JINGPO ETHNIC GROUP
Kachin fighter in WW2
The Jingpo is the name of a minority that lives in Yunnan Province along the northeast border of Myanmar. There are also large numbers of them in Myanmar where they are known as the Kachin. The are also some in Assam, India where they are known as the Singhpo. In China the live almost exclusively in Yunnan on the slopes of mountains between 1,470 meters and 1,980 meters in the Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture, a region filled with monsoon rain forests and dominated by the Gaoling Mountains and Daying and Ruili Rivers .
The Jingpo is also known as the Acha, Aji, Atsa, Chasham Dashan, Jinghpaw, Kang, Lachi, Lalang, Langshu, Langwo, Lashi, Maru, Shidong, Xiaoshan, Zaiwa. A 1990 census counted 119,000 of them in China. They live mostly in Dehong Dai and Jingpo autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province. There is no good figure on their numbers in Myanmar but it estimated that there are more than a million of them there.
There are four main Jingpo subgroups: 1) the Jingpo (Jinghpaw in Myanmar); 2) Zaiwa; 3) Lachi; and 4) Langwo, with the Zaiwa and Jingpo being the major two. The 1990 census counted around 70,000 Zaiwa in China.
The Jingpo speak a Sino-Tibetan language and have their own written language. There are a number of dialects. Some linguists assert that the Jingpo and Zaiwa dialects are different enough to qualify as different languages. Their written language is not used much anymore. Few people speak the native language in China anymore.
Sources on Individual Ethnic Minorities in China: (click the ethnic group you want) Ethnic China (very good site with good academic articles) ethnic-china.com ; Cultural China (site with nice photos) cultural-china.com ; China Travel chinatravel.com ; Wikipedia List of Ethnic Minorities in China Wikipedia ; Travel China Guide travelchinaguide.com ; China.org (government source) china.org.cn ; OMF international (a Christian group) omf.org ; People’s Daily (government source) peopledaily.com.cn ; Ethnic Publishing House (government source)e56.com.cn ; Paul Noll site` paulnoll.com ; China Highlights (on some groups) China Highlights
Sources on Ethnic Minorities in China: Book on Chinese Minorities stanford.edu ; Chinese Government Law on Minorities china.org.cn ; Minority Rights minorityrights.org ; Minority Travel: China Trekking (click under Minority Towns) China Trekking ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; New York Times Interactive Map nytimes.com ; Ethnic Groups in China (Chinese government site) chinaethnicgroups.com
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History of the Jingpo and Kachin
The origin of the Jingpo is a matter of some debate. It is widely believed that they originated in the southern part of the Tibetan Plateau around the sources of the Irrawaddy, Mekong, Yangtze and Salween Rivers and began slowly migrating southward along the aforementioned rivers about 1,500 years ago into the northeastern part of Yunnan in areas west of the Nujiang River. In the 16th century they moved in large numbers to te thickly forested Dehog area. Many settled along the Burma border because there were lucrative jade mines there.
Kachin and Aung San
The first solid records of the Jingpo date back to the Tang dynasty (618-907). They became incorporated into China after the Mongols conquered Burma in the 12th century. After that the Jingpo were largely under the control of Dai overlords in accordance with the Chinese tusi system.
During World War II the Kachin earned high marks as fighters. They were skillful ambushers and had a cruel streak. They cut off the ears of the Japanese they killed as trophies. Their territory remained largely unoccupied by the Japanese. The Jingpo Autonomous Region was created in 1953 in southwestern Yunnan Province.
Jingpo and Kachin Religion
Jingpo believe is spirits, called nats, which they believe are superior to human beings and were once human beings themselves. There are lots of spirits. They are everywhere, and individual villages and clans have their own ones. They can bring good fortune or troubles and must be constantly thanked and appeased. Illnesses were believed to be caused by nat bites.
Kachin and Aung San Suu Kyi
Important deities include the Sky Nats who are children of the Creator. They include Madai Nat, the youngest sky nat, who can only be invoked by chiefs; Jan Nat, the female sun spirit; Ningawn-wa, the creator of the earth; and Madai Nat, the wife of the first Kachin aristocrat.
Shamanism is still practiced by the Jingpo. The Jingpo have part-time religious specialists called dumsas. They treat illnesses and other problems by identifying the nat that causes the trouble and determining the correct way to appease it. Dumsas are graded in terms of their perceived effectiveness by the public. In some ways the rankings are like those of priests, bishops and archbishops. There are also dumsa that specialize in certain kinds of nats, mediums, diviners, and prophets that specialize in certain kinds of religious practices such as sending souls. The latter are often female shaman, who go into trances when they do their work.
Many Kanchin are Christians. There is some tension between Catholic and Protestant groups.
Jingpo and Kachin Funerals
The Jingpo believe that men have six souls and women have seven. Of these three are “real” and the others are “false.” If the real souls are absent a person dies. After death the real souls join the nat world. Dying a natural death at home is considered good while dying in an accident away from home ir regarded as bad, and likely caused by evil spirits.
The Jingpo believe that some deaths are caused when spirits lure the soul away for the body and it can not be returned in time and the chord that binds the creator to an individual is eaten away by nats.
Funerals for a natural death at home involve burial and spirt sending. The spiritsending often necessitates the sacrifice of a buffalo and the placements of its skull at the grave. If spirits sending isn’t done, the Jingpo believe, the spirit will roam and cause trouble.
After death the family altar is removed from the house. Burial takes place a week after death to make sure that separation of the deceased’s soul from the world is complete. A priest presides over this process, making offerings to the soul to assist it on its journey to the next world. During a final ceremony a priest rouses the soul from temporary limbo and sends it to the land of the dead. Afterwards a divination ritual is held to make sure the soul has departed. If it hasn’t it will be installed in the family altar which is returned to the house.
