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Yi people have their own calendar Yi Traditional Dress The Yi music and dances Traditional Yi marriage system Lines in Yi folk songs The Yi Dietary Habit  Yi musical instruments Dining Etiquette Yi traditional instrumental music Traditional Yi funerals  Legends and Myths Traditional Yi Festivals Yi Folk Handicraft Traditional Yi Religion and Belief Yi Style of Dwelling House pqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

Yi people have their own calendar  pqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

In order to farm and go in for animal husbandry and hunting, Yi people created their solar calendar system. According to the Yi solar system, 12 symbolic animals are used to symbolize the days in turn, 3 circles of symbolic animals make a month that means 36 days make a month, 10 Yi months make a year, and the other 5 or 6 days are left for celebration of New Year. The first 3 year have 365 days and the 4th year have 366 days, on average each has 365.25 days. The Yi year has 5 seasons which are respectively symbolized with earth, copper, water, fire, and wood. Each Yi season contains 2 Yi months that means it has 72 days and the odd numbered months are regarded as female months while the even-numbered ones as male months. So seasons are accurately decided according to the movement of the sun and the Big Dipper, and the number of the day in each month are the same. The 10-monthed solar calendar is not only the fruit of the Yi ancestors' wisdom but also of human beings'. pqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

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(photo by Huang Pingshan)
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The Yi music and dances  pqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

The Yi music and dances are very rich and unique in style and content. Yi dances can be categorized into 2 classes, the singing dances and the music dances. Just mention some of them in the follows: Tobacco-box Dance which is pliable and nimble, Luozuo Dance which is full of cheer, Yi Duige which is simple but filled with vigor, Axi Dance in the Moonlight which is full of passions, Drum Dance, Golden Bamboo Dance, Ritual Dance, and Donggeduoluohe Dance etc. These dances reflect the Yi people's colorful lives. "Tage Dance", or singing accompanied by stamping of feet, which is referred to as "stamping and kicking", "dancing songs", "the left feet dance" and "dance around the center" by Yi people from different inhabited areas, is the most popular dance among Yi people. It also has a long history. The forms, postures and movements of Tage dance in the murals drawn in the Wenlong Pavilion in Weishan, yunnan during the period of the reign of Emperor Qilong of Qing dynasty are almost the same as those Yi people perform today.pqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

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(photo by Huang Pingshan)pqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

The dancers form a circle and a bonfire is made in the center of the circle, a dancer leader plays a bamboo pipe in the front, and the rest dancers follow him, each with one hand placed on the shoulder of the dancer in front of him or her and the other hand holding the hand of the dancer following him. The postures and movements are full of strength and in good step agreeing to the rhythm of their singing. Besides, Yi people have many other dances. Let's list some as follows: Sixuan( a four-stringed instrument ) Dance, Dance in the Moonlight by Axi (a subgroup of Yi), Luozo Dance, Tobacco-box Dance, Drum Dance, Tiaohuwu, Donggehe Dance, Bamboo pipe Dance, Cloak Dance, Qiaozi Dance, Cha Dance, Feet-hooked Dance, Bell Dance, Dance in Court Feast, Haima Dance, Golden Bamboo dance, Mengmojuzi Dance (a kind of dance in wedding ceremony) and some funeral dances as Wazihei dance, Dieweizi, Zige and Drum Dance. A kind of drama featuring masked dance is populated among the Yi people in the Northwest of Guizhou, which is called Cuotaiji by Yi people, meaning the time human being just came into being. It is often performed from January 3rd to 15th of the lunar calendar. The Cuotaiji performers are all men, all in black clothes, with their heads wrapped with cloth in shape of cone, upper bodies and legs wound with white bands, faces covered with wooden masks painted in white with a kind of white earth. The performers use boorish and strong postures and movements to represent the harsh life of the primitive people. The aim of the performance is to drive the evils away and pray for good harvest and prosperity in livestock.  pqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

Lines in Yi folk songspqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

Lines in Yi folk songsare one of the main resources of the Yi folk literature works. In a traditional society, songs are sung to pass on their history from generation to generation, to teach morals and customs, and to express their feelings of love, sorrow, suffering and even anger. The tones are various, moving and changeable according to the contents and situation. Some flow smoothly, some are modulating, others maybe soft and gentle. Yi folk songs can be classified into 6 categories: narrative songs, love songs, suffering songs, labor songs, feasting songs and customs songs.        pqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

