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The Black Tai

Sometime later in the spring of 1938 I had the opportunity of making a tour of reconnaissance for a few months ill part of the area inhabited by the Black Tai. I shall limit myself to a few details.

The so-called Black Tai live on both sides of the Black River and the Song Ma, right up in upper Tonkin and also in all of the Dien-Bien-Phu area. Their habitations are concentrated in the valleys and along the rivers, as they move about very little on the land but more on water in their canoes; one could compare the rivers to paths connecting the different Tai villages. The villages vary greatly in size from very large villages, which often have feudal officials, to small hamlets. One of the largest Tai villages I saw was Muong Het, which had about 200 houses. This village was divided into different quarters, each with its own official.

In the mountain valleys irrigated rice was mainly grown and not only there but also to a certain extent on terraces somewhat above the valley, as far up as water can be taken. The irrigation technique is a gravitational one: a dam is built far up a river, and then the water is led in canals along the terraces and down into the valley. They also use the swidden technique up in the mountains but they do not cultivate so much rice there. Rice growing is mainly confined to the irrigated fields. In the mountains it is possible to grow cotton, indigo, vegetables and many other things. During the rain period they have sufficient water for watering, which enables them to have one rice crop a year. During the dry period they grow things in their gardens and to water these they use norias which pump the water to some terraces above the valley.

The whole Tai area was originally a federation of twelve Tai states called Sippsong Chau Tai, which means the twelve Tai states. Each of these states was divided into several muong and these muong were relatively independent, which was still the case when I visited them. The land within the muong is communally held, but such land that can be irrigated, that is the irrigated rice fields, is differentiated from that which is used for dry cultivation. The former is divided amongst the members of the muong in a special way which I shall now describe, while the latter is more or less regarded as a common, where every member has rights of usage. It is the irrigated land which is especially valuable, but it is rather limited. This depends on the supply of water during the rains. One cannot, of course, have terraces and the irrigated rice fields higher up the slopes of the valley than the water can be led. In principle this land is divided between the different members, but in order to understand how this is done it is necessary to say something about the structure of the society.


6) K. G. Izikowitz: Lamet - Hill peasants in French Indochina. (Etnologiska Studier, vol. 17, Goteborg 1951. P. 247.)

It is evident that the irrigation system - the digging and maintaining of channels, dams - demands a large amount of co-operation from the members of the muong. This is indeed the case, they help each other; a large labour force can be assembled in one place and there is apparently a great feeling of unanimity where work is concerned. As an example of this may be mentioned an incident crossing a stream on my return journey by lorry. The bridge had been damaged by the strong current. I immediately asked for help to get the bridge repaired as soon as possible. Very early the next morning practically every able-bodied man from the nearest Tai village came and they repaired the bridge very quickly.

Besides rice, cotton and indigo are cultivated to a large extent - the Black Tai are well-known for their fine cotton cloth. In the valleys they cultivate the mulberry tree whose leaves are used to feed silkworms. There is a special part in every Tai house devoted to rearing silk worms.

Amongst the Black Tai there is a patrilinear joint family in every house. }. The houses can be very large and hold many people. In particular the higher officials in these parts have very large houses as they must be able to give feasts and entertain strangers. The whole Tai population is divided into large groups of relatives each of which has its own "totem", but I am uncertain whether they should be regarded as true clans. Such a group is called a king and is possibly connected with the similarly sounding Chinese word. One is not allowed to marry anyone having the same surname or family name. There are only eight types of these family names. These groups are subdivided into three different social groups or classes, noblemen at the top, priesthood next and ordinary people at the bottom of the scale. The nobility, ?g king, is divided into four different, exogamous groups. The clans of the lowest class - where one can almost speak of clans - have their own myths of origin which relate how the clans were formed and why certain things cannot be used. Curiously enough these clan myths are the same as those I found among the Lamet. (fn.7) There are a number of things which point to the fact that the Tai tribes invaded this area and subjugated the original population, absorbing and, so to speak, taiifying them. It is also said amongst the Tai that several of the clans belonged to the original population. According to my informants these clans, however, are no longer of any importance, they are no longer exogamous among the commoners of the Black Tai. A commoner must marry within his own class and thus cannot marry a woman from the priestly class or from the nobility. On the other hand the opposite can happen, a nobleman can marry a commoner. The same applies to the priestly class which cannot marry into the nobility. Polygamy is allowed hut mainly occurs within the nobility.


