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Songs in the fields of Hani people in Yunnan

Updated:2017-05-08 09:41:49   China Daily

Hani people celebrate the Kai Yang Men festival with dances and music in the Honghe Hani and Yi autonomous prefecture in Yunnan province.[Photo by Jiang Dong/China Daily]

The ancient music of the Hani people faces decline, Chen Nan reports in Yuanyang county, Yunnan province.

He sits alone on a bench in the sun, surrounded by people, most of whom are tourists.

As the show starts, he watches dancers and singers enacting scenes that show them planting seeds, farming fields and harvesting. He murmurs a song and nods his head.

This is Zhu Xiaohe, a 79-year-old man from the Hani ethnic group, who lives in the village of Dongpu in Southwest China's Yunnan province.

The village is located in Yuanyang county, in the Honghe Hani and Yi autonomous prefecture of Yunnan.

In 2007, he became the first in his ethnic group to be recognized as an inheritor of this form of intangible culture.

He sings ancient Hani songs, or haba.

The terraced paddy fields, a UNESCO World Heritage site, are a major venue for the celebrations.(Photo by Jiang Dong/China Daily)

Recently, Zhu was invited as a guest to Kai Yang Men, an annual event to celebrate the coming of spring and the planting of rice in that area.

The ancient songs, which don't have a written form, are about the history of the Hani people and are related to gods, ancestors, weddings, funerals and daily life.

The songs are performed with such folk instruments as bamboo flutes, stringed instruments and hand drums.

The Seasonal Production Ballad is probably the most famous song. Zhu sang it at the April 30 event.

The Hani people sing such songs while they work in the rice fields, which form spectacular terraces that cascade down the hilly terrain of Yuanyang county.

These rice terraces, listed as World Heritage by UNESCO, are believed to be more than 1,300 years old.

Kai Yang Men is an annual celebration marking the arrival of spring.(Photo by Jiang Dong/China Daily)

"To survive in a rough climate, our ancestors accumulated a large amount of experience in agricultural production in the different seasons. This knowledge is brought out by the songs, which are not for recreation alone but also to understand important aspects of our way of life," says Zhu, who speaks the Hani language.

He can also sing the complete version of Apei Congpopo, an epic about their ancestors' migration to southern Yunnan from the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau centuries ago.

Zhu's parents died when he was young. He was raised by his grandfather, who taught him the songs since he was 12.

Now, Zhu rarely performs in public due to his health. But, since 1973, he has been passing down the ancient heritage by teaching others.

Young women clad in traditional attire compete in a beauty contest.(Photo by Jiang Dong/China Daily)

Li Youliang, who lives in the same village, is one of Zhu's former students.

Like Zhu, Li started to learn the songs in his teens.

"I learned them sentence by sentence from Zhu," says the 54-year-old.

"I have never gone to school but the old songs taught me everything-the history of the Hani people, how to farm and how to be a good man."

In 2015, Li led a group of singers from the ethnic group to perform at the China pavilion during the Milan Expo in Italy.

"Zhu is a man of few words but he has dedicated his life to our songs. He is proud of our culture. I want to be like him," says Li.

Local people enjoy a variety of delicacies.(Photo by Jiang Dong/China Daily)

According to He Zhike, director of the Yuanyang Cultural Center, the ancient songs are a cultural symbol of the Hani people because they have a wide range of music.

Births, weddings and deaths are regarded by Hani people as the three most important life events.

For example, there is a series of songs to express the sadness of a bride and her parents when they part after a wedding.

However, like many traditional arts in China, the ancient songs are dying out.

Few young people pick up the tradition as they look for jobs in the cities.

"When I started collecting the folk music of the Hani people in the 1980s, I was impressed by the variety," says Bai Xueguang, a retired scholar of the Ethnic Group Art Research Institute of Yunnan Province.

"But now, it's sad that some of the musical pieces and singing styles are dying. What we can see are only fragments."

He, however, says that the Yuanyang county government has mapped out preservation plans since 2014, such as establishing a database for recorded scores and scripts, and teaching relevant courses in local primary schools.

What concerns Bai is that, with more visitors coming to the villages to explore the terraced fields, the authentic lifestyle of the Hani people will be disturbed and even changed.

"For visitors, Hani culture is exotic. But for the Hani people, it is their way of life passed down generations. The influence from the outside world may result in a loss of tradition," says Bai.

"I hope the young generations of Hani come back here and help to revive their traditions."

Editor: Eric Wang

Keyword:   Songs fields
Editor: 王世学