Yi musical instruments  pqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

Yi musical instruments are also very unique and rich. Stringed instruments include yueqin(a 4-stringed instrument with a full-moon shaped sound-box), pinqin(a kind of stringed instrument), sanxian(a 3-stringed plucked instrument), horn huqin( a 2-stringed bowed instrument made of ox horn) and sanhu(a 3-stringed bowed instrument). Wind instruments mainly include bawu, mabu, bamboo pipe, qinghu, kexijue'er and leaf. Percussion instruments include copper drum, kelameng, and ngegezimo itc.pqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

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Yi traditional instrumental music pqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

Yi traditional instrumental music is colorful. It can be categorized into solo music and ensemble music. Among all the solo pieces, Autumn Wind Blowing, Threshing Ground, and Leibo Note which are all played with the Yi yueqin in Liangshan areas, Note of Climbing Mountains and Shepherd Note played with the bamboo flute in Wuliangshan area of Yunnan, and Ali, a note played with bawu in Honghe Prefecture of Yunnan, are the most famous and unique ones. Yi ensemle music came into being very early. In 800A.D. a court band sent by Nanzhao Local Regime visited Chang'an,the capital of Tang dynasty, and performed "Music presented to My marjesty from Nanzhao". The performance gave the capital a great surprise and won splendid reputation. Series of Dance Music of Niesu subgroup and Axi Dance Music of Axi subgroup are the master pieces of Yi ensemble works at present.           pqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

Legends and Myths  pqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

The content of Yi myths are Creation of Heaven and Earth, Origination of Human being, the Creation of All the Thing, the Great Flood and the struggle of Humanbeing against the Ghosts and Evils. Some deal with the origination of culture and the development of human history. In detail, some deal narrate the formation and development of clans, the invention of tools, the evolution of marriage system, and the customs of marriage. These myths are all passed on in the forms of poetry and prose. Creation epics play an important part in preserving these myths so intact and in making them so rich. Meige, Chamu, Le'eteyi, and Axi's Xianji are master pieces of Yi creation epics. There are a lot of myths in the form of prose such as the Flood up to Heaven, the origination of Three Clans, God's Muting Water, and the Ziju Bird.pqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

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Yi traditional folk legends take an important position in Yi oral narrations. They are legends about myths, historical events, historical figures, sceneries and social custom. Some legends absorb elements form the early myths about heroes and creations such as Zhege'alu, the Story of Spider, and Marriage between Elder Brother and Younger Sister popular in Liangshan areas. Sons Could Not Find Their Father, and the Adventure of Shi'er'ete's Looking for His Father reflect the transition of Yi society from the primitive maternal clan social system to the paternal one. How the Songming Building get Burned mirrors the historical fact that in Tang dynasty a tribe named Mengshe in the Nanzhao Local Regime conquered and annexed the Yuezhe tribe another tribe in the local regime. Plenty of Yi folk legends are based on certain historical figures and then refined by story-tellers. Examples are Axipu, Wangtian princess, and Stories of Menghuo. Scenery legends such as Stone Forests, How the Gonghai is Formed, Water Hole in Shama Valley and the Mother-daughter Cliff, and Robbers in Heaven vividly explain the formation of the sceneries and the shapes of some plants in the view of Yi ancient ancesters. About the originations of the Yi traditional festivals are Legend of Yi torch Festival, Tiaogong Festival, Legend of February 8th Day, and Legend of Yi New Year. Legends on Yi traditional dress and ornments are: Leged on Cockcomb-shaped Cap, Legend of Heart-shielding Kerchief, Why Yi People Use the Red-green Girddles, and Origination of Yi Helmet and Armor. On the Yi custom are those: Why Yi People Like to Drink in a Circle in Turn, Why Bride Go on Fasting before her Wedding, and Legend of Kouxian(a kind of small stringed instrument played with mouth). pqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

