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article selected from Travel China weekly

The Chabai Songfest in southwestern Guizhou Province lasts for three days, from the 21st to 23rd of the sixth lunar month each year (August 12 to 14 in 1998). This year, the festival is held in Chabai Village in the suburbs of Xingyi City, which is located in the province's Qianxinan Bouyei and Miao Autonomous Prefecture. Its large scale will attract many other ethnic groups from neighboring Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Yunnan Province.

The village is 26 kilometers from Xingyi City proper, and the gala is held on a flatland measuring 2.5 kilometers long and one kilometer wide in the heart of the village. The songfest originated from a beautiful and moving legend about the Bouyei people. In ancient times, the area was called Hubachang because it was frequented by tigers. One day, Baimei, a pretty and diligent Bouyei girl, came across a tiger on her way to the mountains to cut firewood. At the critical moment, Chalang, a valiant Bouyei young man, showed up and beat the tiger to death, saving the girl's life. In the end, they got married.

Unfortunately, the head of Baiyan Village where Chalang lived, framed the young man, kidnapped Baimei, and forced her to be his wife. Baimei set fire on his house, and burned herself to death.

Typical Bouyei women at the songfest

Local people changed Hubachang to Chabaichang with first two characters taken from the young couple's name to commemorate them, and gathered there to sing mountain songs every 21st day of the sixth lunar month. When the traditional ceremony took root, it eventually became a festival. Celebratory activities have been gradually enriched, with locals constructing a platform and repairing highways leading to Chabai Village. In May 1982, the 21st day of sixth lunar month was formally designated as Chabai Songfest, a festive day to show unity of various ethnic groups in southwestern Guizhou Province.

Whenever the festival is approaching, local people in the nearby villages busy themselves with preparations. The elders make bean curd and various kinds of other food. Each of girls prepares small embroidered bags (for carrying money and odds and ends) for the person with whom the girl falls in love as a souvenir of engagement. Young men try to select good bracelets, necklaces as gifts for their beloved. Children put on new clothes and new hats for the festivity.

Included in the celebration are song competitions, antiphonal singing of mountain songs, and visiting friends and relatives. Many visitors have made friends with locals during this occasion. Some of the villagers receive several dozens or even a hundred guests coming from far away. They usually prepare beef soup, a typical flavor, to entertain them.

Antiphonal singing is lively and more competitive as the participants are noted for singing various love songs. The song competition is often carried on till the daybreak ass it is hard to decide who is the best winner.

A ceremony of worshipping the Mountain God is also held, while the Bouyei people are singing and dancing to pray for a prosperous life.

Now, the songfest has become a tourism occasion, luring more and more overseas and domestic visitors to Chabai Village with the good opportunity to learn more about local folklore.




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