The government of Honghe Prefecture, in the south of Yunnan Province, has applied for inclusion to the UN's list of World Natural and Cultural Heritage site, for the terraced fields in the small county of Yuanyang, where each year the Hani people hold a banquet so large they consume entire towns. The annual festival and the splendor of Yuanyang's rice terraces are drawing increasing interest from travelers and photographers alike. The following is the first of two articles highlighting Yuanyang.
In the southern tip of Yunnan, one of China's southernmost provinces, we crossed the galloping Yuanjiang River, then drove among the lofty mountains of Ailao, where a vast expanse of terraced fields came into view. The terraces are spectacular, but with dark approaching, we dared not stay too long and headed to Habo Village, Ezha Town, more than 100 kilometers from the old county seat of Yuanyang. The terraces could wait, but we were destined for another of the region's wonderful sights: the Changlong (Long-Dragon) Banquet of the Hani people.
Around the time of China's Spring Festival, the Hanis celebrate the Yangmatu Festival in honor of their heroes and pray for the union of the Hani people and good harvests. The festival usually lasts for three days, when the locals participate in sacrificial ceremonies in the center of the village and enjoy food at a grand banquet in the middle of the street. The villagers are more than happy to welcome visitors to join them.
All family members reunite during this time, dressing up in their best clothes and rolling out their best dishes to share with neighbors at the street banquet.
In the Hani language, "Habo" means a mountain village surrounded by bamboo groves. Habo Village has retained its festive tradition for generations, and its Long-Dragon Banquet is the largest of its kind and the most representative culture of the Hani people in Yuanyang County and the Hani and Yi Prefecture in Honghe.
It took a whole day to reach Habo Village from Kunming.
We woke early the next morning to the hubbub of children, and discovered the entire village seething with excitement. Square tables were lined up in the street, hundreds of them.
"How could that be?" I wondered. "There was nothing there last night when we arrived."
Someone said that most of the villagers had gone the whole night without sleep, preparing food and laying tables instead. There are more than 300 households in the village, and each family contributes 14 or 15 dishes and pastries, in addition to staple food and wine. Anyone visiting or passing through, known or unknown, would be invited to the banquet.
The houses in Habo were built in accordance with the terrain of the mountain, and the village showcases all styles of structures of the branches of the Hani people. The terraces encircle Habo, and beyond them to the west are more terraced mountain slopes shaped like crescent and quarter moons. The view is particularly breathtaking when the terraced fields are bathed in the light of the rising sun.
As the morning passed, the street became busier and busier. Villagers, young and old, dressed in their best, all looked happy, as the adults busied themselves with preparations and the children played games in groups.
The Long-Dragon Banquet started at noon with the thundering of drums and gongs. But nobody stirred, not until the respected elders, dressed in dark blue clothes and black scarves, were seated. The banquet began with contributions of dishes to the elders, who tasted them first. Then, people took their seats and enjoyed a feast of more than 1,000 dishes.
The Habo Long-Dragon Banquet we attended was extremely active. The length of the "dragon" of tables stretched as long as 300 meters up the slope of a mountain. The number of dishes doubled as mountain delicacies and wild delights were brought forth.
The Long-Dragon Banquet is the best of its kind for the Hani people, and no longer banquet has been found anywhere else in the world. The banquet was filled with laughter, singing, and dancing, and it was not over until the sun set.