Yi Folk HandicraftpqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

Yi traditional handicraft works are mainly lacquer wares, silverwares, rolled felt, dressmaking and adornments, embroidery, and color paintings. Lacquer wares are Yi's traditional daily household utensils with high technique and art, which were recorded in Chinese documents as early as in Song dynasty. In Qing dynasty, many lacquer painting skills or techniques were officially recorded as "qianqi"(inlaid lacquer painting), "miaoshi"(painted decoration), "zhaoming"(covered with transparent lacquer), "jinran"(painted with golden lacquer) and "yinhua". The lacquer-painted gourd box stored in Beijing Palace Museum is one of the master works, which is well designed with wooden dishes, plates, bowls and cups in it.  Yi traditional silver wares include weapons, household utensils and ornaments. The most common silver household utensils are silver bowls and many kinds of utensils for wine drinking, which are often carved in relief and reticulation. Silver ornaments include head ornaments, breast ornaments, back ornaments, collar ornaments and hand ornaments. pqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

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Silverwares take a very high position because Yi people regard it as symbol of richness and high social position. They are silver head ornaments, earring, collar ornaments, finger-ring and bracelets etc. Head ornaments include many kinds of red ribbons decorated with silver bubbles and many kinds of rings. Collars often decorated with silver slips. The breast ornament is about 1 meter long, made up of 7 to 9 silver articles linked with silver chains. The back ornament is a rectangle of red cloth , inlaid with silver slices in shape of sun and moon, which is worn by a bride at her wedding.   Pendants make a rather big part of Yi silver ornaments. Yi people regard it magnanimous to wear ornaments made of gold or silver. The silver head ornaments, ear rings, collar decorated with silver slices, finger rings, and bracelets contrast with the colorful clothes, which make girls look more beautiful. The most precious pendants in Liangshan are "chechehuo"(a kind of breast ornament) and "woga"( a kind of back ornament) which brides wear when they attend their wedding ceremony. The breast ornament is 2 or 3 chi long, weighs about 5 or 6 jin, made up of 8 or 6 separate decorating articles, linked with silver chains, making a circle. The main article is half moon-shaped and is attached to the middle part just below the breast ornament. The upper article is hung from the wearer's neck and the other 6 pieces, all in the same shape but patterns may not, are placed on the two sides in symmetry. Each of them is attached to with hanging silver bells and tassels. The half-moon-shaped ornament has many patterns on it but the patterns are basically the same which are in the shapes of suns, moons, stars, snakes, frogs and birds. The decorative patterns are raised designs in artistic exaggeration and have stereoscopic effect. The back ornament is a red rectangle of woolen cloth decorated with silver flats. The flats are in the same shape of sun and moon with pressed dots or other engraved designs.  Yi traditional arts of textile, rolled felt, dressmaking, color painting have their own unique styles. pqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

Yi Style of Dwelling House pqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

Yi people created their styles of dwelling houses in the course of evolution. Yi dwelling houses can be classed into 5 styles that are "huban house", "shanpian house", "tuzhang house", "house with three rooms and an attached wing" and "ganlan house". A huban house is a house made of wood and with its roof covered stone slices. A shanpian house is a house completely made of wood, even the roof is covered with wood slices and no iron nails are used. A tuzhang house is made of earth and the roof is flat and with passages on it so people can walk from one roof to another freely. A ganlan house has two stories, with the lower story for domestic animals and the upper one for people to live in. Yi style dwelling houses are often well decorated, and the gate or the door and eaves are the places that are especially decorated. The gate or door are often made with arched patterns and lintel. On the lintel the patterns of sun, moon, birds and beasts are carved. The eaves are covered with piece of wood in the shape of saw-tooth, and some simple pattern are engraved on it. Heads of oxen, sheep and goats, birds, beasts, flowers and grasses are horizontally and successively engraved in relief on the middle and the two wing-raised ends of the ridge, on the wooden fish hung from the gables, on the roof beam supporting the eaves, on pillars, on roof beams and beams connecting the pillars. Monster beasts, spirit birds, strange flowers, precious plants and other Yi traditional patterns are often carved on the stones placed on the sides of an open stove to support pots and pans, on stones of the base and thresholds.           pqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

