Over one million Dai live in villages in the Dehong Dai Jingpo and Xishuangbanna autonomous prefectures in the Yunnan Province in southern China. The Dai are among the 55 minority groups of China. They have maintained their individuality by practicing their own language, leading a way of life steeped in tradition and using their own calendar by which they celebrate festivals. The Dai are linked by kinship to ethnic groups in Myanmar, Laos and Thailand.
The lifestyle practiced in Dai villages is rooted in tradition. The two storied open sided bamboo houses they live in are built according to an ancient design that is suited to tropical weather conditions. Livestock are kept under the house and families occupy the first floor. A dedicated area is set aside for looms which are used to weave traditional clothing. The Dai community is close knit. So much so that family names are not used as they believe all Dai belong to the same family. Dai village life is closely connected to agriculture and revolves around farming, raising livestock and practicing traditional crafts.
These people are Theravada Buddhists and have been so for the past 3,000 years. Some animistic practices like making offerings to spirits and the dead are still a part of village life. Every village features a temple and the peasants have close ties with it. Dai boys still become novice monks at a very young age. Some join the order when they are older while others return to the secular way of life. Dai temple architecture is influenced by those of its southern neighbours.
Among the many festivals celebrated by them is the Water Splashing Festival that is linked to their New Year which falls on the 6th month of the Dai calendar.
Local music and dances are very much a part of village life. Musical instruments such as the long elephant foot drum, made from a light wood tree trunk covered with cowhide at each end, bronze gongs, traditional trumpets and hulusi accompany graceful dancers and singers at all their cultural events.
Among the plethora of hot and sour dishes made in these villages, rice cooked in bamboo tubes have come to be recognized as the signature local dish.
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Chandrishan Williams is a travel writer who writes under the pen name, Caleb Falcon. He specializes in writing content based on the many exciting world adventures that await intrepid travellers.