Population and Distribution
The Blang people, with a population of about 91,882 (in 2000), live mainly in the Mt. Blang, Xiding, Bada and Daluo areas of Menghai County in Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture in south-western Yunnan Province. Some are also scattered in the neighboring Lincang and Simao prefectures.
Records show that the ancestors of the Blang people can be traced back to the ancient 'Pu' tribe who were believed to be the earliest people to settle in the Lancang and Nujiang river valleys. When the Yizhou County was established in the Yunnan Province during the Han Dynasty (206BC - 220A), the Pu people were brought under the control of the Han Empire. In the Tang and Song periods, the Pu area was governed by the Nanzhao and Dali kingdoms. In the early years of the Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368), the iron hoe was widely used by the Pu people and such was the importance of this implement that it even became the tribute to the Yuan court. As a consequence of the contact between the Pu tribe and the Han as well as their amalgamation into the Han state, these people gradually evolved into the present Blang ethnic group.
The Blang people have their own spoken language, which belongs to the South Asian language family. Some of them can speak Chinese, Dai and Va languages. They have no written script and Chinese is widely used.
The area inhabited by the Blang is located in a subtropical mountain region. With an altitude range of some 1,500 - 2,300 meters, the area has a warm climate, plentiful rainfall, fertile soil and rich natural resources.
This is an agricultural community and the main cash crops include cotton, sugarcane and the world famous Pu'er tea. The Blang also raise livestock.
Covered by dense virgin forests, these areas area are also abundant in valued medicinal herbs such as pseudoginseng, rauwolfia verticillata and lemongrass. In addition the area is rich in copper, iron, sulphur and rock crystal.
The Blang worship a variety of gods. Influenced by the Dai people, in Xishuangbanna area they practice Hinayana Buddhism. Ancestor worship is also popular, while there are those who practice pluralism, shamanism and Totemism.
Communities are made up of blood relations and they live in two storey houses similar to those of the Dai. The ground floor is used for storage and provides accommodation for the livestock. The upper floor is occupied by the family. A central fireplace in the main living room is used for cooking as well as a source of both heat and light.
The erection of a new house is a communal affair. All the adults in the village will assist the family in the building work and once it is completed a great celebration is held.
Homespun cloth is used in the manufacture of clothing. Styles will vary according to the area in which the people live.
The Blang men wear collar less jackets which are buttoned down the front together with black loose pants. They often wear turbans of either black or white cloth. Traditionally, the men have tattoos on their limbs and torsos.
Blang women living near Xishuangbanna favor tight collarless jackets over tight striped or black skirts. They wear their hair in a bun which they will cover with a piece of cloth. They also wear earrings, necklaces and bracelets. Mature women will proudly display gold teeth while teeth that have been dyed black are also considered a thing of beauty.
Rice forms the staple diet which is complemented with corn, maize and beans. Their daily vegetables consist of cabbage, green grocery, brinjaul and cayenne. Fish, shrimp, crab, pork, beef, chicken, duck and some game are other essentials of their diet.
There is a preference for savory, hot food and home produced wine is popular as the smoking of tobacco. Blang women like chewing betel nut particularly as they regard teeth blackened with betel-nut juice as beautiful.
The Blang have own special way with tea. The leaves are placed alongside the hearth in a special caddy in order to roast them. Once the aroma has reached the desired level, boiling water will be added and the fragrant tea is ready to serve. This is considered to be the premium tea for entertaining guests.
There is a rich oral literature that includes legends, folk tales, stories, poetry, riddles and ballads. This is the means by which the Blang tell their history, impart knowledge and express feelings.
Music is popular and festive occasions are usually accompanied by singing and dancing.
The Circle Dance is the most popular form of dance among the groups of young people. The dance will be led by an accomplished singer and dancer. Following the rhythm of gongs and elephant foot drums, the girls form a circle, dancing gracefully while moving in an anticlockwise direction. A group of boys will jump like tigers in the circle. Sometimes they disperse and sing antiphonally with the girls and sometimes re-form a group to perform their tiger leaps.
Sword and stick dancing is also popular along the Blang Mountain area. There are three types of sword dancing including long sword, dagger and sword end dancing. Stick dancing includes dancing with a single stick, short stick or sword against stick. Elephant-foot drums and cymbals are played as accompaniment, which lends excitement to the dance.
The funeral custom of Blang ethnic group is unique. Normally, each village has a common cemetery but which is divided according to clans or people having the same surname. Burial is the normal practice but cremation may be used when a person has suffered a violent death.
Blang ethnic group people have many things in common with Dai people, including the festivals. The major festivals of Blang people include the New Year Festival, Closing-door and Opening-door Festival, Village God Worship Festival and Washing Ox Foot Festival.