Yi Traditional Dress  pqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

There exist about 300 kinds of Yi dress. Because of the situations, ages, sexes and localities, there is difference in the Yi dress. There are special clothes for wedding, funeral, ritual and daily life. People speaking different dialect, sub-dialect, vernacular often wear different clothes though they live in the same place. Dress was used to be one of the marks that distinguish people from different clans, even from different family lineages in the past. But recently Yi people have absorbed some elements from their neighbor ethnic groups and mainstream cultures at home and overseas with development and opening of society. So there appear some changes, improvement and developments in materials, patterns, features and colors of the clothes which formed the new type of dress. According to the local tradition, colors, materials, patterns, ways of wearing and techniques, the Yi clothes at present can be categorized into 6 types which are Liangshan Type, Wumengshan Type, Honghe Type, Southeast Yunnan Type, West Yunnan Type and Chuxiong Type. pqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

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Traditional Yi marriage systempqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

In the traditional society, the monogamy which conformed to the patriarchy system took a leading position. Before 1949, people could marry only with the one from the same tribe but different clan and same social stratum in langshan areas. Especially the members of Zimo and Nuohe, the ruling stratums who took great pride in their noble and pure Yi blood, were rigidly forbidden from marrying anyone from the ruled stratums of Qunuo, Ajia and Zaxi, or even from having any relation of love affair or sex with them. The marriage custom practiced most widely in Yi society is the marriage between members from different family lineages, and members in same family lineage are strictly forbidden, especially in Liangshan areas. maternal cousins are also strictly forbidden from getting married. The relations of marriage, love affair and sex between maternal cousins are seen as incest and those involved are to be sentenced to death by customary law. Yi people often practice marriage between children of a brother and a sister. Generally speaking, children of a brother have priority to marry children of a sisters, but there are some differences in different Yi inhabited areas. The young have freedom for social intercourse and courtship before getting married. The social intercourses of the young often take place in public houses, evening parties, song arenas, weddings, funerals and festivals.          pqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

The Yi Dietary Habit  pqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

The food resources in Yi inhabited areas largely depend on the geographical environments where Yi people. Those living in mountains would grow buckwheat, barley, wheat, corn, oat and potato. Those living in valleys, basins around lakes and small plains would plant rice as their main crops while corn and other crops as complements. The Yi in most part of Liangshan Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan province, Xiao Liangshan area of west Yunnan and Weining county of Guizhou province would have buckwheat as their staple food, and next would be oat, rice, wheat, barley and potato. Yuangen is the Yi traditional vegetable with the longest history, the next would be radish, carrot, qingcai(a kind of Chinese cabbage) and baicai(Chinese cabbage). Yi mainly raise pigs and sheep or goats meanwhile oxen, horses and chickens. The Yi people in Liangshans, zhaotong of Yunnan and Bijie of Guizhou prefer to cakes of buckwheat, cooked rice, corn, large slices or cubes of park or mutton, and sour broth. The most representative festival dietary habits are those that happen in the Torch Festival and the Yi New Year. Influenced by the Chinese festival culture, besides celebrating their traditional festivals, some Yi people adopt many Chinese traditional festivals such as Qingming Festival(for offering sacrifices to the souls of ancesters in spring), Duanwu Festival(on May 5th of lunar calendar), the Festival of July of Lunar calendar, and Middle Autumn Night but they still keep the Yi festival dietary habit in those Chinese festivals. pqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

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Dining Etiquette  pqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

Separation between sex and order of seniority are specially stressed in a Yi dinner party. Men and women would separately sit to share their dishes. Women are even not allowed to have dinner with the guest in some areas. The first seat is left for the seniors or guests. As for the juniors, they would take their seats in the orders that conform to the orders of seniority to which they rank each. All the people attending the party would let the guest or the senior have the best dish or wine first. Wine plays an important role in social intercourse among the Yi people in Liangshan of Sichuan. The first thing for the host to do is to offer the guest a cup of wine when he arrives, and he will feel ok if the host is too busy to entertain him later. People bring wine as a present when they visit friends. Besides some domestic animals, wine is the necessity of wedding, funeral, and religion ritual. Wine is the best thing to entertain guests, to show the host's hospitability. The way and scale in which the guest is entertained depend on the host's economy state and the part the guest plays. For a ordinary guest, it is a acceptable practice that the host would kill a cock to entertain him and the head of the cock is first presented to him and he will make a divination by watch the shape of the cock's root bone of the tongue before dinner starts. As for an honored guest, a pig or a sheep is killed to entertain him and the pork or mutton is often sliced into cubes. As for the most honored guest, a ox is killed to entertained him, which just few rich families practice and in the past only hereditary headmen's families did. When the guest goes back home, the host should present him some gifts to take home. He is to be given half of the head of the pig and cubes of pork and some cakes of buckwheat if he is entertained with a pig, or some mutton from the fan-shaped bones if entertained with a sheep, or a large piece of beef from the latter legs weighing about 5 jin if entertained with a ox. pqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