7) K. G. Izikowitz, op. cit. Pp. 86-911.

The political organization is highly important. There is a head for every chau but there never appears to have been a king or anything of the kind common to all the twelve Tai states, but apparently they formerly formed a federation. The head of a chau is called a tri-chau and a chief of a muong is called a ceng tong. Under him there were two officials, one called a fia di and the other a fia fo. All these officials come from the lo clan, from the nobility. There are three grades within the priesthood, ong, mo, ong nie and, ong chang. They are all sacrificial priests and tend the sacrifices for the phi muong or the spirit of the muong. Among the clans of the commoners there is a whole scale of different officials. There are, in the first place, four notables: ong sen, ong pong, ong horung, and ong pongkang. They serve under the two fia, and their task is to find porters and workers and to nominate the daylabourers for duties on the domains of the nobility. There are also lower officials, so-called thua, of three kinds, who act as secretaries to the nobility. The chiefs over a group of villages are divided into five categories and after them in rank come the village chiefs and the deputy village chiefs.

There are als four fia who come from the commoners. They were all old men and constituted, so to speak, a council of elders. A special type of official called the kai, of which there were five kinds, surveyed the day-labourers' work and were thus a sort of foremen. After these in rank were a host of "feast notables". They were middle-aged men who had the places of honour at feasts and ceremonies. They are called cuong and there are no less than thirteen types. The so-called kuang, of which there are an equal number, have the same function but are considered to be of lower rank. Besides these there was a chief of the muong's police (kuang tien) who had under him eight policemen or soldiers (kuan bek). Furthermore each muong had its herald, v sometimes more than one. There were two in Muong Teng. They are called nam pong. In the villages there were likewise heralds, called ca. Besides all these officials there were a number of medicine men or "il1ness shamans" but they had no special rank.

The land within a muong was communal and could not be owned by any private person, it could neither be inherited, sold nor bought. The irrigable land was regarded as the most valuable and from a theoretical point of view it should be divided amongst the different families according to their needs. 

The non-irrigable land, on the other hand, was regarded as commons where anyone could make a swidden. The distribution of the irrigable land is made by one of the officials in the village. If it is in a village where the chief of the muong resides, it is he that deals with the matter. In other valleys it is dealt with by the highest local officials. The ordinary people, the commoners, must pay for every unit of irrigable land that is allotted them by working for so many days for one of the higher officials. Those who held the highest titles did not cultivate the ground themselves but were allotted a certain number of families from the tax-paying commoners. Thus tri chau and ceng tong each had twelve families allotted to them. The lower nobility had fewer. Fia di had six families and fia fo had three. The four highest notables had one family each. The nearest in rank after these apparently had no families as day-labourers but on the other hand they were exempt from having to perform day-labouring. This applied all the way down the scale of ranks to and including the village chief. The deputy village chief, however, had to do day-labouring. The priesthood were also exempt from day-labouring as also were the council of elders who were old men and unable to do such work. The so-called kai, foremen of the day-labourers, did not have to do daylabouring as they themselves led the work. the police and heralds were also exempt from day-labouring. The others who were not real officials but some sort of feast notables of higher or lower rank had to do day-labouring like the common people.

If a man did not wish to do any day-labouring he was not allotted any irrigable land and thus had to make swiddens in the, commons of the muong. If a man was so energetic that he cleared land so that it was possible to irrigate it, he could keep this for a year tax-free but at the end of that year the land was taken over by the commune and distributed, unless he could pay the rent for this land in the form of day-labouring. If a man wished to leave the muong he belonged to for some reason, he could do so but then he had to pay a high entrance fee to the muong into which he moved.

According to the reports of my informants the idea was that the irrigable land should be distributed every year, but many families held the same piece of land for several years if it was considered suitable. Whether the highest officials got the best pieces of land I am not able to say, as I did not investigate this matter more closely.

The higher officials receive taxes in kind, in the form of buffaloes and pigs, and if a commoner has killed a deer or a stag he must give a thigh of this to one of the noble officials. These also have their houses built free by the day-labourers. There is an enormous difference between the small huts of the common people and the large houses of the nobility. There are no communal buildings and for festivities and such-like they gather in the large houses of the higher officials. Traveling strangers are also received there and put up for the night.

