by Jim Goodman
|Jingpo girls at a Longchuan County fair
|elderly Jingpo wo
Most Jingpo settlements are ensconced in the forest or within bamboo groves and all but hidden from view. Traditional houses were made of wood and bamboo with thatched roofs. The walls were of plaited bamboo and a square hearth occupied the centre of the main room. The house stood on stilts or had one end against the higher part of the slope. This is still the norm in most areas, but brick housing, with tile roofs, like the Dai, are the current choice for any Jingpo family that can afford it. These rest on the ground, while separate sheds house the animals.
Jingpo men have a reputation as great drinkers, though not, it must be pointed out, as drunken revelers. But alcohol is part of a social encounter and men often carry wine flasks and cups with them. Both men and women chew tobacco, claiming it as an aid to digestion. Women like to chew catechu and betel nut, too, which darkens their teeth. In the old days this was considered a sign of beauty. The younger generation prefers sparkling white teeth though, and that particular Jingpo custom seems destined for desuetude.
|Jingpo female clothing style
|decorative rattan hoops
The side-fastened, long-sleeved velvet jacket is plain black, but on special occasions- a Jingpo woman wears one covered with silver ornaments: three rows of big half-globes, stitched around the collar, shoulders and back. At the bottom of these rows hang many thin, flat pendants on chains. These drop down to the midriff in front and below the shoulder blades in back. A few round, embossed discs may also be attached to the bottom of the front of the jacket. To complete her outfit the Jingpo woman wears a red woolen tubular hat and a dozen or more lacquered rattan waist hoops.
|Jingpo monument in Yingjiang
Besides these uses, the sword was and still is an essential part of the men’s outfit during the annual Munao Festival. Groups of men wield their swords in stylized, synchronized patterns as part of a ritual dance. Because of this Jingpo custom the people of Dehong have a saying, “The Achang make the swords; the Lisu climb the swords; the Jingpo dance the swords.” Munao is a celebration of being Jingpo and the sword’s very prominent visibility in the event reflects its importance to the Jingpo cultural identity.
|"dancing the swords"
One day, however, Grandfather Sun invited a representative of the bird community to the dance. A sparrow attended and when he returned home he taught the other birds. The peacock took on the lead singing role and the hornbill organized the choreography. Ning Gawn Na and his wife happened to be watching and they took the dance home and taught others. A wild boar cleansed the corral for them and two Han brothers sent a dragon robe for the dance leader to wear. The Munao performance made the Jingpo more united, courageous and intelligent and so they have continued to stage it ever since, for four days beginning the full moon of the first lunar month.
|the Munao dance
Because it is the prefecture capital, Luxi (also known as Mangshi) hosts Munao in a big way, converting the athletic stadium into the staging grounds. A large corral is constructed, with gates at two sides and viewing platforms for the spirits at the other two sides. In the center the Jingpo erect four tall poles, painted with designs symbolizing aspects of their history and economic life. Small paintings at the top of mountains, for example, represent their mythical Himalayan origin. The crossed swords separating the two middle pillars remind them of their past battles, both against wild animals and human enemies.
|Jingpo type of woodwind
Munao lasts four days, with one 90-minute dance in the morning and one in mid-afternoon. On the third night the bigger host venues like Luxi will present a stage show of songs and dances of both Jingpo and Dai, young troupes and middle-aged ones. A Lisu dance and the Wa Hair Dance may be included for good
|Munao dance leader
Explosions and strings of firecrackers announce the beginning of the dance. The corral is empty, save for the orchestra, which strikes up its first tune. Then, slowly rocking in a two-step as they advance, the long line of dancers enters through the gate, led by four men in red or gold silk "dragon robes," like the ones presented by the Han brothers at the first Munao. They hold their swords upright in front of them. On their heads they wear painted, split-bamboo helmets that symbolize the origin of Munao. On the sides wild boar tusks are attached, to remind them that the boar cleansed the first festival corral. Affixed to the top of the helmet is a hornbill beak, in honor of the organizer of the Birds' Munao, from which the Jingpo learned the dance. As a plume, the helmet uses feathers of the peacock and the hornbill, the singer and emcee at the Birds' Munao.
|Munao at Luxi, the prefecture capital
Hundreds of Jingpo are by now in line, a group of women, then a group of men, with women slightly more in number. Every variation of the Jingpo sarong is on display, including the tight, red woolen miniskirt version. Men hold their swords aloft and sling the silver-laden bag over their shoulders. Women wave fans or kerchiefs as they dance. Outside the line, women attendants pour cups of rice-beer from bamboo containers to refresh the dancers. And when the dance concludes, much of the crowd stays in the corral, snapping photos of each other now that they're dressed in their Jingpo best. This is, after all, a festival that glorifies their ethnic identity, that reminds them no matter how much or how little they have assimilated into the modern world, this is who they all really are.
|posts and priests of the Jingpo Munao