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Bouyei, Buyi, or Puyi: One People with Many Names

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Chinese Ethnic Minorities and Their Foods

Winter Volume: 2009 Issue: 16(4) page(s): 19, 20, and 21

This Chinese ethnic nationality population now number more than three million people. There are many transliterations or spellings of their name including Bouyi or Buyei and other variations; while some know them as Zhongjia. They mostly live in and around Guizhou, also known as Qian, and they live in or near the Yunnan-Guizhou plateau, the Miaoling mountains, in and around Guiyang which is the capital of the Guizhou province, and in the Yunnan Province.

Their ancestors are said to have evolved from the ancient Louyue and/or Liao people, aboriginal folk in the Southeast Yunnan-Guizhou region of China. Most folk in this population group like residing in Guizhou as there is a lot of fertile land, mild climate--almost tropical, and where there is adequate rainfall. This makes where they live ideal for farming. Many are farmers, and they grow several kinds of rice including glutinous white and black rices, also wheat, corn, millet, sorghum, buckwheat, potatoes, and beans. They have tea and sugarcane plantations, and they raise lots of bananas, coffee, and cocoa beans; and of course many vegetables. Their diet is more than adequate, their staple grain is paddy rice; and they grow two crops of it in a year. Bouyei food is often tart and spicy. They eat all that they grow and other foods they find available in the marketplace. These they mix with herbs collected in nearby hills and in the mountains.

Their homes are two-storied and were made of bamboo, and some still are. However, many were and more are now made of large stones gathered and cut nearby. In them, their animals live on the ground floor, one or more families or generations live in three to five rooms on the first floor, their grains, legumes, and dried meats and preserved vegetables are stored in their attics.

You may not recognize Bouyei nationality names even though these people are not a newly named minority population. Before the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 CE) some Chinese called them ''alien barbarians'' but at that time the central Imperial Court had already decided to establish a Bouyei region.

Before 221 BCE, the peoples of this ethnic nationality were scattered in many places south of the Changjiang River. However, in the years thereafter, they lived in and near Guizhou, in Yunnan, and near the Guangxi Province.

These are people related to ancient Liao, Baiyue and Baipu peoples with ancestors known during the Stone Age. After 900 CE, they were recognized as the Bouyei minority group, but in Tang Dynasty times, they were often called Xinanman. Later, in Song Dynasty times (960 - 1279 CE) they were known as the Fan people; and in the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368 - 1644, and 1644 - 1911 CE, respectively), some called them Zhongjiaman. Now, we find the most common saying/ spelling of their name is Bouyei, though they are also called people of the Huang guo shu, meaning the 'Yellow Fruit Tree Waterfalls People.'

Why all this confusion among those whose ancestors are descendants of the ancient Baiyue nationality, no matter their name? Perhaps because they share common ancestors with Zhuang people and a language belonging to the Zhuang-Dai branch or language family of the Sino-Tibetan linguistic system. These can and have lead to many a mixup. As they had no written language, there has been confusion. The government has helped them develop a written language and helped them record their ancestry. With this written language based on the Latin alphabet, in common usage since 1956, better records and their history are becoming available.

Many habits and customs of early Yue people still prevail among the Bouyei population. While long ago their ancestors lived in wooden stilt homes, some even in trees with bamboo walls; then and more recently, almost all of them worshiped these ancestors and they believed in spirits.

These days, their beliefs include Polytheism and Taoism, and they celebrate many holidays thattheir Han neighbors do such as the New year, Lantern Festival, and the Dragon Boat Festival. But on April 8th and June 6th, they have their own holidays. Then they celebrate the leaders of their ancient uprisings along with worshiping their ancestors.

The April event is called Ox King Day and on that day they feed their ancestors and their oven with lots of glutinous rice, some made colorful, or they just give them black glutinous rice, a food item they adore. Also on that day, they give their bulls and all cattle a day of rest; seasonal planting begins the following day.

The eat lots of black and colorful rices--dyed red, yellow, purple, and/or black. They adore them colored and plain, fried, and they like them sprinkled with honey. They eat special rice cakes with these colorful rice and rice dishes. It is said that on holidays, they give half of these offerings to their cattle, the rest to their ancestors, and then they share those presented to their ancestors.

