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Home > Facts > Festivals & Celebrations > Guizhou Sister Rice Festival

Guizhou Sister Rice Festival


The Sister Rice Festival or the Sister Festival, (other names: Sister Meal Festival, Sisters' Meal Festival) held annually by girls on the 15th day of the third lunar month, is one of the most active festivals of the Miao people in Taijiang, Shibing and Jianhe counties, Guizhou Province. The date of the festival is different according to places. The ceremony is simple, unsophisticated, and distinctive and the Sister Festival in Shidong, Taijiang County is the most typical one. Girls, who are the center of the festival, invite their sweet hearts to eat Sister Rice, play a drum, dance, sing, give keepsakes to each other, and get engaged, which displays the fact of love between the lads and the girls during the course of changing from the matriarchal clan society to the patriarchal clan society. In the festival, there are traditional songs and dances, the dragon dance and bull fighting activities, the interaction between the tranquil and soothing rural life and the modern tours seeking nature are likened to "the festival hidden in the pistil", which is "the oldest oriental Valentine's Day" and is becoming a brilliant landscape in the modern tourism economy in Southwest China.

Origin & Legends

No one can tell when this ancient festival originated, but the 500 years of history of Shidong implies that the festival dates back to the remote past. Generally, 5 legends are much told in the village.

1. An unverified story says that there was a Miao village in Taijiang County of Guizhou Province. The men there went hunting at a faraway place and didn't return for a very long time. There were many women and children and 70 beautiful girls in the village. The women raised their children after returning from the farm and led an eternal life. The girls picked fruits on mountains and worked on the farm and spun, weaved and embroidered at home. They worked so hard that the boxes were full of colorful cloth and brocades. The brocades they weaved were even more beautiful than the rosy clouds on the sky and the flowers they embroidered attracted many bees and butterflies, but the 70 girls, who were at the age of 16, always felt that they were short of something, which always made them unhappy. Then they concentrated in opening up wasteland at a place with abundant water. They worked and worked and finally opened up an extremely large area of farmland. So they put many fish in it and sowed sticky rice in spring. Thus, they had a good harvest in autumn and their storehouses were full of sticky rice. They also made jars of sticky rice wine. However, they still felt that there was a lack of something in their life although they led a well-off life, so they seldom sang and laughed.

The old people knew what they needed and thought of a good idea. They suggested that they put the remaining sticky rice and wine in storage and when the next spring came they made the sticky rice into tasty meals and captured some fish, shrimps, and snails in the farmland, and then invite the young boys from faraway villages to eat Sister Rice, drink wine, dance and choose their sweet hearts. The next year, some of these girls realized their dream and got married. From then on, eating Sister Rice has become their particular festival.

2. Another unverified story says that the Miao people formerly lived in the faraway east. Then they had to migrate westerly because of their difficult life caused by the increase of population and disasters and wars. Whenever they got to a place and lived for a period of time, some girls got married and when they migrated again, the married girls couldn't get home any more. How difficult was it that they met and parted! So they decided to capture some fish and shrimps every spring and invite the married sisters to have Sister Rice and pour out their heart with the unmarried. After that they said goodbye reluctantly. Thus the annual Sister Festival came into being.

3. The third legend says that there was once an old man and his wife who had three beautiful daughters. One day while they played on the riverside, the young girls felt lovesick. Zhang Guolao, a bearded God who carried a bamboo tubular drum, possessed the spirits of the girls, telling them to prepare five-colored rolls of glutinous rice filled with shrimp, fish and other special things. When young men came down from the mountain, the beautiful girls presented the rice to them. In this way, the young girls found their marriage partners.

4. The fourth legend goes that there was once a family with seven daughters. The girls were very beautiful when they grew up, and they wanted to marry good men. Their parents promised to help make their wishes come true. At their parents' urging, the seven girls went to the mountain to gather leaves, flowers and herbs. They then cooked pots of colorful rice. The family invited young men from the village and neighboring communities to eat the rice, sing folk songs during the daytime and dance away the night. The non-stop singing and dancing allowed the girls to test and observe the men. After three days and nights of singing and dancing, the girls chose from about 100 men their dream husbands. They presented the men colored rice and told them to choose a time to return for the wedding ceremonies. By cooking colorful rice and inviting men from miles around for food, singing and dancing, the sisters became the first of the Miao people to marry for love. That helped the group's culture to evolve.

5. The last legend is going about that a boy named Jin Dan and a girl named A-Jiao, the children of two women, were childhood sweethearts and innocent playmates. After growing up they fell in love with each other and were determined to get married, but the parents of A-Jiao forced her to marry the son of her mother's brother. A-Jiao refused this resolutely. Jin Dan also refused to marry another girl and kept waiting for A-Jiao.

They dated secretly in the open field every day to avoid being found by their parents and others. Every time A-Jiao put rice secretly in a bamboo basket, which was used for loading needlework and took it to Jin Dan. Finally they became a couple after a series of tribulations and struggles. Thus the literary quotation of "Sister Rice" came into being, which is called "Gad Liang" in Miao language and is transcribed as "Sister Rice" in Chinese.

The Sister Rice of Shidong

Originally, the sister rice of Shidong Village only had seven colors – each of the colors stands for a sister. Green means their hometown which is as beautiful as Qingshui River (a river by the village), red means their prosperous village, yellow means a bumper grain harvest, indigo means a well-off life, and white means the pure love. But today there are more colors of the rice, symbolizing there are more than seven beautiful Miao girls.

