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The Sisters’ Rice Festival, also called the Sisters’ Meal Festival, is celebrated every year on the 15th day of the 3rd month of the traditional Chinese lunar calendar. The festival lasts for 3 days as a appreciative celebration of love and the coming of spring, and is considered as the “oriental Valentine’s Day.” It is celebrated by the Miao ethnic people in Southwest Guizhou, and the celebrations in Taijiang County are the grandest and the most famous.
The folk tale about the origin of the Sisters’ Rice Festival is a sweet one. A very long time ago, there were some beautiful and clever Miao girls in the village but none of them could find their other half when they reached the age for marriage. They discussed together and reached the conclusion that it was due to the remoteness of their village. So they decided to hold a large gathering to attract young men from afar. A few days before the gathering, the Miao girls were busy preparing sisters’ rice which was made using colored glutinous rice. They also prepared wine and dishes for the banquet. At the time of the gathering, the girls all dressed up in their most beautiful ethnic costumes and delicate silver accessories to attract the young men. They hosted many interesting activities such as singing and dancing, horse racing, lusheng (a reed-pipe wind instrument) performances, and bullfighting. Through the mingling and the activities at the gathering, many girls and boys found their loved ones. Therefore, the gathering gradually became the Sisters’ Rice Festival and is now considered ancient and modern China’s Valentine’s Day.
Costumes and Ornaments
At the festival, all the Miao girls dressed up in their most beautiful costumes and silver accessories. In fact, many Miao women begin to prepare the traditional embroidered festival costumes soon after their daughters are born. When the daughter reaches the age of 16, their mothers will dress them up and take them to participate in the Sisters’ Rice Festival.
The ethnic costumes of the Miao people are very beautiful and splendid with delicate embroideries. The top class apparels weigh 15 kilograms and consist of 80 silver accessories and complicated patterns. It takes more than 400 days to complete one set. These are usually made for the formal dress of unmarried young Miao girls. The common costumes are much simpler, but they still take about 4 days to complete by hand.
The Miao are fond of and famous for their silver jewelry. They believe that silver represents light and can ward off evil spirits; it also serves as the symbol of beauty and wealth. The jewelry is the most important ornament of the costume, and some young girls even wear silver accessories that weigh several kilograms at one time. To prepare for the festival, family members of the young girl will polish the collection of their delicate silver such as bracelets, earrings, hair pins, crowns, neck rings, and combs.
The most unique and vital ingredient of the festival is the sisters’ rice, or sisters’ meal. Miao girls collect special flowers and leaves to make natural dye with which they use to color the glutinous rice. Usually there are four colors—blue, pink, yellow and white—each presenting spring, summer, autumn, and winter. There are also some variations on the colors and their representative meanings. Red represents a prosperous village, white for pure love, while yellow hopes for an abundant harvest.
When the young men arrive to the festival, they sing love songs to the girls that they like, then the Miao girls will respond to their songs and give them a cup of rice wine and sisters’ rice. The sisters’ rice is usually wrapped in a handkerchief, and what accompanies the sisters’ rice has different meanings. If it is presented to the boy with a pair of chopsticks, it means that the girl also like the young man. If it goes with only one chopstick, a garlic, or a red chili pepper, then it is a sign of refusal. If the rice goes with pine needles, then the girl is giving hints to the young man that he should present silk and threads and the girl will wait for him.
Besides singing, dancing, and finding a loved one, there are many other activities during the Sisters’ Rice Festival such as bullfighting, horse racing, lusheng (a reed-pipe wind instrument) music playing and traditional Miao performances.
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