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Sama Festival in Rongjiang County, Guizhou

Sama Festival of Rongjiang County(榕江侗族萨玛节), the grandest ancestral worship ritual of the Dong people, has been listed as one of China's state intangible cultural heritages in 2006.
sama festival of sanbao dong village
Sama Festival of Rongjiang County(榕江侗族萨玛节) is the grandest and most ancient celebration in southern Guizhou

Affectionately referred to as “the Grandmother”, Sama(萨玛), the protection goddess of the Dong people, presides over Dong villagers' health, wealth, safety, morality and longevity. Shrines and temples devoted to Sama are common in every Dong village.

Sama Festival occurs twice annually. Spring Sama Festival occurs in the first or second lunar month, prior to the busy agriculture time. Roughly speaking, lunar month falls one month behind solar month. Autumn Sama Festival occurs after the harvest, usually the ninth or tenth lunar month.
Sama Festival of Rongjiang County

 Sama Festival

Sama Festival is presided over by Dong priests,or Shamans. Black fur pigs and green head ducks are strictly chosen as sacrifices. Pigs and ducks are not butchered by knives or blades, but by drowning or strangling, to ultimate the so acclaimed magic power to ward off demons.

Sama Festival can be a small-scale event held within a single Dong village, or a grand occasion involving dozens of Dong villages. In terms of ritual, procedure and participants, strict codes and rules had been laid down generations ago. For instance, In Sanbao Dong Township of Rongjiang County(榕江三宝侗乡), it is reserved for married women. (Occasionally, some revered senior men show up also). Anthropologists conclude this tradition as the remnants of the matriarchal society culture.
Sama Festival of Rongjiang County(榕江侗族萨玛节)

 This kind of performance combining singing and dancing, is known as “Duoye”

To outsiders, Sama Festival is really primitive and bewildering. Sama Worship Ritual consist of four stages: worship Sama by offering tea and sacrifices, invite Sama out of the Sama Temple, entertain Sama with singing and dancing as well as escorting Sama back to her abode. Precluded by tea-presenting ritual, Sama Festival will be in full swing soon.
In their gorgeous attires and ornaments, Dong women swirl around like colorful butterflies, hand in hand, mesmerizing the onlookers by their elegant dances and heavenly folk songs.
Their folk song is called Ye Music(耶歌). As one kind of eulogy to Sama, it falls into migratory songs, epics and light-hearted recreational songs. This kind of performance combining singing and dancing, is known as “Duoye”, or “Dos Jeeh” in Dong language. Duoye is believed to possess the magic power from repelling enemies, bringing good harvest as well as health to the whole villagers.
Sama Festival of Rongjiang County(榕江侗族萨玛节)

 Dong Villagers during wedding parade

During the past centuries, a visit to Sama Temple is mandatory prior to wars, hunting, building a road, constructing a house, leaving hometown to work, ect. When disagreements arise among couples, neighbors and villages, as well as when a child fell ill and a disaster occurs, both man-made or force majeure, the kind-hearted Dong peasants will turn to their Sama Grandmother for help, support and solution.
Sama Festival of Rongjiang County(榕江侗族萨玛节)

The history of Sama Temple dates back to the Jiaqing Reign period of the Qing Dynasty. The one in Sanbaokou Village, Rongjiang dates back to the Yongzheng reign period of the Qing Dynasty, and it is among the most ancient. Sama Temple, though outshone by resplendent Han or Tibetan Buddhist temples, has its own distinctive features.
Sama Festival of Rongjiang County(榕江侗族萨玛节)

Sama Temples are forbidden sacred sites for outsiders except for specific worship time. They have two versions, the rough version is open-air shrines made of piled boulders and fringed by stone circles, while the exquisite version is Dong-Han style wooden-brick temples featuring front door, main hall, gable and tiled roofs.
Sama Festival of Rongjiang County(榕江侗族萨玛节)

Sama altar
, the centerpiece of Sama Temple, is the most interesting part. It is decorated with a half-opened black umbrella, a black fan, pleated dress, and a pair of grass shoes, with each has specific symbolic meanings. For instance, the fan is used by Sama to dispel evil spirits, the shoes symbolizes her patrols along the village.

The priests of Sama Festival fall into three kinds. The first kind is male shamans, also known as Sangh Daengc in Dong language, who played a big role in inheriting and spreading traditional Dong culture, mythology, legends, myths and wisdom. The second is female shamans, also known as Den Sa, which is passed down from mothers-in-law to daughters-in-law. The third is called Geshi, literally means “Ritual Singing master”. By far, in Sanbao Dong Township, Rongjiang County, there are 3 influential male shanmans, 19 female shamans and 7 “Ritual Sing Masters”
Sama Festival of Rongjiang County(榕江侗族萨玛节)
Author: Sophia            Posted on Dec 10, 2013


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