The Bouyei do beautiful and distinct arts and crafts including lots of embroidery and batik. Their clothes are most often black, trimmed with some of their colored embrodery edged on the tops, necklines, and trim, sometimes with batik.

Married women wear a hat called a jiagu; it is made with a bamboo frame that is wrapped in black fabric. Unmarried ones use a scarf, often black and trimmed with lots of color. They wrap it around their braided hair, which can hang in braids or be coiled on their heads under the scarf. A picture of a married woman and an unmarried one accompany this article.

The Bouyei marry young, twelve to fourteen is comonplace, and they are known to be monogamous. Some days after their wedding, the bride returns home for weeks, even a few years before going to live with her husband and his family. Should he want her sooner than she is ready to join him, he will sneak up on her unexpectedly and unbraid her hair. When he does this, she must return with him.

Young folk like to write and recite poems, share proverbs, tell fairy tales, and recite sories. There is a popular one about how women make up their minds as to which man to marry. The tale goes, and it is often actually practiced, that youung ladies sew seven bags called ''chaff'' bags, some ten inches or so or larger, and with large fabric handles. They fill each chaff bag with only one grain item. Most common fillings are regular rice, glutinous rice, millet, sorgum, peas, mung beans, and rice bran. At an appropriate time, a girl pitches them to one or more suitors and asks him/them to pick up but one. The story goes on that the one who seeks out or gets the one with rice bran is the one she will select because he is deemed diligent and honest, and the one she should marry.

During festivals and other courting times, including the Bouyei Dancing Party, which is an up to twenty-day occasion ending with a special day called 'bring home the sheep,' a girl goes to her boyfriend''s home. The day before, she and other young folk watch many a drama to see heroes overcome great problems and ensure good harvests. She and they participate in lots of merrymaking and do much singing and dancing.

There s a Sanyuesan Festival, somewhat similar to a Water-spashing Festival. This occasion is on the third day of the third lunar month, and girls go to a water-falls or a spring, or even a well, and using a pole, they bring home two buckets of water. The first to get home is considered clever and assured of a happy future. There is a similar festival when families go to worship the 'God of the Mountains' and spend a day near a waterfalls or a spring, even a stream. That day they ask this deity to protect their cattle and provide a good harvest for the family, and on that day, they have a feast featuring colored rice made with plant dyes. This is to wish for a peaceful life. On this day, there are other foods, much to drink in ceelebration, and also some splashing of water.

The bench Dance and the Tonggu Dance of the Bouyei are famous throughout China; so are their weddings. Weddings are two or three day affairs with much singing and dancing, and lots of fine and colorful food. Again a lot of it is made with black, red, and white glutinous rice or white flour colored with vegetable dyes.

Bouyei foods, other than their rice dishes and cakes, are tart. They say that if a man eats no tart food for three days, he can no longer walk. When their men eat, they like their food with chili and lots of home-brewed rice wine. it was usually made during the New Year/Spring festival. Men and women like pickled vegetables alone or in their dishes, and they like to add curd made with pigs blood and sausages. More men drink wine than women, females prefer tea and they mix theirs with honeysuckle.

When invited to a Bouyei home, guests are received in the central of the three to five rooms on the first floor. It is a place reserved for ancestor worship and honoring guests. Among the foods served at a meal, is the popular Guizhou Lianai Doufu Also served are poultry and pork. Should you get the head of the chicken, they are wishing you an auspicious year; and should you be served pork and not poultry first, they are wishing you a good harvest. Many foods that come to that and their everyday tables are sour and spicy and loaded with tingling sensations.

Lovers like to feed each other a snadwich-like bean curd filled with minced fresh coriander, garlic, scallions, fresh ginger, and pepper flakes, or Zao peppper which is a pepper only found in Guizhou. Those living elsewhere buy lots of it when visiting there.

This Lianai Doufu is a three-to-four-inch square of bean curd grilled on a sheet of metal placed over an open fire. It is cut in half and both parts used as the outside of a sandwich. The filling is most often chopped, but some do eat larger pieces if its ingredients in its interior. Before closing the two pieces of doufu, a mix of sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar are sprinkled over the raw ingredients, and the sandwich is then closed. This so-called 'Lover's Bean Curd,' is supposed to be fed to one's lover, the man feeding his girl. Bouyei love it so, they even feed it to themselves.