Houses, domestic animals and all tools are private property. By rearing pigs. horses. buffaloes, etc., a. Tai can thus earn some money. as well as by rearing silk-worms. Handicrafts also playa certain role in some villages. Certain villages specialize in pottery and sell their products over a wide area. Others are skilled weavers - nearly all the Black Tai are. Very intricately ornamented cotton and silk materials are produced in most of their villages. The art of weaving is of a high order and the making of patterns is greatly developed. I have seen, to mention one example, ornamented cotton cloth with a brocade pattern in indigo-coloured cotton on a white background, a type that is very common in the Tai district, and where the pattern is repeated "along the whole length of the doth roughly like the pattern on a wall-paper. I have seen patterns nearly two metres in length. These' are constructed in such a way that the basic pattern is only half of the total pattern, the other half being its mirror image. In any case, to produce such a large pattern shows a considerable skill in weaving. These cloths are produced in draw looms.

Specialization of handicrafts is not an individual matter but is distributed amongst the various villages so that everyone in the same village has the same craft. I have seen the same thing among the North Laotians. The so-called Tai P'ouen, who come from the Tran-Ninh plateau, seem to be wholly specialized in forging iron. Their villages are to be found well outside their real domain, right up in North Thailand, and on caravan routes and rivers it is not uncommon to meet P'ouen travelling to sell their wares.

An exception to this rule seems to be the silversmiths and goldsmiths who can be found singly in different villages.

The Black Tai are not Buddhists like most of the other Tai peoples I met. This means that a study of them is considerably more valuable as they lack this influence, though they have undoubtedly been influenced from India to some extent. They have their own script, which like the writing of the other Tai tribes can be derived from an Indian alphabet and they also have myths and stories, some of which may have arisen through Indian influence. Maspero has, however, dealt with the religion of the Black Tai in a number of articles and so I do not propose to go into this matter. (fn. 8) I will restrict myself to giving some information concerning the Dien-Bien-Phu district, in particular that relating to the sacrifice to phi muong, the spirit of the district. This is a feast which takes place just before the transplanting of the rice, as with most of the Tai peoples I know. Unfortunately I have not taken part in this feast myself but I have the prayers of this ceremony recorded in Tai; I have not, however, completely succeded in translating them. The meaning of the prayers is relatively clear and a summary of the contents will therefore suffice.


8) H. Maspero Legends mythologiques dans le Chou King. (Journal Asiatique, 1924.) H. Maspero: La societe et la religion des Chinois anciens et celles des Tai modernes. (Les religions chinoises, Mel. posthumes, vol. I. Paris 1950.) H. Maspero: Les coutumes funeraires chez les Tai noirs du Hant-Tonkin. Ibid.

The prayer to the phi muong consists of twenty-two sections, the first few containing a request for the protection of the spirit of the sky regarding the fertility of the ground. It then goes on with an invitation not only to the spirit of the sky, but also to the five gods of the skies. and also to the spirit of the water. Then follow several prayers to other spirits, which mainly consist of the names of deceased high officials from the nobility. Some of the spirits enumerated represent different natural phenomena in the district of Muong Teng - spirits of different hills and mountains in the surrounding district and spirits found along the boundaries to other muong. There are spirits that live in a deep part of the river, where every year two buffaloes are sacrificed at the feast of phi muong. In Laotian times, when the Lao were in control of the country, there was a Buddhist temple here and ten kilometres from Dien-Bien-Phu there are some stones left of this temple. These too have their spirits and are included in the incantation. The hills round this old temple site also have their spirits. The main part of this prayer is an enumeration of the spirits of deceased high officials. I do not know whether this is a sort of genealogy or not, as I was unable to check this. In the latter part of the incantation are listed animals and plants and in particular certain dragons which guard the whole area and especially the border between Muong Teng and Sop Ngao, the two most important muong in this district. Generally speaking, every remarkable tree, every mountain top, every remarkable rock, every mouth of a brook or river has its own spirit which is named and invited to the great sacrifice. Not until in the fourteenth verse there appears a prayer to le genie tutelaire of the district, the guardian, spirit of the district. It was he who first started to clear the district and who founded the first village. He is thought to live in a mountain northeast of Dien-Bien-Phu, and he is one of the most important spirits here.

