo shoots, peanuts, and fruits after a meal. When guests the host usually sees them off to the gate. People should take off their shoes before they enter a house.
Taboos among the Dai often have religious meanings. Touching a young monk is strongly discouraged and touching his head is strictly prohibited. When visiting a home, the guest is not allowed to steep over the eating area or fire, sit behind the fire while facing the door, sit on the threshold of the door, lean against a column, or enter the inner rooms. [Source: C. Le Blanc, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life,” Cengage Learning, 2009]
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 \=/]
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 ~]
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.
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 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]
Settlements tend to be on raised ground surrounded by rice fields or on high ground on either side of a road or pathway. Traditionally, each village had a piece of forest land (dong sya ), which was sacred to the tutelary deity. Hunting was prohibited there. Population pressure and acquisition of land for rubber plantations have now deprived many villages of such land. All villages have traditionally had temples (wats). Many were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution but have since been rebuilt. Many villages have communal fish ponds, which function under a system that allocates the catch. [Source: Gehan Wijeyewardene, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 5: East/Southeast Asia:” edited by Paul Hockings, 1993]
Gehan Wijeyewardene wrote in the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Traditional land tenure in Xishuangbanna is thought to have been based on village communities under the control of chiefs. Certain lands were reserved for the chief and his senior officials and these plots would be worked either with the nobles' own retainers or with corvée. Other village officials, including ritual officials, had special allocations of land that included the right to free labor. The commoners had access to what land was left, but even here there were said to be divisions. There were first the "native" Lue who occupied the best villages, had major duties, and did not marry with other types of villager. The second major group was comprised of the "dependents of the lord's house," who were migrants from other Tai muang (chiefdoms) or prisoners of war. They cultivated state land, but could cultivate a small portion for themselves. They performed domestic duties and other labor for which they were paid wages. The third group consisted of the remote kin of the nobility, who were granted land as free peasants. It appears their land was not liable to reallocation. Much effort by Chinese officials throughout the centuries appears to have been directed at making cultivators directly liable to pay taxes to the emperor for the land they cultivated, thus breaking the power of the traditional rulers. Although this appears to have succeeded in the north, it was only imperfectly achieved in the southeast and west.
During Communist rule, though Xishuangbanna was never completely communized, there was a period during which individual control of production and access to produce was very limited. Today the village decides how much land is available and how it should be divided each year—it seems mostly to be done on a per capita basis. Under the system that began in Xishuangbanna about 1985, each household is allotted land for five years and contracts to pay specified amounts to the government during that period. As an example, a household that has been given rice land at the rate of 1.3 mou per person (1 mou equals about 0.06 hectare) would be expected to pay 26 kilograms of paddy per person per year. The government acquires another 80 kilograms at about half the market price. The farmer may sell additional paddy to the government at slightly below the market price, but may prefer to take his chances elsewhere.
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. Rows of straw cover the double slopes of the roof. A bamboo ladder leads to the door. The central room, covered with a large bamboo-strip mat, serves for eating, for resting, and for receiving guests. There is a fireplace in the center, with a triangular iron framework for cooking or boiling tea. The inner room, separated by planks or a mat woven with bamboo strips, is the main bedroom; there are also bedrooms on each side of the central room. 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. In Delong District, most houses are one-story. The wall is built by adobe or bamboo, the roof covered with straw. [Source: C. Le Blanc, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life,” Cengage Learning, 2009 *]
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 and relaxing in the evening. 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]
Upper class house Traditionally, large marble slabs were placed underneath the pillars of building, so that the pillar would not touch the ground directly; and thus prevent moisture and ants from climbing up the pillars. It is said that the pillars were invented by a woman chief named Yabanna. The Dai are quite knowledgeable about wood and trees. For pillars of the terraces, hard woods or woods that deter biting of ants, such as double hea tree, simao doufuchai and Mitragyna diversifolia, are preferred. The Dai folks are also quite experienced in the selection of woods for each part of the buildings; for the two most important pillars, they use Schima wallichii, and Paramichelia baillonii, . which are strong enough to support the building and are also quite durable woods. Dai houses are so well built and so well utilize materials from the tropical forest environment that other ethic groups in Dai areas such as the Bulang, Hani and Jinuo people construct similar buildings similar to those the Dai. [Source: Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net]
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. 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]
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. 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. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities ~]
