Cultural Circles and Epic Transmission: The Dai People in China

Abstract

This essay discusses the dual influences of Buddhist culture and indigenous religion found in Dai communities in terms of “cultural circles” and demonstrates that all Dai traditional poetry—Buddhist and indigenous—employs a key technique that can be termed “waist-feet rhyme,” wherein the last syllable of one line rhymes with an internal syllable in the succeeding line. This feature is embedded in both the oral and written traditions and is an important enabling device within the poetry of the Dai people.

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Map 1. Yunnan Province, China.

Map: University of Missouri Department of Geography.

Map 2. Dehong Prefecture and Xishuangbanna Prefecture, Yunnan Province.

Map: Qu Yongxian.

Chart 1. The branches of Dai in China.

Chart: Qu Yongxian.

Chart 2. The four dialects of the Dai language.

Chart: Qu Yongxian.

Chart 3. Three kinds of Dai scripts in current use.

Chart: Qu Yongxian.

Photo 1. A Dai-luo elder who was pasturing cattle when I arrived at Lengdun Town, Yuanyang County, Honghe Prefecture.

Photo: Qu Yongxian.

Photo 2. Manuscripts employing traditional Dai scripts. Banyan village, Menghai Couty, Xishuangbanna Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province.

Photo: Qu Yongxian.

Photo 3. An elder (pictured in the center) selling his manuscripts during a ceremony on October 11, 2009, in the Menghuan pagoda, Dehong Prefecture.

Photo: Qu Yongxian.

Photo 4. The manuscript of Ba Ta Ma Ga Pheng Shang Luo (written in traditional Dai-lue script), preserved in the temple of Banyan Village, Mengzhe County, Xishuangbanna Prefecture.

Photo: Qu Yongxian.

Photo 5. A performance of Na Du Xiang (“The Precious Door”) as part of the celebration for a new house in Mangshi Town, Dehong Prefecture, on September 28, 2009.

Photo: Qu Yongxian.

Photo 6. The zhangha Yuyan, a professional singer famous amoung the Dai-lue people in Xishuangbanna.

Photo: Qu Yongxian.

Photo 7. A Dai-yat elder performing during an evocation ceremony on July 28, 2010, in Mosha Town, Xinping County, Yuxi City.

Photo: Qu Yongxian.

Photo 8. The Mengmian-Qingge Festival is held only among the Dai-la group during mid-May every year in Yuanjian County.

Photo: Qu Yongxian.

Chart 4. The evolutionary history of Dai literature. Based on Wang Song 1983.

Chart: Qu Yongxian.

Table of Contents

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