Traditional Yi funeralspqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

Different subgroups practise different funerals. There are tree burial, celestial burial, pottery burial, cremation and coffin-earth burial. Some of them are passed on from generation to generation and has a long history and some are special burials for non-normal death. Cremation was widely practised in the traditional Yi society before the dynasties of Ming and Qing, which is still practiced in Da Liangshan and Xiao Liangshan. The Yi people in Yunnan, Guangxi and other places have adopted coffin-earth burial under the influence of Chinese burial culture since the period between the end of Ming dynasty and the beginning of Qing dynasty but some traditional burial rituals are still remained. pqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

Traditional Yi Festivals  pqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

Yi people have many traditional festivals such as Torch Festival, Yi New Year, Mizhi Festival, Flower-arranging Festival, and Dress Show Festival. In the light of their social functions, they can be classified into 5 kinds: festivals for offering sacrifices to ancesters or gods, festivals for celebrating, festivals for memorials, festival, for social intercourses, and those for farming. Among them the Torch Festival is the one that is most widely and grandly celebrated.   pqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

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(photo by GuoJianliang)
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Traditional Yi Religion and BeliefpqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

Animism, worships of totem and ancesters make the Yi belief system with worship of ancesters as its core. Religion rites, rites of the Shaman, divinations and taboos are most common religion activities. Taoism and Buddhism are spread in some areas and recently Christianity and Catholicism are newly accepted in some areas.pqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

The notions of Three Souls and Ancestor World which are closely related are the ideological base on which the worship of ancestor system is built. Yi people believe that a deceased ancestor has three souls: one in the crematorium or the tomb, one going back to the Ancestor World to live them, and the other staying in the altar of ancestors at home for his or her descendants to worship. Whatever it is, whether it is properly treated will influence the fate of his ascendants. If the souls, any of them, feel comfortable, are kept clean, and are well enshrined and worshiped, they will bless and protect their alive descendants and make them in prosperity. Otherwise, punish them. In the notion of Yi people, the Ancestor World is the birthplace of all the Yi clans distributed to different places, a place where Mudu, their first ancestor, and the rest of all deceased ancestors of all generations live together, a paradise which is described as the most beautiful, happy, promising and richest world in Guiding the Dead to Ancestor World, and a permanent home for all the spirits of ancestors. pqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

Bimo and Suni are the soul roles in Yi religion and belief. Bimo is the holder of religion rites and rituals and Suni is a shaman who play Yi witchcraft. The religion notions they advocate and propagate and the roles they play in everyday life, in the life of economy and production, marriage, funeral and birth ceremony, expert great influence on the spiritual life of Yi people. A Bimo plays many roles in Yi daily life. He is the holder of a rite, the medium that bridges the human world and divinity world in religion activities, and the tutoring master in the Yi ancient political structure of "monarch, subject and master ". He is a scholar who has a good command of Yi traditional writing and a good knowledge of Yi history and classics, and the symbol and carrier of Yi culture. And in some occasion, he is a judge in a dispute who is regarded to have supernatural force. In period of primitive commune when the labor force was very inefficient, the ancients of Yi met many problems they could not solve and many questions on the nature and human being itself they could not answer, so they thought that there existed some supernatural force to control the world. As a bridge between supernatural force and human being, the Bimo is asked to pray for blessing for the live, to calm and comfort the dead, to drive the evil and ghost away, to go to the heaven to see the predestined relation, and to visit the hell.  pqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆

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Article by Pu Zhongliang  Translator:Shi Defu & Li JiepqU彝族人网(彝人网)- 彝族文化网络博物馆