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Hani: A Mostly Mountainous Chinese Ethnic Popuation

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Regional Foods

Summer Volume: 2015 Issue: 22(2) pages: 29 to 30

Sharing many of the same origins as both Yi and Lahu minority populations, the Hani are the fifteenth largest ethnic minority population in China. The larger groups have some two million or more each, and they include, in reducing numbers, the Zhuang, Hui, Manchu, Uygur, Miao, Yi, Tujia, Tibetan, Mongol, Dong, Bouyei, Yao, Bai, and the Koreans.

This magazine has written about almost all of them and some of the smaller ones. We do plan to fill in with any not discussed, and those soon to reach similar numbers in the next very few issues. That is not an easy task because there are few places with English-language information about almost all of China’s minority groups and their food habits. Soon leaving for China, we hope to find information there, but finding it in English is as difficult there as it is where we live, which is in the United States.

Should you need or want any, check our index listings; they are now more accessible than ever. Simply click on the item of interest, minority or otherwise, in Flavor and Fortune and if already published it should pop up on your screen.

The Hani have their own language which is a branch of the Yi Sino-Tibetan-Burmese sub-family of the Sino-Tibetan Language family. Their language has three different dialects and three different tones, so Hani speaking one of them can not understand the other; the variations are extensive.

Some historical records tell us that tribal folk called ‘Heyis’ lived south of the Dadu River in the 3rd century BCE; and that they were their ancestors. Then, some of them did move to and around the Lancang River between the 4th and 8th centuries. Local chieftains paid tribute to the Tang Court and in return were included on the list of officials and were considered subjects of that dynasty. Perhaps, with so little written about them, we are not sure everything is accurate.

Until recently, the Hani only had an oral language and oral literature, not a written one. That is another reason contributing to folks not knowing a lot about them. One way to know is to listen to their stories, if one understands their language. They tell about the origin of their world and the larger world around them. They also tell fairy tales, fables, ballads, and their own history. That does help, and sometimes they tell it in song and dance. Their dances are well-known and popular and do include hand clapping using pieces of bamboo. They also make movements and sounds with other actions.

Most Hani are engaged in agriculture, and they grow lots of rice for themselves and for other population groups. This minority does live in the mountains between the Lancang and Red Rivers in the Yunnan Province, some live in Xishuangbanna, most others in the Honghe Hani-Yi Autonomous Prefecture. According to them, there are more than twenty different Hani populations, all with ancestors among ancient Qiang people, many called Wuman. Many of these people call themselves Biyue, Baihong, Budu, Haoni, Heni, Heman, Woni, Yani, or Zhenyuan people. Some have kept these names, others have started to call themselves Hani.

In the 7th century many moved to Mt. Ailai and Mt. Wuliang, or near these places; most are at high elevations. In the Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368) a prefecture was established to oversee them and other ethnic groups that shared this region. In the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911), court officials were appointed to replace their many chieftains.

Now, most Hani live in the counties of Honghe, Lancang, Luchun, Muojiang, Puer, and Yuanjiang, and between them and other mountains. Living at these upper elevations, they are masters of terraced paddy fields and they know how to irrigate them using local streams. They control local water using underground channels so there is rarely a water shortage for their crops, cooking, and washing.

The main staple foods of the Hani include rice and corn; their rice is often but not always purple rice. They grow lots of this, also peanuts, tea, and sugar cane. These make up the bulk of their caloric intake; and they call their foods 'natural and cooked.' Most often they steam them, braise, or grill them on wood or charcoal. They like their foods long cooked and/or pickled, and they do eat them at one of their two daily meals. Thus, they love foods tasting acidic and/or spicy, and they make many pickled wild and home-grown foods either way. One favorite dish is baiwang. This they love to serve to their guests and they like to eat it themselves, too, but only on festival days.

To make this baiwang, they coagulate the blood of one or more animals; pig, goat, and dog are favorites, and mix it with salt, radishes, leaves of the garlic plant, and chili peppers. Then they season it and grill it. They toss peanuts on top both before and after grilling it.

The Hani drink tea at both their meals, lots of it, and they prepare a sticky rice pie-like item wrapped in banana leaves and eat that with their alcoholic drinks. With this, they have some rice soaked for six to eight hours, steamed in the banana leaves, and grilled over charcoal. Their baiwang is likewise grilled, as are their weiyan tea leaves before they brew them. Another favorite food is the Fish Mud dish which is minced and mixed fish with deer, goat, any wild bird, some eel, hot peppers, and chili oil. This, they also grill over charcoal.

The Hani eat these special dishes at all festivals including their New Year one called the Misezha festival. It is usually October tenth and is on their Lunar calendar. It is a five or six day celebration during which there is much ancestor worship, the killing of a rooster, and the cooking of it outside their front door. Every family member takes some of the meat with one exception, any girl soon to be married. She gets none because she will soon leave her family and join her husband’s family.

With the rooster meat they have three rice balls. These are said to be lucky. They prepare and eat other cooked meats and give these foods to the eldest first, and never give any to young children, no matter their age. With these meats, they have pre-prepared many dumplings.

At noon, they go to the communal threshing grounds and have a swing-riding ceremony. They build a large swing days earlier, and someone selected as the announcer holds three large white and three large black rice balls, all six used to greet the New Year. They throw the white ones on the ground and there is a mad rush everyone wanting to stamp on them. This celebration continues with everyone getting rides on this swing. The Hani take great delight in swinging and believe playing on this swing or any swing wards off disaster in the coming year.

They also make bonfires there, eat delicious food, laugh, drink, and chat into the middle of the night. At that point, the announcer cuts the swing down and tells everyone the festival is over. It is time to begin their New Year of work.

This celebration and the eating of the rooster and many other dishes is not done in anyone’s home, just outside of it. Called a Jiexin Banquet or ‘Long Table’ feast, every member of the community sets out foods on long tables in the center of the street. We once read that some call it the ‘Long Dragon Banquet’ because the many tables set end to end snake around, hence this alternate name.

Up to three nights before, families have a reunion dinner and prepare many sticky rice pies and other dishes. They pile them high on these tables. These dishes can include roast duck, fried fish, boiled peanuts, corn, and several salads made with lichen and/or fern fronds. They share all these dishes with family, friends, and neighbors; and they like to wash them down with lots of beer and red wine. After eating, they dance and sing. For some of the Hani, depending upon where they live, this is a three-evening event. It is one of their three annual festivals, the others are called ‘hot’ or ‘wet’ ones.

The Hani love their holiday/festival events, rarely miss one even if they need to travel far; and the ones we spoke to said they enjoy them all. Hani festivals are connected to their worship of gods and ancestors, praying for bountiful harvests, and their sacred trees. Their land gods are symbolized by their sacred trees, they like them tall as they connect to the sky. At this three-day festival, they select a migu or elder by democratic voting, and that person is the ultimate authority throughout this rite. It is a lifelong honor for a Hani man, who bathes and eats after being selected, eats only wholesome foods, must practice abstinence, and refrain from turning in their sleep. This elected person is called the Beima and must be well-versed in astronomy, geography, clairvoyance, and pharmacy. All rites are conducted by men, one exception is made for infertile women. She is given a leg of pork to hold; it is called ‘dragon meat;’ and it is eaten after it is sacrificed to the ancestors, the left overs buried with rice seedlings until next spring. That banquet can have fish, prawns, freshly made bean curd, celery, deep-fried glutinous cakes, peanuts, and more, and of course, the dragon meat. When the festival ends, they sing and dance well into the night.

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