Erenlai - Items filtered by date: Wednesday, 30 September 2009
Thursday, 01 October 2009 01:26

Weaving traditions

Outside the house, an older duangong creates a ritual field that extends the protection of the spirits of the mountain, water, heaven and earth on the surroundings. Such a ritual acquires even more meaning after the ordeal of the earthquake, which destroyed the old house.

The methods of divination used to predict the fate of the house and its inhabitants are directly borrowed from the Han: Qiang religion blends elements of animist and Taoist influences. Its pantheon includes Han deities. And the short interlude performed with masks, through which neighbours convey their wishes to the master of the household, reminds one of scenes from the Sichuan opera. But the dance of the two duangong and their assistant speaks of beliefs rooted into the familiar forces of the mountain, of the sky nearby, of the water roaring in the deep valleys - beliefs and rituals of a mountain people ... The embroidery of the dance displays its patterns on the boundless canvass of the cosmos, allowing Man to dwell harmoniously in its midst.

"I am a Qiang" ... Slowly overcoming the trauma of the earthquake, recording its memories and beliefs into songs, rituals and cloth patterns, mixing and weaving the various traditions that travel along its mountainous corridors, the Qiang people still surreptitiously embroiders its own history on the fringes of the Chinese Empire ...

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Thursday, 01 October 2009 01:25

Embroidering the Earth

The performance of rituals can be seen as an embroidery, as a sacred cloth weaved by the dance, as a work that is offered to the gods, so that they may grant you the grace of survival and renewal. Today, the construction of the new house calls for a ritual. A priest-shaman of the Qiang (duangong) turns towards the altar of the household (every household has an altar in the corner of the main room of the house, facing the door. The altar and the area around it are loaded with taboos). The god of the household and the ancestors, the kitchen god, the god of the threshold are all invoked, so that they may give their blessings. The demons are driven away one after another, especially in the kitchen, a most dangerous place: in the kitchen we deal with fire, with flesh and with plants – at stake in the kitchen is personal and collective welfare…

The goat skin drum is the main ritual instrument of the duangong. It must be very carefully dried over a fire, even more so when it has already served to expel many demons, which have made it wet and depleted some of its efficiency. The Qiang say that they do not write and do not own sacred books because their first shaman had seen all his books eaten by a goat while he was asleep; the drum manufactured in the skin of the goat he killed afterwards, concentrates the efficiency of the sacred books that the Qiang do not possess…

The traditional word for shaman-priest (“duangong” is of Chinese origin) is “pi” or “bi” – a word found in many Tibeto-burmese languages for designating the performers of religious rituals. Though Qiang religion much differs from that of the Liangshan Yi people at the southern edge of the same Tibetan corridor, Qiang “duangong” and Yi “bimos” do share a common inheritance.

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Thursday, 01 October 2009 01:24

Crafting the future

Chen Yanyan is from Pingwu County, where her mother was a midwife. She returned after the earthquake, deciding to contribute something to the survival (who knows, even the renewal) of the Qiang culture. She teaches women weaving and embroidery, traditionally made with goat’s wool, and she helps them organize, so as to gradually draw a profit from their work. In their works, traditional Han and Qiang themes are intertwined. All of them dream of showcasing their works through some exhibitions in nearby towns, and to draw a steady income from their skills.

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Thursday, 01 October 2009 01:24

The Wang family

When you climb to the hilltop villages, you can expect to often stop along the road: the aftermath of the earthquake and the seasonal rains make it a permanent ‘work in progress.’ The road sometimes crosses one of the traditional bridges spanned along the many streams and rivers arms.

The earthquake destroyed the Wang family’s house. Twice already they have rebuilt part of it, even though during the first months, aftershocks dwarfed their efforts. The husband is a carpenter. He has a son and a daughter from a previous marriage. He keeps painful memories of the eight years of illness of his first wife and of the repeated demands for money he had to make to his friends and acquaintances, so as to purchase medicine ... The raising of pigs, small-scale tea production and the picking of medicinal plants bring them additional income, but this is not sufficient to meet the expenditure incurred in reconstruction. And only one son, the third of their children can go to school ...

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Thursday, 01 October 2009 01:23

Pingwu county after the earthquake

Today, most of the Qiang people live in the area of Wenchuan and Beichuan in northern Sichuan, near the epicentre of the great earthquake that shocked the whole region on May 12, 2008. Some of the great stone towers guarding the old villages collapsed. The human, economic and cultural damages were such that one could fear for the very survival of the Qiang.

In Pingwu County, one can still witness, standing side by side, the ruins of old houses and new construction funded by the State. Local authorities hope to build a tourist economy based on a standardized but more lucrative version of Qiang traditional culture.

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Thursday, 01 October 2009 01:23

Who are the Qiang?

"I am Qiang" ... But who are the Qiang? Today the name refers to a small ethnic minority group in western China, 300 000 people, established on the foothills and mountains that separate the plains around Chengdu from the highlands of Eastern Tibet. In the past, the term "Qiang" was for the Han Chinese a formidable one: it referred to all pastoral peoples who inhabited the territories situated west of the central plains. The pictogram coined for designating these peoples - the one still used today for the Qiang minority - consisted of the combined images of man and sheep...

The Taiwanese scholar Wang Mingke states that “from the Late Han to the Qing period, the concept of the Qiang as a western ethnic boundary of the ancient Chinese, first referring to a huge range of people in the west, gradually came to denote only the non-Chinese people living in the upper Min River Valley and Beichuan area. This process was the result of more and more western ‘barbarians’ becoming Chinese or being classified by the Chinese into new ethnic categories. (…) The history of the Qiang is a history of a minority nationality, and also a history of the Chinese in respect to boundary formation and changes. ”

It is thus difficult to assert whether the people known today as the Qiang are truly the direct heirs of the semi-nomadic peoples who threatened the fledgling Chinese civilization, before the expansion of the Han Empire dispersed and later on assimilated them. The Qiang have long lived in contact with the Han and they also communicate with the other minorities who dwell in the Tibetan corridor. Only half of them still speak the Qiang language, or rather one of its variants, as this land of isolated valleys knows an impressive variety of dialects.


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