Population and Distribution
The Bouyei (also Buyi) people, with a population of 2,971,460 (in 2000), are mainly scattered in the Bouyei and Miao autonomous prefectures in south Guizhou and Anshun. Some live in the Miao and Dong autonomous prefecture in southeastern Guizhou and around Guiyang while there is also a sparse distribution in the Yunnan, Sichuan, Guangxi and other provinces.
The Bouyei people were the aboriginal dwellers on the south-east Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau. They evolved from the ancient 'Luoyue' and 'Liao' people. They have been variously known as the Dujunman (Dunjun barbarian) during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms and subsequently as 'Zhongmiao', 'Zhongjia', 'Bafan' during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Throughout these periods they always referred to themselves as 'Buyi' or 'Burao'. With the founding of the PRC in 1949, following consultation with the ethnic group it was decided to agree upon the official name of Bouyei ethnic group.
The Bouyei people have their own language, which belongs to the Zhuang-Dai branch of the Zhuang-Dong group of the Chinese-Tibetan family. This language has no traditional written form and Han characters are widely used, although a written system based upon the Latin alphabet was created with government assistance after 1949.
Practice is polytheistic and animistic and traditional worship of the heavens, the earth, ancestors, spirits of both the mountains and the soil, the Emperor of the waters and the forests prevail. In addition, there is also a fairly strong Catholic Christian following.
Agriculture predominates with an emphasis upon rice production. The regions they inhabit are blessed with fertile land and a mild climate, providing the right conditions for growing paddy rice, wheat, maize, dry rice, millet, sorghum, buckwheat, potatoes and beans. Other profitable cash crops include cotton, ramie, tobacco, sugar cane, tung oil, tea and oil-tea camellia. These main crops are supplemented by the production of raw silk and the cultivation of hemp, bamboo shoots and bananas.
In a region endowed with verdant mountains and plentiful water, the Bouyei lands abound with a great variety of resources. This is the chosen habitat of many rare and threatened species of animals and birds such as tigers, leopards, bears, musk deer, foxes, golden pheasants and others that have settled here. Medicinal herbs are abundant in the woods, and the area is also rich in mineral resources, such as coal, iron, zinc, antimony, copper, petroleum, asbestos and mercury.
The enchanting scenery has meant the area has become very popular with tourists. Among the best known are the Dragon's Palace Cave Scenic Area, Huangguoshu Scenic Area, and the Zhaodi Dyke Scenic Area which are all located here. Thousands of tourists visit these spots every year and tourism has become a major source of income.
Handcrafts of the Bouyei people are highly developed. The Bouyei are particularly well known for cloth weaving and their process of batik dyeing, often referred to as 'Wax Painting Art'.
In order to create a batik design, cloth is first immersed in wax onto which a pattern is drawn. Sections of wax are then removed to allow dyes to color the fabric. Once the dyeing process is completed, the remaining wax is removed in hot water thus revealing the undyed portions. After a further washing the cloth will be left in the shade to dry.
Typically, the Bouyei build their villages near the mountains and water. As a rule, a village will consist of no more than 100 houses or families. A banyan or camphor tree is usually to be found at the entrance to a village, as these are considered to be sacred, providing protection and good fortune to the village and its inhabitants. Houses can be either bungalows with separate outbuildings or two storied stone dwellings with upper floor for family accommodation and living space for the livestock below. Traditionally, roofs were of thatch, although new homes now tend to be constructed of brick with tiled roofs.
Rice (including sticky rice and dry rice) is the staple Bouyei food. This is complemented with various vegetables, pork, fish or chicken. Their food is tart and spicy. They have a saying that 'if a man eats no tart dishes, he can't walk.' They also drink home produced rice wine. Each year, following the autumn harvest, all families will brew a large quantity of wine for consumption over the next year.
The typical costume of Bouyei men comprises a long sleeved short shirt with the buttons down the front worn with long trousers. Young men like to wrap their heads with scarves of black or lattice cloth. Compared with the men's clothes, those of the women are more varied and complex depending upon the area in which they live.
In Guizhou Province, women's dress comes in four different styles, namely: the Northwest, Southwest, Central, and Eastern style.
The women living in the northwest favor a short black jacket, secured with a band tied on the left rather than buttons. The jacket will have a batik pattern on the cuffs and front. It is worn with a pleated skirt made of batik cloth, a turban, silver ornaments, and an apron. Unmarried women wear a plain apron, while those who are married wear an apron with an embroidered floral pattern. The Central style, which can be found in Huishui and Changshun includes long green trousers, silver ornaments (hairpins, neck bands, earrings, and silver bracelets), and an apron. Women living in the southwest often wear either trousers with a long sleeved blue jacket buttoned on the right or an embroidered coat with a long pleated batik skirt. The sleeve fronts and shoulders of the coat are usually decorated with either batik or embroidery. The Eastern style includes a dress and trousers trimmed in lace, and a turban. Following long term contact with the Han people, the Eastern dress differs little from that of the Han.
The Bouyei ethnic group has a rich folk literary heritage, which includes fairy tales, fables, folk songs, proverbs and poems. The content extends to all aspects of their lives. Some will relate the tribal origins, some tell of historical events and heroic figures. Others are expressions of sentiment or will narrate events. Singing is very popular among the Bouyei people. Entertainment during festivals will often include singing competitions. Dozens of singers of both sexes sing musical dialogues in antiphonal style. They can sing day and night for up to a week without repeating the words of their ballads. Popular musical instruments include Lusheng, a horn called the Suona, Xiao (a kind of vertical flute), Yueqin, etc. Various forms of drama are performed, including their own Bouyei Drama, Dixi Drama and Huadeng Drama. The Bouyei Drama combines music, dance and costume. They also perform and enjoy traditional Han Drama.
The Bouyei people have many festivals. Most of these are gatherings for forming new and renewing old friendships. Held on the hills or in the forest, these include singing and dancing, games and courtship activities. The Chabai Singing Festival is an example.
The festival is held in the Xingyi area of Guizhou Province between June 21 and 23 of Chinese Lunar calendar. During the event, tens of thousands of people of different nationalities from neighboring villages, counties, even neighboring provinces, will participate. The main activity is the singing contests. During the day, the competition will be held in an arena but in the evening it will be performed in the courtyards and houses of the local residents.
As with other ethnic groups, the Bouyei people also have some religious festivals. These include the March 3rd Festival, June 6th Festival and Ox King Festival. The March 3rd Festival celebrates the worship of the god of the mountain and community. The June 6th Festival commemorates the leader of an ancient uprising. The Ox King Festival comes on the first day of spring plowing. During this festival, each family steams glutinous rice that has been dyed in five different colours. After sacrificing to their ancestors, they feed half of the rice to their oxen which are then allowed to rest for remainder of the day.
Burial is customary with the Bouyei people. The day of the funeral will be chosen by the priest who conducts an 'opening the way' ceremony during which a bull is slaughtered. The priest then leads the procession to the grave site accompanied by the sounds of horns and drums. Paper money and incense are burned. Three years after the burial the remains are disinterred and the bones are placed in a clay jar for reburial.