For those not in love, there is also another snack served laced with hot chili-paste. It is a pancake made in a wok, both sides lightly cooked, then used to wrap sliced white radish, soaked pieces of seaweed--usually kelp, deep-fried shelled soybeans, carrots, potatoes, or whatever one likes. Rarely served plain, before rolling, wrapping, and relishing, chili paste or chili-sauce is sprinkled on its contents.

Other loved items include noodles cooked with pig intestines and blood sausages. These are called 'Changwang Noodles' and are round and robust. they are grilled with mashed potato cakes, the potatoes of course flavored with chili sauce. Also loved is Fish with Pickled Vegetabes and/or fried with Zao pepper and ginger and home-made chili paste, Deep-fried Fuyu, and Paper-wrapped Chicken. All of these are eaten with or without pickled vegetables, and those made with pork are often prepared with intestines that were made in a soup.
A few Bouyei recipes follow:
Fish with Pickled Greens II
1 egg white
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 pound boneless and skinless carp, sliced thinly
1 cup vegetable oil
2 ounces pickled mustard greens, cut into one-inch by two-inch strips, then rinsed in warm water, and then drained well 1/4 cup pickled or plain bamboo shoots, cut very thin
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 Tablespoon lard
1/3 teaspoon Zao pepper flakes or 1/2 teaspon homemade chili paste
1. Mix egg white, salt, and cornstarch, and gently mix with the sloces of carp. Remove any excess coating.
2. Heat oil, they deep-fry the fish slices, and when golden remove from the oil and drain on paper towerls. Reserve one tablespoon of the oil, and save the rest for another use.
3. Heat the resrved oil, and add the mustard greens and stir-fry for one minute, then add the bamboo shoots and cook aother half minute before adding the wine, chicken broth, and the lard. When hot, about half a minute, add the fish and stir carefully not to break it into pieces. Serve sprinking the fish with the flakes of the Zao pepper or the chili paste.
Home-made Chili Paste II
1 cup dried hot chili peppers
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil or lard
3 Tablespoons peeled and minced shallots
1 teaspoon crushed Sichuan peppercorns
2 Tablespoons Chinese red rice vinegar
1. Pour one cup of boiling water over the chili peppers, and let them rest in this water for two or three hours. Then transfer them to a blender and blend for one minute.
2. Heat oil or lard and stir-fry the shallots and the Sichuan peppr until the shallots are soft, then add this mixture to the blender and blend for half a minute. Next, pour this mixture into a medium-size pot.
3. Simmer the chili mixture on low heat for ten to fifteen minutes, then add the vinegar. Cool and store this in a sterilized glass jar in the refrigerator until needed.
Pork and Intestine Soup II
2 pounds flank steak or any other tender cut of beef
1 small pork tongue
1 pig lung (optional)
1 Tablespoon Sichuan peppercors, crushed finely
1 teaspoon ground star anise
1 Tablespoon Chinese cinnamon, crushed finely
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup fremented glutinous rice
1/2 cup liquid from jar of spicy fermented bean curd
1 onion
3 star anise
1 teaspoon whole Sichuan peppercorns or half-teaspon home-made chili paste
1/4 cup mushroom or spicy soy sauce
1 cup Chinese clery, sliced on an angle
1. Marinate steak, tongue, and lung (if using it) in two cups of water mixed with the crushed Sichuan pepper, ground star anise, cinnamon, and salt for one hour. Drain and discard the liquid and the spices.
2. Put beef, tongue, and lung in six cups of water. Add the fermented rice, spicy bean curd liquid, onion, star anise, whole Sichuan peppercorns and soy sauce, and bring to just below the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for two hours. Then remove the meats and set aside. Strain the liquid, and discard all the solids.
3. Slice the beef, peel and slice the tongue, and dice the lung. Return these to the strained liquide, add the celery slices and six more cups of water. Bring to the boil, add the sliced meats, and serve in a tureen or in individual soup bowls putting some meat in each indvidual bowl.

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