Ancient tribe relishes New Year

Updated: 2015-02-04 07:19

By Chen Ji(China Daily)

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Ancient tribe relishes New Year

Two shaman of the village play gongs while chanting sutras. Chen Ji / China Daily

They ritualistically worship deities, dance and visit one another on the fifth and sixth days.

Some living in the village's Eli neighborhood sculpt spiritual figurines and the 12 Chinese zodiac creatures from highland barley flour and oil.

Villagers are summoned with gongs and drums. Families exchange cypress twigs, paper money and old tree branches wrapped in ribbons to express New Year wishes.

Worshipers ceremoniously slaughter and stew a sheep-again, symbolizing good fortune.

People sing and dance for the whole day.

I was particularly fascinated by caogai ("mask" in the local language) dances in which young men don the faces of black bears, pandas or tigers, or green visages with ferocious fangs.

The sacrificial ceremony has been linked since ancient times to hunting, totem worship, geomancy and war. Mostly, the ritual is meant to shoo away ghosts and evil spirits.

Since caogai weigh more than 10 kg, usually young men perform the dances, typically for about half an hour.

The rest of the year, caogai hang above every household's entrance.

I was riveted as the dancers imitated wild creatures' movements by firelight, moving swiftly and constantly changing their lineup.

One masked performer caught me off guard when he leapt at me.