It is, in other words, the sacral topography of the muong that is accounted for. This prayer to the phi muong is directed partly to the sky with its hierarchy of spirits, partly to those who govern the muong's - districts' - sacral geography and finally the founder of the village at the head of the other important deceased potentates in the history or mythology of the area.

I do not propose to expatiate on the various themes which occur in the prayer; I shall only point out certain traits which should be investigated and commented on in the future.

Much too little is known about what I would term "sacral topography", which certainly is of the greatest interest. For one thing, it can give an insight into the nature lore of the Tai, which in its turn could explain some things in the ritual action. Sometimes in ethnography one makes an analysis of a house and its parts and looks at it in relation to cosmology and to the society as a whole and in the same way one does this with the organization of tho whole village. (fn. .9) Therefore I suppose it would also be instructive if the closed administrative district were to be analysed in a similar. way. In China this has had a certain importance in geomancy where the conception of the landscape and its details are important. Every more or less public building such as a temple, palace, etc. was not planned nor placed in the landscape haphazardly but after certain rules of a magical nature.


9) See, H. A. Stein, note 18 below.

In China in recent times and also amongst the Viet-Namese geomancy has had added importance by using the compass. This division according to the compass points and other categories, when building a house, reaches far back in time; it is only during the last few centuries that it has developed into a kind of "science" or school systematized by Chinese scholars. (fn. 10) The village and the district often mirror their view of life and social structure.

The founder of the village is a concept which is very important in East Asia, appearing in Ancient China but also amongst many different peoples south of China. (fn. 11) This would also he an interesting field to investigate.

Ch'en Han-Seng in his paper on Frontier Land Systems in China treats of the Lu people in S. W. Yunnan, in the area around Cheli. (fn. 12) Like the Black Tai they also had a federation of twelve states called Sippsong panna, i.e. the twelve districts. Na means rice field in Tai but the word. panna, which is an old administrative unit, is probably equivalent to chau (fn. 13) Two of these states lie in Laotian territory while the others are in China.

According to Ch'en they lived in relative isolation from the Chinese, who first came into contact with them during the 14th century. "Closer relation between the two began only during the Ming dynasty." He regards them, moreover, as the least sinified, showing minimum evid.ence of Chinese political and social influence. They certainly were conquered, incorporated and had to pay tribute to the Mongols during the 13th century, when all Yunnan was incorporated with China. Despite this and the changes during the Ming era no essential changes were made in the old land system. Ch'en thus considers that "the original land system is still intact here. Chinese conquest, as far as the land west of the Mekong is concerned, is as yet incomplete. (fn. 14)

The only thing influenced was the court of the Tai king which at the time of Ch'en's investigation (1940) consisted of two hundred. and five officials divided into five ranks, apparently a close imitation of a feudalistic organization, probably of the Chinese Ming dynasty. (fn. 15)

Next to the king, whose title is Zao-pillin and who was living then in Xienghung, were four officials or ministers. There were eight in the second rank, sixteen in the third, eighteen in the fourth, and nine in the fifth rank. There were also one hundred and fifty pages. Down to the fifth rank they were all paid in land holdings.


10) Pierre Huard et Maurice Durand: Connaissance du Viet-Nam. Paris 1954. P. 70 seq.

11) Bernhard Karlgren: The book of Odes. Ode 250. Stockholm 1950.

12) Ch'en Han-Seng: Frontier Land Systems in Southernmost, China. (Institute of Pacific Relations, New York 1949.)

13) Op. cil., p. 4. Compare: Jean Hispaud: Les noms a elements numeraux des principautes Tai. (The Journal of the Siam Society. Bangkok 1937.)

14) Ch'en, op. cit., p. 15.

15) Ch'en, op.cit., pp.16 and 32.

Besides this there were five classes of Muong chiefs.

Apart from this superstructure we have an old feudal system. Within this the officials were paid by having the right to permanently utilize certain pieces of land. These were also inheritable. No private land really existed. That the land was communal in the olden days is indicated, according to Ch'en, by 1) common and collective ownership of land, fish ponds and of wood and forests, 2) collective labour directed to cultivation, hunting, fishing, lumbering, 3) corporate nature of the village in such matters as tribute payment and land tenancy.

In most villages the communal land of the village is redistributed each year by the village officers for cultivation, usually carried out according to households.

