china edition


Water-Splashing Festival of the Dai in Yunnan

Date: Mid April 3 to 5 days
Venue: Jinghong City in the Dai Autonomous Prefecture of Xishuangbanna (Yunnan)

This Festival is the most important of the Dai people in China. A beautiful legend about this festival has it that long ago, a ferocious demon king lived in Xishuangbanna, Yunan Province, who got 7 beautiful wives by force. By chance the youngest of the 7 has been told by him the only way to finish him. One day, she pulled out a hair from the demon king's head to cut off his head as he was drunk.

The places where the king's head passed immediately caught fire. It rolled on the ground and the ground caught fire; it rolled into a river and the river water boiled and all the fish died; when it was buried underground, the whole place stank. So she had no alternative but keep the head in her arms in order that it might not cause such havoc. After some time she was exhausted, so the 6 others took turns. When at rest, they splashed water on their body to wash away the bloodstains. Finally the fire was put out. Since then, the Dai people have been able to live a peaceful and happy life.

In order to commemorate this event, the Dai people decided to continue this practice. They splash water at each other, and in so doing, exchange greetings. There are 2 ways of splashing water. To elderly people, water will be sprinkled gently through the collar down to the back. This is called the moderate way.

Another is the radical one that is a favorite of the youth. Young people use basins or buckets to pour water at each other, chasing and laughing. According to tradition, the more one is splashed, the happier one will be.

When night falls, every village organizes a get-together for singing and dancing. People perform the native peacock dance to the accompaniment of the bamboo flute, lusheng (a wind-pipe instrument) and gongs of local type and xiangjiao gu (a drum on a pedestal, shaped like an elephant's leg).

The Water Splashing Festival also marks the beginning of a New Year to the Dai people.