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Past performance of China's Jino ethnic group


          Young Jino men perform the Big Drum Dance in Bapo village. (Source: China Daily/Wang Jiaquan)

An instrument comprising seven bamboo tubes provides Mula Bulu an opportunity to play the big chief. The clan leader who is in his 70s plays the qike when welcoming visitors to his Jino ethnic group ancestral home. He no longer has the right to rule on disputes in Bapo village, Xishuangbanna, Yunnan province, as his predecessors did before 1979, but at welcoming ceremonies and clan rituals like weddings he has the opportunity to demonstrate his authority and position.

Every day, under the gaze of a giant sculpture of the mother goddess on a slope, Mula Bulu plays the qike to welcome visitors while standing atop a flight of stone-paved steps, decorated by bull skulls that hang on nearby trees.

He worships Amo Yaobei, the legendary ancestor of the Jino people, the last of China's 56 ethnic groups recognized by the government in 1979, after a near 20-year investigation by ethnic studies researchers and anthropologists

In Mula Bulu's two-story wood house in the mountain village, two women weave cloth in rainbow colors, while the old man's grandson Chegelong, lounges around.

Though he has not traveled more than 30 km from his ancestral home, the 22-year-old says he likes playing football and his idol is David Beckham.

The young man and his four brothers share a house, called the Home of Zhoba (clan chief), with their grandfather. Their bedrooms are on the second floor, separated by thin wooden boards that do not reach the ceiling.

On a wooden platform adjacent to Mula Bulu's home, a group of some 20 young men and women stage the Big Drum Dance, formerly a tribute to the gods performed only by men.

The rhythmic thuds of three sun-shaped drums being struck by the dancers, dressed in traditional ethnic costumes, reverberate in the mountains while tourists knock together small bamboo tubes. 

  Two Jino women demonstrate how to weave cloth in the traditional way at the village.(Source: China Daily/Wang Jiaquan)

To the dancers, and even to Mula Bulu and Chegelong, the traditional costumes they wear are just part of their performance. They are hired to present the traditional culture of the Jino ethnic group and are paid upward of 400 yuan ($60) a month by the organizing committee.

But not everything remains the same. While 83-year-old Baomai has dark teeth and large holes in her earlobes, considered beautiful in traditional Jino society, her daughter, 48-year-old Bailaniu and granddaughters value snow-white teeth.

Once isolated, the Jino people were a mystery until the 1960s, when a road from Mengyang to Mengla was built.

Now there are televisions, motorcycles, telephones and all the other signs of civilization.

Along with economic development, the population of the ethnic group has grown from 3,860 in 1953 to more than 20,000.

As might be expected, the traditional culture of the Jino people is disappearing, according to Du Yuting, a retired researcher with the Yunnan Provincial Academy of Social Sciences and one of the scholars who participated in the identification of the Jino ethnic group.

Du warned in 1989 that traditional Jino clothing might disappear within 20 years and there would be no more bamboo and wood houses within 10 years, while the traditional dances, songs and music would die out within 30 years.

The scholar also predicted that within half a century, there might be no Jinos who could speak their mother tongue.

He updated this timetable in 1995, advancing his vision of loss by 10 to 20 years.

According to research in 2008 by Bai Zhen and Zhang Shijun, two professors at the Southwest China University of Ethnic Studies in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, only 10 percent of Jino people can weave and often wear traditional costumes; while 48 percent cannot sew, but will wear traditional clothing on ethnic holidays or other traditional occasions.

Their survey also found that only 6 percent of Jino people are competent at traditional handicrafts and have apprentices.

The future of the Jino language, however, is not so dismal. Though most young and middle-aged Jino people speak Mandarin, about 94 percent also remained fluent in their mother tongue. Most preschoolers, middle-aged and old women in remote villages only speak the Jino language.

In addition, the Big Drum Dance was listed as a provincial intangible cultural heritage in Yunnan in 2003, and as a State-level heritage in 2006. A training center was established in Jino township in 2008 to teach the dance and a troupe of 100 dancers was formed.

To help preserve the ancient art, local cultural authorities have compiled an illustrated book with CDs introducing the drum dance.

The dance is also being taught on the township's high school campus and about 400 students have received dance training.

In addition to the drum dance, other Jino cultural practices are attracting attention from cultural experts and officials. The Temaoke Festival, or iron forging festival, during the New Year in the Jino calendar, has caught the eye of Duan Qiru, director of the cultural center in Xishuangbanna.

Though Duan's attempt to nominate the festival as another state intangible heritage failed in 2009, he said his center's efforts to protect and preserve the festival tradition would continue.

But according to Bai Zhen and Zhang Shijun, how long an ethnic culture can be preserved depends on the awareness of the people.

To Chegelong, the outside world is full of temptation, though he says he enjoys the "simple life, full of sunshine" on Jino Mountain.

"I really want to find work in a city, but now I'm bound by the farm work of the family," says the junior high school graduate.

Mula Bulu is not opposed to his grandson's ambition.

"I hope one day, when he comes back, he still speaks our mother tongue and observes our traditions," he says.

(Source: China Daily)
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