Songs of the fields

Updated 2017-05-08 14:30:17 China Daily
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Hani people celebrate the Kai Yang Men festival with dances and music in the Honghe Hani and Yi autonomous prefecture in Yunnan province.

Hani people celebrate the Kai Yang Men festival with dances and music in the Honghe Hani and Yi autonomous prefecture in Yunnan province.

The ancient music of the Hani people faces decline

He sits alone on a bench in the sun, surrounded by people, most of whom are tourists.

As the show starts, he watches dancers and singers enacting scenes that show them planting seeds, farming fields and harvesting. He murmurs a song and nods his head.

This is Zhu Xiaohe, a 79-year-old man from the Hani ethnic group, who lives in the village of Dongpu in Southwest China's Yunnan province.

The village is located in Yuanyang county, in the Honghe Hani and Yi autonomous prefecture of Yunnan.

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The terraced paddy fields, a UNESCO World Heritage site, are a major venue for the celebrations.

The terraced paddy fields, a UNESCO World Heritage site, are a major venue for the celebrations.

In 2007, he became the first in his ethnic group to be recognized as an inheritor of this form of intangible culture.

He sings ancient Hani songs, or haba.

Recently, Zhu was invited as a guest to Kai Yang Men, an annual event to celebrate the coming of spring and the planting of rice in that area.

The ancient songs, which don't have a written form, are about the history of the Hani people and are related to gods, ancestors, weddings, funerals and daily life.

The songs are performed with such folk instruments as bamboo flutes, stringed instruments and hand drums.

The Seasonal Production Ballad is probably the most famous song. Zhu sang it at the April 30 event.

The Hani people sing such songs while they work in the rice fields, which form spectacular terraces that cascade down the hilly terrain of Yuanyang county.

These rice terraces, listed as World Heritage by UNESCO, are believed to be more than 1,300 years old.

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Kai Yang Men is an annual celebration marking the arrival of spring.

Kai Yang Men is an annual celebration marking the arrival of spring.

"To survive in a rough climate, our ancestors accumulated a large amount of experience in agricultural production in the different seasons. This knowledge is brought out by the songs, which are not for recreation alone but also to understand important aspects of our way of life," says Zhu, who speaks the Hani language.

He can also sing the complete version of Apei Congpopo, an epic about their ancestors' migration to southern Yunnan from the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau centuries ago.

Zhu's parents died when he was young. He was raised by his grandfather, who taught him the songs since he was 12.

Now, Zhu rarely performs in public due to his health. But, since 1973, he has been passing down the ancient heritage by teaching others.

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Young women clad in traditional attire compete in a beauty contest.

Young women clad in traditional attire compete in a beauty contest.

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