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Yi Torch Festival

The Yi ethnic group lives mainly in Yunnan, Sichuan, Guizhou and Guangxi. The Yi language belongs to the Yi branch of the Tibeto-Burman group of the Sino-Tibetan language family and has six dialects. The Yi people have many traditional festivals, of which the Torch Festival is the grandest and the most important. It is also known as "the Xinghui Festival." On the 24th –26th days of the 6th lunar month, the Yi people in Shucun Town of the Lunan Yi Autonomous County, and the city of Chuxiong in the Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province will have Yunnan Yi Torch Festival. Many other ethnic groups including Bai, Naxi, Hani, Lahu and Pumi also celebrate the Torch Festival.

Usually, Yi people start preparation for the arrival of the Torch Festival one month in advance. Children wander around hills and wild fields picking up dry, long and straight wormwoods for torch making, since they believe wormwood can help eliminate the evils. The number of torches prepared depends on how many members there are in the family. Parents begin to prepare the food for sacrificial rites and holiday clothes for every family member. Girls are busy at making Yi-style suits, waistbands or embroidered wallets. Young men buy silver earrings, blue capes or yellow umbrellas for girls they have fallen in love with. Every household purchases a large quantity of festival food including wine, sweets, noodle and fruit, while the whole village as a whole will purchase one cow or several cows and kill them during the festival as sacrifices for the Fire God.

When the day of the 24th of the sixth lunar month arrives, the Yi people first clean their houses in the morning on that day. Then, everyone dresses in holiday best. Women are busy at cooking; men are busy at cow killing and beef distribution. The Yi people believe that eating beef on that day will bring them good luck and peaceful life throughout the whole coming year. The Yi people will have a grand family dinner and worship their ancestors and gods at night. Then the torch parade begins. Men and women of all ages hold a loft torches, shout auspicious words and walk around their houses and fields, dispelling evil. What's more, all the villagers will gather at the main festival site, putting their torches together to make a big bonfire. Their bonfire party usually lasts till the next morning, young Yi men blowing flutes, plucking moon-shaped instruments and three-stringed guitars while dancing, young women dancing to the rhythm, clapping their hands. In the daytime, the Yi people watch wrestling, horse race, bullfight and other performances, giving the traditional festival more content.

The festival has several origins according to different legends. A popular legend is that once upon a time there lived a demon king who terrorized the local people. During an uprising the local people bound torches to the horns and hind legs of a herd of goats and eliminated the demon king by lighting the torches and driving the goats into its lair. On the 24th day of the 6th lunar month the local people lit torches for an entire night’s merry-making in celebration of the victory. During the festival, various activities will be held, namely, archery, horse racing, bull fights, wrestling, and torch-holding dances around a bonfire at night.

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