In order to make the bamboo building more durable, Dai created many practical and effective treatment methods for bamboos and wood. Some bamboo materials are immersed into rivers or ponds for several months after cutting in order to dissolve some soluble substances, such as xylose, and to make the starch deteroprate, do reduce the chances of moth and parasite infestation. Woods that is buried in the ground is burnt with fire in order to make the part in the ground harder and provide a layer of protection with charcoal. One reason some houses have an oven inside is so smoke from fires would prevents mold and fungus growth, insect intrusions and makes the bamboo more durable. To prevent dangerous fire from occurring each community established strict rules such as not allowing daytime fires of the dry season and requiring fires be set in designated places [Source: Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net]
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 and Bamboo
The Dai use bamboo in hundreds, maybe thousands, of ways, mainly to make buildings, various items and as food. On Dai folk goes "wherever there are bamboos, there will be Dai villages", There are over 100 varieties of bamboos in the rain forests of Xishuangbanna. They thrive in the mountains and plains. Many villages of all ethnic groups are sheltered under the bamboo woods. In terms of edible varieties, fresh and pickled bamboo shoots are well known. The Dai also ry bamboo shoot chips, pressed shoots, and bamboo flowers). Pickled, steamed and cooked bamboo shoots are featured in dishes such as "sour shoots and fish" and "sour shoots and chicken". "Nanmi" made with sliced shoots is also a rare delicacy on the Dai folks' dining tables. [Source: Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net]
The Dai use use bamboo barrels as pots for cooking over the fire. Water is boiled in bamboo cans gives tea a special flavor. The same is true wit rice cooked in bamboo tubes. Bamboo used for boiling water or cooking for a longer time becomes as thin as paper, which passes heat very quickly and makes the boiling of water much quicker and easier. Sticky rice and water that are put into the bamboo tube made of cephalostanchyum pergracile bomboo have a faint fragrance taste. During the Water-Splashing Festival, Dai people shoot off "Gaosheng" (a kind of easily made rocket). Except the explosives, everything is made of bamboo: the tubes used to hold explosives, the long sticks for controlling the rocket, and the releasing platforms.
In Cangyuan Wa Autonomous County, southwest Yunnan’s Lincang City, there is a Dai village where bamboo is widely used to make daily tools. Xinhua reported, The villagers there love knitting things out of bamboo strips and the craft has been passed down from generation to generation. He Ying, a resident in the Mengka village, is an inheritor of the bamboo knitting craft. "We earn around 20,000 yuan a year," said He, who learnt bamboo knitting from his father and has also passed the art to his son Feng Zhengming. [Source: Liu Dong, Liu Xinwei and Ding Ning, Xinhua, December 20, 2019]
The 43-year-old He Ying has been in the bamboo business for more than 20 years, while shifting his focusing on farming seasonally. "I learnt the craft in my late teenage days, when my bamboo baskets cost around 2 yuan each," said He Ying, adding the current prices of bamboo baskets range from tens to hundreds yuan. To have enough raw materials, He Ying planted bamboos every year. Grown bamboos are mostly harvested during October to December, when pests are the least. At home, He cut bamboos into even strips, which were dried over the fireplace.
Rice is the staple food. The Dais in Dehong prefer dry looser-grained rice, while those in Xishuangbanna like sticky rice. The Dai prefer pork to beef and also eat 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. Sweet wine is consumed by everyone, even children [Source: China.org]
The Dai usually eat two meals a day. Chopsticks and bowls are used. Sticky (glutinous rice) is eaten with their hand. Traditional foods include rice cooked in a bamboo tube, sour bamboo shoots (see above), roasted fish and sour vegetables. Thick sauces are made from shrimp, fish, crab, ant's eggs, crickets and cicadas. Dai eat fried ant's eggs, fried crickets, roasted spiders, and raw worms in the bamboo. [Source: C. Le Blanc, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life,” Cengage Learning, 2009 *]
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]
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 \=/ ~]
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. ~
Eatable Flowers and Leaves
The rain forests of Xishuangbanna have traditionally been major sources of food for all the ethic groups that live there. A ballad of the Dai people describes how their ancestors tried to find food: "(they) dig roots, pick up leaves, gnaw reels, eat banana flowers, and fish for mosses". Even though they have agriculture and shops these groups still go to the forest to pick and dig up various foods, starches, vegetables and oil plants. [Source: Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net]
Andaman mombin is rich in vitamin C; it has a sweet taste, and is an important raw material for making sauces used by the Dai people. The young leaves of Acacia pennata has special aromas, and is a necessary material for frying and steaming many traditional menus. Eryngium foetidum has a special fragrant smell and is an important ingredient in cooking meats.
Among numerous foods made with wild plants, those especially loved by tourists are made with the leaves of trees. Pickled sour dishes from the spider tree are especially tasty. The young leaves of Acacia pennata, if fried with eggs, is a favorite. The young leaves of the eared strangler fig and Ficus callosa Willd are easily cooked and have special flavors. The tip of the fishtail palm is called sweet shoots is a rare mountain food. It is fried with meat or made into a soup. It is said the good health and long lives of old Dai and the slenderness and light-footedness Dai girls is attributed to eating eating young tree leaves and flowers.
