Folklore of the Dai Ethnic Group
article selected from Travel China weekly
The Dai ethnic people live in compact communities in the southwest frontier of China in Yunnan Province. The beauty of the subtropical natural scene is enhanced by exquisite bamboo houses, charming Dai women in their colorful clothes, and other sights with strong Dai characteristics.
The Dai Bamboo Houses
Bamboo houses are the traditional dwellings of the Dai people. They are said to have a history of more than 1,000 years. The most typical Dai bamboo houses are found in Xishuangbanna, where every household has such a building in an independent courtyard. Planted around the house are all kinds of subtropical fruits such as papaya, grapefruit, banana and pineapple.
The Dai bamboo house is square in shape and has two stories. The upper story, supported by twenty wooden poles, is more than two meters above the ground, which is the living quarter. The lower story, not enclosed by walls, is for raising domestic animals and storing odds and ends. The building has an oblique roof, shaped as an upside down V, covered with grass or tiles. The upper story of the house is divided into two parts: the inner part is bedrooms and the outer part is the living room. Outside the upper story are a corridor and a balcony.
At the center of the living room is a large bamboo matting, on which people eat, rest, or receive guests. Dai people’s homes are very clean, so people have to take off the their shoes when they enter the room. There is also a stove in the living room, which is kept burning all year through. On the stove stands an iron rack, which is used for cooking and boiling water. The local people like to have a talk sitting around the stove.
The bedroom is separated from the living room by walls made of thin bamboo strips. Outsiders are not allowed to enter the bedroom. Almost all the furniture in the house are made of bamboo, such as tables, chairs, beds cases and so on. The bamboo house is sturdy and dry inside the room due to good ventilation–wind can blow in the room through the slots of bamboo strips. Therefore, it is cool inside the room even in hot summer days.
Clothes and Ornaments of the Dai People
The traditional Dai clothes are mostly made of home-spun cloth by Dai women. The cloth has beautiful patterns. Men’s wear is similar to that of the Han people. There upper clothes are a short shirt with buttons down the front, no collar, or shirts with short sleeves and buttons on the right. The trousers are long and wide. The Dai men like to wrap their heads with white or blue cloth.
The Dai women’s clothes have a variety of styles. In the Xishuangbanna area, women often wear white, sky-blue or pink tight underwear with Jewel-collared short skirt outside, with buttons on the front or on the right. The shirt has long and slim sleeves which wrap on the arms tightly. It is thin and narrow at the waist, exposing part of skin at the lower back. The lower clothes are usually a tight skirt, which is long and can even reaches the feet. This kind of clothes well reveal the beautiful figure of the Dai women.
Many Dai women wear a silk girdle around their waists. It is said to be very precious, because it is passed down by mothers from generation to generation. The girdle is actually a love token. If a girl gives the silver girdle to a young man, it means she has fallen in love with him.
The Dai women are particular about their hair style. They wind their long hair into a bun on the top of the head, and fix it with only a beautiful crescent-moon-shaped comb.
The Dai Food
The staple food of the Dai people is rice. People in Xishuangbanna and some other areas also like to eat polished glutinous rice wrapped in banana leaves. Rice cooked in bamboo tubes is also favoured by the Dai people. The Dai people are especially fond of sour-taste food, such as sauerkraut and sour bamboo root shreds. To make sauerkraut, people first boil the vegetable then dry it in the sun, after that they add some sour papaya sauce in the vegetable and dry it again. Besides, barbecued fish, shrimp, and crab are also popular with the Dai people. “Duosheng’ is a traditional dish, which is made by mixing minced raw meat with condiments like salt and hot pepper. The Dai people are especially fond of wine, and they usually make wine out of polished glutinous rice. Like the Dong and Wa people, the Dai also like to chew areca-nut.