In certain villages one cultivates rice on dry land and there is no rent exacted from this land.

The land assigned to the officials as salary requires labour rent, i.e. the land requires cultivation by the villagers and all the harvest is taken by the official. Alternatively the rent can be paid in produce, being a portion of the whole harvest, but cultivation is distributed among a number of households. In the former case the village itself is a tenant, while in the latter not all villagers are tenants. In the latter case the land is cultivated by the entire village's labour power.

New cultivation can be started by anyone and for this no tribute is exacted for the first five years. But the cultivator has no rights of ownership over this land, only rights of use.

There was furthermore a group of officials in Cheli who were not commoners, i.e. they were exempt from paying tax. These are "elected and hereditary officials and their relatives" .

This organization has many parallels with that of the Black Tai, and it would be interesting to compare it with that of other Tai peoples.

Without going into details it is easy to see the similarities between Maspero's notes on the eastern Black Tai, my own notes and Ch'en's valuable information on the Lu in Sippsong panna within China. They obviously belong to the same form of organization. But according to Ch'en this feudal organization, at least all its court officials, was strongly influenced by the Chinese Imperial Court of the Ming dynasty.

There remains to describe the muong organization. A muong is a closed bounded area, governed partly by a temporal noble with all his officials and partly by spiritual potentates such as the phi-muong, i.e. the spirit of the area who governs it, together with a lot of other spirits representing special units in the muong's sacral topography. These are the units that are named in the prayer to the phi-muong. Added to these are the spirit of the village founder and the spirits of important deceased feudal nobles. Above all there is the spirit of the skies together with the special spirits. The muong is 'thus ruled by a high feudal lord and his functionaries and the land is owned by the feudal lord and the right of use (usufruct) is divided among the officials as salary. Those who arc not officials, on the other hand, must pay tax.

We know nothing about the kinship relations between the officials and the feudal lord of the muong, but Ch'en mentions that the highest officials belong to the lord's family or are married into it.

Unfortunately we know far too little about the family structure of the different Tai tribes and its relationship with the political structure. Most of the Tai people appear to have an ambilineal structure, and one would like to know whether the central lineage group could be the one from which the chief of the muong was taken and whether the nobility belonged to his family or kin. All these things are far from having been satisfactorily analysed.

In this connection the question may be raised whether the Tai organization and the Tai customs as a whole are Chinese. It is not uncommon to find that some authors simply refer certain things which are found among the southern Chinese people to China at large. Maspero (fn.16) certainly does not, but he points to obvious similarities between the Black Tai on the one hand and the data in ancient Chinese writings and documents on the other. Karlgren has, however, in his paper "Legends and Cults in Ancient China", given a critical survey of the documents concerning this period and shown that these similarities may be assigned to the latter part of the Chou dynasty. (fn. 17) During that time, but mainly in the Han dynasty, the Chinese had pushed southward and come into contact with the non-Chinese tribes in the Ch'u kingdom. There may therefore very well have been an influence from the southern peoples.

Revaluations have to be made, using the critically studied ancient Chinese text material as a starting point. It is not my intention to carry them out here; I only wish to point out certain facts in this connection.

R. A. Stein has written two very interesting articles in which he has investigated the relation between cosmology and the architecture of the Chinese house. (fn.18) When he compares thc details of the house, he keeps almost exclusively to the types of house found in North and Central Asia. He admits that he has not attempted any comparison with types further to the South. I hardly think that it is possible to prove any similarities with houses in these latter parts. The houses which show a resemblance to the ancient Chinese ones are thus mostly of an Arctic type. Stein maintains that there is also a resemblance between certain kinds of Chinese and North Asiatic shamanism. This would


16) H. Maspero, Legendes, op. cit.

17) Bernhard Karlgren: Legends and Cults in Ancient Chino.. (The Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Bull. No. 18, Stockholm 1946. Pp. 349 seq.)

18) R. A. Stein: L'habitat, Ie monde et Ie corps humain en Extr8me-Orient et en Haute-Asie. (Journal Asiatique, vol. 245. Paris, 1957.) R. A. Stein: Architecture et pensee religieuse en Extreme-Orient. (Arts Asiatiques, vol. 4. Paris 1957.)

imply that the oldest North Chinese culture is based upon an Arctic foundation. One may thus presume that when agriculture was first introduced in Northern China it occurred on an Arctic cultural basis. This primarily concerned the cultivation of various types of millet. Rice was hardly cultivated in this area, to judge from ancient Chinese documents. (fn.19) It must not be forgotten that in this area there was a rich supply of edihle plants to add to the food supply, besides an ample amount of game.2O) Without doubt it was possible to support a large num bel' of people on the fertile Chinese loess soil even with a relatively primitive method of agriculture.