Traditional Costumes

All mothers of the Miao ethnic group take pride in their daughters who look beautiful in their traditional costumes during the Sister Festival. Women, in fact, begin preparing the traditional, embroidered festival clothes soon after their daughters are born.

When the Miao girls become 16, their mothers dress them up and take them to participate in Sister Festival. Even if they are not ready to let their daughters get married, the women want to show off their beautiful daughters - in their splendid clothes. The costumes of Miao women in Shidong can be classed four according to their degrees of sophistication. The top-class apparel consists of 70 to 80 silver wares and sophisticated costume patterns, which weigh 10 to 15 kilograms. It is the formal dress of the unmarried young girls and newlywed brides. Usually, it takes 420 days to finish one set. The second-class apparel is less sophisticated, costing 330 days. Girls usually wear these two kinds of apparels when visiting relatives or attending big events. The first-class casual costume is simplified but delicately made, costing 40 days to make. In contrast, the common costume is very simple, only costing 4 days.  

Silver Ornaments of the Miao Girls

Also in anticipation of the Sisters’ Rice Festival, the grandmothers, mothers and other female relatives polish and shine the collection of silver neck rings, bracelets, anklets, earrings, hair pins and combs, rings and pendants, phoenix crowns and headpieces that the young courting-age girls will wear. The Miao believe that silver, representing light, dispels evil spirits. Silver is also a symbol of wealth and beauty, and some young women wear several kilograms of it at one time. Dazzling embroidered skirts, blouses, aprons and jackets are decorated with many different tooled silver ornaments. Pretty necks are encircled with bands of silver and linking silver chains that support large shining lockets, glittering beads and hanging tassels. Elaborate silver headpieces crown the heads of the girls as they proudly display their self-made costumes.

What's On

-Share food

The Sisters' Rice Festival always begins with special family meals. Sharing traditional foods such as rice that has been colored with the dyes of different leaves, berries and flowers, then cooked in bamboo tubes, and homemade rice wine, is similarly practiced among the many Miao tribes. Some of the color rice is molded into balls that hold “hidden treasures”. These rice balls are presented to the lads who come to visit, and each treasure has a symbolic meaning. For instance, pine needles mean "You should give me embroidery needles." and cotton indicates the girl misses the lad very much, as it means "bear", the same meaning with "miss" in Miao language.

A thorn tells the lucky fellow "You are the one!" Chopsticks or red flower pistils say, "Let's marry quickly -- the sooner the better." And a single chopstick, some garlic or chili means, "Find someone else!"

-Duige (singing in antiphonal style)

When celebrate the Sister Rice Festival, the girls and lads usually have a wide range of songs called Duige (singing in antiphonal style). They are seated in two separate rows. The girls sing to cross-question the derivation of the Sister Festival and the symbol of Sister Rice and the lads sing in response. Finally, the side that gives no response or sings off beat or gives irrelevant answers loses the game. If the girls are defeated, they will give the lads a present, such as a bangle, a pair of earrings, a finger ring, while if the lads lose the game, they will give the girls a memorable present, such as a silver bangle or a watch. The side that wins the game will also give the other side a present of equivalent value in return. During the festival, just like the youth, some middle-aged and old men also go to the neighboring villages to respond to singing with women of the same age.

-Send Interesting Keepsakes

After the wide range of songs-Duige, the girls will send the young men Sister Rice filled in a new bamboo basket or a new handkerchief as a present before they return home. Those who get Sister Rice mean that they have gained favor of the girls. But if not, they can beg them for the present pretending piteous, saying, "Please give me a little Sister Rice to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes." Then the girls will give them generously with sympathy. Some sharp-witted girls will hide some keepsakes such as pine needles, bamboo hooks, live chickens or ducks, Toona sinensis, capsicum, garlic in the bamboo basket or handkerchief to convey their affection. If a girl places a hot pepper in the man's rice, this means that she does not wish to befriend him. But a rice hook (made from rice) is put into the man’s rice means that the girl likes him. The below are some other keepsakes which have very interesting symbolic meanings:

1. Bamboo hooks indicate the lads should return the favor with umbrellas of the same number. Two crossed ones indicate the girl hopes to affiliate frequently with the lad.

2. Pine needles represent embroidery needles, indicating the lad should present embroidery needles and thread in return.

3. Toona sinensis means that the girl is willing to marry him at an early date, as it is called "moth" and means "marry" in Miao language.

4. Cotton indicates the girl misses the lad very much, as it means "bear", the same meaning with "miss" in Miao language.

5. Parsley has the same meaning with Toona sinensis.

6. Cotton and parsley indicate being anxious to getting married.

7. Live ducks mean that the girl hopes to get a pig in return to breed it for the feast of the next Sister Festival.

8. Capsicum or garlic indicates the girl doesn't want to communicate with the lad any more or wants to break off with him.

-Other Activities

Besides share food, Duige and send Keepsakes, there are some other activities such as drum dance, evening dragon performance, bonfire party, catch fish (in the ponds or the paddy fields),catch ducks (in the river), bull fighting, cock fighting and horse racing during the Sisters’ Rice Festival. The most popular event during the festival is playing drum dance which is a collective dance with drum beats. Women wear magnificent apparels and gather together to perform the dance.

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