Blang ethnic group

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Population: 91,882

Major area of distribution: Yunnan

Language: Blang

Religion: Buddhism

Blang ethnic group
The Blang people, numbering 91,882, live mainly in Mt. Blang, Xiding and Bada areas of Menghai County in the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture in southwestern Yunnan Province. There are also scattered Blang communities in the neighboring Lincang and Simao prefectures. All the Blangs inhabit mountainous areas 1,500-2,000 meters above sea level. The Blangs in Xishuangbanna have always lived harmoniously with their neighbors of both the other minority ethnic groups and the majority Han.

The Blang people inhabit an area with a warm climate, plentiful rainfall, fertile soil and rich natural resources. The main cash crops are cotton, sugar-cane and the world famous Pu'er tea. In the dense virgin forests grow various valuable trees, and valued medicinal herbs such as pseudoginseng, rauwolfia verticillata (used for lowering high blood pressure) and lemongrass, from which a high-grade fragrance can be extracted. The area abounds in copper, iron, sulfur and rock crystal.

The Blangs speak a language belonging to the South Asian language family. The language does not have a written form, but Blangs often know the Dai, Va and Han languages.

According to historical records, an ancient tribe called the "Pu" were the earliest inhabitants of the Lancang and Nujiang river valleys. These people may have been the ancestors of today's Blangs.

The Blangs in Xishuangbanna area believed in Hinayana Buddhism, as a result of the influence of the Dai tribe. The Blangs' Buddhist temples and social systems were similar to those of the Dais.

Blang men wear collarless jackets with buttons down the front and loose black trousers. They wear turbans of black or white cloth. Men have the tradition of tattooing their limbs, chests and bellies. Blang women, like their Dai sisters, wear tight collarless jackets and tight striped or black skirts. They tie their hair into a bun and cover it with layers of cloth.

Their staple diet consists of rice, maize and beans. They prefer their food sour and hot. Drinking home-brewed wine and smoking tobacco are their main pastimes. Blang women like chewing betel nut and regard teeth dyed black with betel-nut juice as beautiful.

The Blangs live in two-storied balustraded bamboo houses. The ground floor is for keeping domestic animals and storing stone mortars used for hulling rice. The upper floor is the living quarters, and in the middle of the main room is a fireplace for cooking, heating and light. When a family builds a house, nearly all the grown-ups in the village offer help, completing the project in two or three days.

The Blang ethnic group has a rich store of folk tales and ballads transmitted orally. Their songs and dances show the strong influence of their Dai neighbors. Elephant-leg drums, cymbals and three-stringed plucked instruments provide musical accompaniment for dancing. People in the Blang Mountain area revel in their energetic "knife dance." Young people like a courting dance called the "circle dance." For the Blangs in the Mujiang area, New Year's Day and weddings are occasions for dancing and singing, often lasting the whole night.

The Blangs seek spouses outside their own clans and practice monogamy. With a few exceptions, mainly parental interference, young Blangs are fairly free to choose marriage partners.

The death of a person is followed by scripture chanting by Buddhist monks or shamans to "dispel the devil," and the funeral is held within three days. Each village generally has a common cemetery divided according to clans or people having the same surnames. The dead are buried in the ground except for those dying a violent death, who are cremated.

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