May First means HOLIDAY for most of us. But for the Wa people of Cangyuan, it means it’s time for the Mud Rubbing Festivities to start.
The Mud Rubbing Festival, or Monihei (literally “making you black”) in Chinese, is a festival of the Wa ethnic Group. Every year on the first of May, the town of Cangyuan in the Southwest of Yunnan, close to the border with Myanmar, organizes this festival according to the customs and traditions of the Wa people.
During this festival people smear each other with ash, ox blood and mud to bring each other good fortune and peace and frighten away evil. Smearing mud on different people means different things: if you smear it on a beautiful girl, you wish her to become more and more beautiful; smear it on a friend and you’ll wish him to be happy, peaceful and lucky; if you smear it on an old man’s face you want him to live a long and healthy life; on a kid, you wish him to grow up happy and successful...
Nowadays, the mud is a mix of medicinal plants with mud and other things... the recipe of the mud is kept a secret and some say there is even chocolate involved. Every year the recipe changes a bit and has a different color, ranging from light beige to grayish black. The medicinal herbs in the mud give it some skin care proprieties and improve your looks.
Wa people value spiritual life and Monihei in the Wa language means: “This is what we are looking for, and we will stick to it forever.” Wa people enjoy life and love dancing and singing in their free time. They think it doesn’t matter if your are poor or rich, you need to enjoy life and be happy.
Unlike most Chinese people who like to be white and bring umbrella’s on sunny days, Wa people think that the blacker you look the most beautiful you are. Black is an auspicious color for Wa people: there traditional clothes are black and some women even color their teeth black. So, during this festival everyone will smear you with mud and make you the blackest!
During the festivities, local people and tourists alike, drink local corn wine, dance and sing together around the fire, smear each other with mud and wash the mud off with river water sprouting from a bamboo, watch and bet on buffalo fighting, have a big parade in traditional clothes and have a big hair swinging dance and drum dance...
The festival takes place in the bigger town, but they also have festivities in the closeby village of Wengding. There you can see how local Wa people really live. There are good home-stays in local wooden houses and a lot of home cooked food to taste.
In the village you can see the “Lamugu” ceremony, or “Pulling the wooden drum”. For this ceremony villagers drag a big wooden trunk into the village while signing songs and dancing. The “Moba” guides the whole procession and village elders make offerings of wine, tea, rice, popcorn, candles and sacrificed roosters. Later the log will be carved into an new wooden drum in the drum-house.
Next year, will YOU be there to enjoy the hospitality of the Wa people? We surely hope so...
Next on our festival sequel: Traditional dress festival of the Yi people