Among the eatable flowers found in Xishuangbanna rain forests are malay bushbeech, Mayodendron igneum, white frangipani,Musa sapientum and Gardenia sootepense. Outsiders know very little about these flowers, and the local minorities people have special ways to prepare them for eating. These flowers are said to have abundant supplies of amino acida, including farina. Botanists has said it is important to keep the "the culture of eating flowers" alive.
Medical knowledge has traditionally been passed on orally by the moya (medical man) from generation to generation. Traditional medicines from herbs, minerals, and animal parts includes anise, ginger, anise, shaddock, pine leaves, camphor, borax, pilose antler (of a young stag), bear gallbladder and snake. Malaria and dysentery occur. Among the the commonly-used traditional treatments are massage, surface application of medicines, herbal teas, bloodletting, and heat application. [Source: Wang Zhusheng “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 6: Russia-Eurasia/China” edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond, 1994]
The late botanist, Professor Cai Xitao, carried out a careful botanical study in Xishuangbanna for dozens of years. He once said: "if you sit on the ground in Xishuangbanna, you would find that you are sitting on at least three medicinal herbs". This is quite true. Among the more than 5000 plant varieties in Xishuangbanna, there are about 1000 that are used as medical herbs. "The Records for Medicinal Herbs in Xishuangbanna" recorded more than 500 varieties. Amon them are the mushrooms Agaric, Dictyophora indusiata and Boletaceae as well as Flower of the Ku Teng and Nai Jiang Jun. [Source: Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net]
The minority groups of Xishuangbanna live in the tropical rain forests, which can foster numerous diseases. In their struggles with nature, local people turned to the same forest for help. According to a Dai legend in ancient times, when the ancestors of the Dai people first arrived in Xishuangbanna, many died of diseases. An old man named "Bodiya" found that the people living in one particular village all enjoyed long lives. After some investigations, he found that they went to the forest every day to pick up wild vegetables and fruits. After years of research got to know the curative effects of all plants. Then, he began to treat patients and the people called him "moya", i.e. a doctor; and that, according to the legend, is how Dai medicine came into being. Bodiya's work was built on by moya that followed him. Buddhist monks also played a role gathering medical knowledge, with input from sources outside Xishuangbanna, and helped spread the knowledge, in some cases using Pharmacopoeia written on the leaves of talipot palm.
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. Rice once took s up 70 percent of their agricultural land, but occupies less now, and was traditionally the backbone of the Dai economy. Handicraft, trade, tourism, animal husbandry, light industry, and mining are significant economic sectors. World famous Pu'er tea is produced in Xishuangbanna Prefecture, where there are over 100 small-scale power stations. Rubber is growing sector. Rubber tree plantations now occupy land formerly covered by rice paddies and tropical rain forests. *\
Traditionally, there have been few Dai business people 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. he mountain people trade firewood, timber, mushrooms, wild fruits, and so on while the Dai trade rice, rice liquor, vegetables, and bamboo and rattan utensils. 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 local consumption.
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. 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.
The lives of the Dai are ruled by the rhythm of the agricultural seasons. They have a well-integrated systems of cultivation, water conservation, and irrigation. And the tropical and semitropical climate, rivers, and fertile alluvial valleys where they live are ideal environment wet-rice growing.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, wood plows with iron shares, wood harrows, steel knives, hoe, sickles, and wood flails but now are increasingly using tractors, improved seeds, chemical fertilizer, and pesticides.
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.
According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: “Traditionally the Tai Lue have been wet-rice agriculturalists using the standard technology of Southeast Asian rice cultivation. Plowing, raking, and leveling are done with wooden equipment with steel blades and rakes, which are buffalo-drawn. Mostly glutinous rice is grown for consumption and sale, the dark purple variety being particularly favored. Tractors are now used, but they seem to be valued more as an efficient and cheap means of transport than as an agricultural tool. Some smallholding rubber is cultivated, though most Xishuangbanna rubber is grown on state plantations with Han labor. A wide variety of other crops—cotton, sugar, and tobacco being among the most important—are also grown, as are maize, beans, and a variety of vegetables. [Source: Gehan Wijeyewardene, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 5: East/Southeast Asia:” edited by Paul Hockings, 1993]
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, Atlanta Chinese Dance Company, Nolls China website, 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) and Gehan Wijeyewardene, “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 5: East/Southeast Asia:” edited by Paul Hockings, 1993; 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 *\; 4) Chinatravel.com \=/; 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, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wikipedia, BBC and various books, websites and other publications.
Last updated September 2022