Population and Distribution
The Deang ethnic group has a population of 17,935 that is widely distributed over a vast area of 30,000 square kilometers, mixing with the Dai, Jingpo, Wa and other ethnic groups. Most Deang people live in Luxi County in Dehong Dai-Jingpo Autonomous Preference and in Zhenkang County in Lincang Preference in Yunnan Province. Some are also scattered in Yingjiang, Ruili, Longchuan, Baoshan, Lianghe, Longlin and other counties in Yunnan.
Deang ethnic group is one of the oldest tribes living in the south-west frontier region. They date back to the ancient 'Pu' people who lived in the Nujiang River region in the second century. In the Sui (581-618) and Tang (618-907) Dynasties, they were called 'mangman' (mang barbarians), 'puziman' (puzi barbarians), etc. They successively submitted to the Han (206 BC-220 AD), Jin (265-420) Dynasties and Nanzhou and Dali kingdoms. After the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), they were brought under the control of the Dai ethnic group.
Historically, at their peak, the Deang ethnic group dominated western Yunnan. This was especially during the 12th to 15th centuries, when the Gold Teeth Kingdom founded by their ancestors held sway over the whole region. Later, however, the group gradually went into decline and was exploited and oppressed by other tribes. After the founding of PRC in 1949, they were named the Benglong ethnic group and in 1985, officially renamed the Deang ethnic group at the request of the Deang people.
They have their own language, which belongs to the Wa-Ang branch of the Mon-Khmer group of the Austroasiatic language family. Most Deang people can speak Chinese and languages of Dai and Jingpo. The Deang people have no written script of their own and Chinese is widely used.
The Deangs believe in Hinayana Buddhism and their daily life is closely connected to Buddhism. Most boys will become monks and study Buddhist scriptures in the temples after they reach the age of ten. Except for a few boys who are raised to the rank of Buddha, most will resume their secular life several years later.
Deang people mainly live on agriculture. The areas they inhabit are endowed with fertile land and a mild climate. The major crops include rice, corn, buckwheat, potato as well as walnuts and jute. Deang people are particularly adept at cultivating tea, while some engage in fishing and hunting. Handcrafts such as bamboo weaving are also undertaken.
Covered with primitive forest, these areas are abundant with precious Chinese medicinal materials such as fritillary, coptia, snow lotus, cordyceps sinensis, angelica sinensis, poria cocos, musk and bear gall. In addition, wild animals such as the wild ox, flying squirrels and many varieties of rare birds and animals are also found there.
Deang people like to build their houses near the mountain, with the doors facing the east. Their houses are mainly constructed with bamboo, with the frame made of wood and roof covered with couch grass.
Their houses have two shapes: the square one and oblong one, in which the square ones are most popular. This kind of houses normally has two stories with the upper floor serving as the living area for the family and the ground floor is used for storage and provides accommodation for the livestock.
Tea trees can be seen everywhere around Deang houses and villages.
Rice takes a dominant place in their diet, corn, wheat and beans come next. The Deangs are adept at making various snacks such as bean curd, rice cake, tangyuan dumplings, etc. They have a choice of many vegetables, of which bamboo shoot is available all year round. Influenced by the Han people, many foods such as preserved bean curd and pickles are also can be found on their tables.
The Deangs have been great tea drinkers since very early times, and now every family has tea bushes growing around the house. The wine they drink is mostly home-produced.
The men of Deang ethnic group generally wear a short black or blue jacket buttoned to the left side and short and loose trousers. They used to wrap their heads with black or white scarves decorated with colored pile beads on two sides. However, nowadays, many boys have the same hairstyle as the Hans and do not like to burden their heads with so many ornaments. The Men also like to wear large earbobs and silver neck rings. In some areas, men have the custom of tattooing their bodies with designs of tiger, deer, bird and flowers.
Women's dress varies depending upon the area in which they live. Most women like to wear a black or blue sharp-collared short jacket buttoned down on the front. The jackets are decorated with velvet balls in various colors on the lower hem and the collar. They generally wear a long colorful skirt with horizontal stripes rather than trousers. The skirt covers the breasts above and reaches the ankles below.
Women of different clans are distinguished by the color and designs of their skirt. Women from the Black Benglong (a branch of Deang people) have several scarlet stripes on their black skirt; those from the Hua Benglong have four white stripes and one red one on their skirts. Women from the Red Benglong are characterized by a mass of red on the bottom of the skirts.
By tradition a Deang girl, upon coming of age, begins to wear dozens of rattan rings of varying thickness at the waist. Most of these waist rings are colorfully painted and carved with different designs. Some are plated with silver. Great pride is taken in the waist rings, because a woman wearing those which are finely made is considered diligent, clever and virtuous.
The most important traditional festival of Deang ethnic group is Caihua Festival (The Flower Picking Festival). It is mainly celebrated in Luxi County on Qingming Festival (April 5th). In the morning of the festival, all the Deang people will get up early and, bringing along their musical instruments, climb the mountains. They pick flowers and then sing and dance during the rest time. In the afternoon, they return home with their baskets full of flowers that are then used to decorate their houses and the whole village will be graced with the fragrance.
Deang people also have many festivals related to Buddhism. Of these, the most important one is 'The Water Splashing Festival'. It falls on the seventh day after the Qingming Festival. People wash the dust off Buddhist statues with 'water dragons'. They also splash water at each other as an expression of good wishes. Then, they form a long line behind elephant-foot drums and throng to the waters beside springs and rivers, celebrating the New Year by chasing and splashing water at each other. The most distinctive aspect of the Deang Water Splashing Festival lies in the tradition of presenting food to the elders and helping them wash their hands and feet. In this way, the young show their respect for their elders while seeking pardon for any misdeeds they may have done in the past year. Both the 'Close-Door Festival' and 'Open-Door Festival' are also important.
This is held on 15th September in the Dai ethnic group calendar. On that day, all recreational activities cease. For the following three months the fast days of Hinayana Buddhism are observed. During this period travel is forbidden, monks will study the Buddhist scriptures and accept provision in the temples; while practicing Buddhists attend lectures and sermons in the temples.
This comes three months after the 'Close-Door Festival', namely on 15th December. It marks the end of the fasting. Grand celebrations will be held in each village. Recreation and relaxation become the order of the day. For the workers in the farming community this is a quiet season and folk activities such as traveling, visiting relatives, courting, espousal and marriage flourish again!