In his book on fishing equipment in the South Seas B. Anell concludes: "One of the most interesting results of this study is the fact that the typical Melanesian fishing implements belong to the South Asiatic culture sphere of which Melanesia seems to constitute an easterly outpost. The implements typical of Polynesia and Micronesia, on the other hand, belong to the NorthEurasian fishing culture, except in those cases where they have a pure interOceanic distribution. ……. the Polynesian fishing implements have their closest parallels in north-eastern Asia, above all in Japan. Neolithic Japan seems to have constituted a south-eastern outpost of the widely diffused northern Eurasian fishing culture. (fn. 21)

But at the same time the Polynesians cultivated different kinds of yams and taro, which cannot grow in Northern China but only in tropical parts. The northern limit for their cultivation area stretches a good deal south of the Yangtse river but comes further north along the coast. (fn. 22) How they came to Polynesia and which way they came is still a problem. Did the Polynesians come from an area on the mainland where they both grew these tropical plants and at the same time used sub-arctic fishing equipment? As yet there is no answer to this question. What we can suppose is that both yams and taro could have been grown in the south before rice was cultivated in earnest. Hence, when the growing of rice began, the limits of cultivation could be extended considerably further north until it met the area of cultivation of the northern kinds of millet. It is quite possible that this extended area was formerly occupied for a long time by people who 111l1inly lived by hunting and fishing. Much of this argument depends on chronology, and Chinese archaeology is not yet far enough advanced for any conclusions to be reached. In the north agriculture was probably fully developed during the Yangshao period,23) but unfortunately the archaeology of the southern districts is not


19) Maspero. La societe et la religion, op. cU., P. 145.

20) Andre G. Haudricourt et Louis Hedin: L'Homme et les plantes cultivees. (Paris 1943. P. 149 seq.)

21) Bengt Anell: Contribution to the history of fishing in the Southern Seas. (Studio. Ethnographica. Upsaliensia IX. Uppsala 1955.)

22) I. H. Burkill, personal letter. Cf. Burkill. The rise and decline of the greater yam in the

service of man. (The Advancement of Science, vol. VII. No. 28. London 1951.)

23) Cheng Te-K'un: Archaeology in China. (Prehistoric China, vol. 1. Cambridge 1959. E.g. p.69.)

sufficiently advanced to supply any dating. According to the Russian investigator Vasiljeff, rice was probably first grown about the middle of the first millenium B.C, and was probably the very plant which united the two areas. (fn. 24)

Even if much of this is speculation one can, however, assume that there have been two separate and original areas of cultivation - one mainly milletgrowing in the north built on an Arctic basis and another one based on yams and taro in the south. In both these areas there were quite good means of supporting a large number of people in limited districts. Thus it is not unreasonable to suppose that a feudal organization was possible in both places Thus it is not so self-evident that the feudal organization of the Tai peoples is just an imitation of the North Chinese. It is difficult to compare these two, as one of them lives right up in the north and the other in the southernmost part of China. There is moreover a difference in time of about three thousand years in this comparison.

What I have pointed out may be regarded as a working hypothesis. We can suppose that the two cultivation areas were relatively independent of each other in the beginning; they first came into contact with each other later, either when the cultivation of rice was brought northwards or when the North Chinese pushed south. When they came into contact, one must not only assume that it was the Chinese who were the givers and the southern peoples the receivers. It is quite likely that the synthesis is not only in the sum of these two cultures but also something additional - a common result of such a fusion.

It is possible to find institutions and customs in southernmost China which do not occur in the north. Such things as ball games, tug-of-war and also the dragon boat festivals may be regarded as examples of a purely Southern nature. Ritual dances and competitive games between two opposing teams occur mainly in South China and still further south in Further India and Indonesia.

