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De'ang Customs

 

The De'ang used to be called Benglong in Chinese. In 1985, upon their request, the name was officially changed. They have but a small population and mainly live in compact communities in Luxi County and Lincang Prefecture in Yunnan Province, with a small number in Ruli, Longchuan and Lancang counties.

De'ang people do not pay great attention to diet. They mainly eat rice and consume meat only occasionally since they do not produce much. They have sufficient food, but scant variety in what they eat.

In the De'ang community the elderly command great respect. Each year during the Water-Splashing Festival, families prepare "tribute rice" for the elders. This custom calls for the young to express their respect by hosting a meal for the elders. The tradition has been handed down from generation to generation, aiming to inculcate the value of respect in young people.

In regard to clothing and accessories, especially headdress, De'ang people are unique. In the past men wore braids and a black-and-white kerchief. Women shaved their heads and wore a black kerchief until they got married, when they would let their hair grow out. Now, influenced by other ethnic groups, men no long grow their hair long and women no longer shave their heads.

De'ang women dress in long skirts. Unique to them is a rattan girdle. Usually a woman wears ten, and never less two. The green, red or yellow girdles are adorned with carvings of flowers and grass. The girdles are attached to the outside of the skirt, not wrapped around the body. When walking they swing with the woman's gait.

There are several stories on the origin of the girdles. One legend says that when the De'ang were created by god, men walked the earth while women flew through the sky. Men used rattan girdles to catch the women, and these then became a part of women's accessories. Another legend says that long ago when the De'ang people began to form families, women had higher social status than men. Men did all the work, including household chores, while women idled about until midnight. The men got angry and rebelled, using a rattan girdle to tie the women down. They then did household chores together and lived a more harmonious life.

There are, however, no facts supporting such legends. The girdle actually serves a purpose. The loose skirt a woman wears down to her instep sways a lot and sometimes is lifted by the wind. The external girdle it down.

Most De'ang festival are related to religion. For example, between the Close-the-Door and Open-the-Door Festivals (the middle of the eighth lunar month), the De'ang, followers the Hinayana or Lesser Vehicle branch of Buddhism, are forbidden to court, marry or eat meat, and every few days they have to worship the Buddha.

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