It might be interesting to investigate this tug-of-war motif in relation to the Spring festivals among the Tai people which often take place in caves. (fn. 25)

The tug-of-war between men and women has often been regarded as having a connection with fertility and would thus be a kind of phallus cult, This is possible, but for my part I prefer to think that the rope in the tug-of-war in some way represents a dragon or has to do with the dragon cult. Are the caves the dragon's dwellings1 This monster is the symbol of rain, and hence also fertility, it is the women's task to pull out this dragon so that agriculture can begin, The rain time is also governed by yin, the female principle.

Frogs are likewise connected with rain, if we dare point to certain customs amongst the Viet-Namese in which certain rites take place in caves in order


24) L. S. Vasiljeff, under Miscellanea in Anthropos, vol. 56, 1961, p. 288-289, and Cheng Te-K'un, Archaeology in China, vol. II, Shang China, Cambridge 1960, p. 197.

25) Leopold Cadiere: Croyances et pratiques religieuses des Vietnamiens. Vol. II, p. 269. Saigon 1954.

to produce rain. (fn. 26) I do not intend to investigate this problem here but only to suggest some possibilities to those who are interested in taking them up for further research. It might be of interest to place the ball game and the dragon boat festivals in a social setting. The same might be attempted with many other customs showing the particular characteristics of the Southern Chinese or rather South East Asian cultures, which so far have received all too little attention from ethnographers. Just as well as one can show similarities between North and South China, I feel that it would be of value to investigate the differences between these areas, above all their social organization.

This does not mean that great similarities do not exist. Maspero mentions in his paper on legends and myths in the Chou dynasty that certain Chinese clan names and heroes were adopted by the barbarian kings in the neighbourhood. (fn. 27) This is obviously an imitation of an organization which is considered to have a higher status, a phenomenon analogous to the Tai tribes' imitation of the court of the Ming emperor. A similar process may be observed in the highlands of Burma amongst the Kachin, where the feudal organization of the Shan princes was imitated by a people whose social structure is unilinear and democratic. There has arisen a new product, gumsa, between the old gumlao society and the Shan feudal structure, a fact elegantly demonstrated by Leach. (fn. 28) A similar process occurs in many other places where two different types of society come into contact, not least in the Africa of to-day. (fn. 29)

It is surely possible to trace other similarities or certain features possessed in common in North and South China, however these may have to be explained. One example is the theme of the village founder which occurs over large parts of East Asia. But this is not something to be explained by diffusionism, but a phenomenon to be investigated by modern structural methods. Amongst the Black Tai special sacrifices and prayers are made to the village founder and this idea is common amongst many different tribes in South East Asia.

In any case, we are undoubtedly dealing with two different cultural areas in China, and strictly speaking this is not very remarkable since this difference is dependent on the geography and exists even to day. If one wants to understand the Chinese society in its many aspects one must not limit oneself to Northern China and the oldest documents, since in the various epochs of China's history (what we now mean by China) the diverse areas have in turn influenced the development of this remarkable and many-faceted Chinese civilization.

In order to understand this, it is absolutely necessary to take into consideration the whole of South China, not only the Chinese element in its population but also the non-Chinese minorities. Unfortunately these peoples are all too little known. Field work according to modern methods has been scarce.


26) Maspero, Legendes, op. cit., p. 78 seq., p. 82 seq.

27) E. R. Leach: Political Systems of Highland Burma. (London 1954.)

28} Op. cit.

29) A. Southall: Social Change in Modem Africa. (London 1961.)

There is a great task here awaiting modern ethnography. To begin with one could collect all the material available into a handbook, from both Chinese and European sources. With such material as a starting point it would be possible to make some progress. Such a handbook demands cooperation, not only from the Chinese ethnographers but from all ethnographers interested in this area - a work passing the borders of nationalities. It cannot be denied that we do need a reference book for this area on the same lines as the one which is now under publication about. Africa, Ethnographic Survey of Africa, or that published about South America, Handbook of South American Indians. This would to a great extent further the studies of South China and neighbouring areas and above all it would be of great help to all those who are interested in the Far Eastern cultures and their various manifestations. What is mainly needed, however, is field work with modern ethnographical methods.

Above all, this would elucidate important social relationships by placing the different concepts into the social system. We would then not have to attempt the establishment, as in the present paper, of a regional division on very vague grounds. Even if they are based on hypotheses, however, such regional divisions have necessarily to be surmised, at the outset in order to find out which ways research has to be directed.

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