The basis of many Jingpo rituals is making sacrifices to the nats. Each village has dumsas that are in charge of such rituals. Two communal rituals, the numshang offerings, are performed each year, in April and in October, by most Jingpo villages. The rites are connected with a good planting season and a good harvest. There are ceremonies at other times that honor ancestors. Villages and individuals have their own nat observations.
In the Kachin region nat festivals known as manaus involve sacrificing large numbers of animals. Those in attendance wear their most beautiful and colorful costumes. In a large gathering 29 water buffalo may be sacrificed—one buffalo for each of the 28 nats honored and one for all the nats together. Before the sacrifice offerings of rice, eggs and wine placed in bamboo tubes are made. The buffalo is then ritually slaughtered, and its skull and horns are placed on a X-shaped pole. To the music of gongs and flutes the participants do a snake dance around the pole with the buffalo skull, as well as around nat poles which are reminiscent of totem poles. During the snake dance, which is led by chiefs wearing feathered head dresses, the dancers often go into trances.
The Jingpo love to sing and dance and have a good time. They are friendly and generous. Munao is a massive festival held in the middle of the first lunar month, on an even-numbered day. Munao means “everybody dances.”
Jingpo Marriage and Family
The Jingpo marry outside their clan or village. The most preferable match for a man to marry his mother’s brother’s daughter, or a match that brings two lineages together in an alliance. In many cases if such a match is not made fines have to be paid to the mother’s brother. Traditionally, after a marriage occurs the wife returns to live with her family until the first child is born.
Young people are quite free to flirt and date. Premarital sex is common. Many villages have a “public house” were adolescents can go and have sex. Young people have traditionally gathered here for singing, recitation of love poetry and lovemaking. Couples involved in trysts were not required to get married but a girl’s family could get fined if the girl got pregnant.
Marriages however are more serious and usually arranged. The groom’s family is required to pay a bride price, usually in the form of buffalo, cattle, horses, gongs and/or palajing (a kind of silk or nylon scarf). The amount is determined by the number of relatives the bride has. In return, the bride’s family gives a gift to the son, often a spear, knife or sword, and preferably a gun worth half the value of the bride price. Bride price negotiations can be complex and often involves go-between. Sometimes the bride price is paid out over several years. If the groom’s family can not come up with the full amount, the groom may spend several years doing bride service.
Types of Jingpo Marriages
The are four ways a Jingpo man takes a wife: 1) wife stealing, a popular method involving the staged theft of the bride and consent by both families to the marriage; 2) wife engaging, in which couple enter an arranged marriage when they are young and get married when they are older; 3) wife snatching, in which a man abducts a girl who refuses his love and marries her; and 4) wife seizing, in which a man has relations with another man’s wife or fiancé and marries her.
Polygyny is rare but occurs. Some chiefs have multiple wives. Sometimes the brother of a deceased man takes the dead man’s wife as his own. Divorce is uncommon but when it does occur the bride usually has to pay back the bride price.
Most couples live with the groom’s family but it is not that uncommon for couples to move in with the bride’s parents. The youngest son is expected to live with the parents and take care of them in old age. In return he inherit the family’s property. Sons and daughters are treated equally. Jingpo parents never beat their children. Children are encouraged to attend Chinese school but most drop out by the time they attend middle school.
Society is organized along patrilineal lines with each family belonging to a clan, which have a hierarchal rank, and they in turn are broken into lineages, which also have a rank based on closeness to the common ancestor. People have traditionally been divided into two classes—commoners and aristocrats—often based on the clan in which one is born or marries into.
Chiefs were often hereditary. They traditionally oversaw some ceremonies, were responsible for reciting genealogical myths and took tribute of the hind quarters of killed animals but had little say in how land was used and other matters. In China, the chief system was largely terminated by the Communists. In Myanmar, it is still alive in some places but has been rejected in favor of a more egalitarian system in others.
Men tend to do heavy work such as plowing, slashing and burning, hunting and watering the paddy fields. Women do weaving weeding, harvesting, carrying and processing crops, gathering wild fruits and vegetables, and household chores. Both men and women cook and sell stuff in the markets.
Disputes are usually settled with the help of chiefs and village elders. For those involving adultery or other sex scandals, the perpetrators were often required to “face wash” by sacrificing cattle. In matters such as theft or failure to pay a debt it was quite acceptable for the victim to steal cattle from the perpetrator.
Jingpo Villages and Homes
Jingpo in China tend to live in small villages with around 20 households in areas where they can practice terraced rice farming and use ridge tops as walking paths. Jingo houses are raised about 1 meter off the ground and have thatch roofs, wood frames and floors and walls made from mats composed of split bamboo. A house usually has five rooms, each with a fireplace at the center. As a rule the up slope room is reserved for spirits. It is empty except for a bamboo alter along the side wall. The center room usually serves as a kitchen. Some families have sheds for water buffalo.
Kachin in Myanmar tend to live in villages with less than 100 households and have a sacred grove marked by pots, intended to attract good fortune from the gods, and shrines, where community sacrifices are held. In the old days, large villages were often stockaded for protection. Villages with a strong hereditary chief had longhouses, up to 30 meters long and 10 meters wide, where the chief lived with his large extended family
Kachin houses are like the Jingpo houses. Each house has a granary. Chores such as weaving and pounding rice are done under an overhanging front gable. Under the house is an area for animals. The up slope rooms are used for sleeping while the downslope ones are left open for cooking, storage and entertainment.
At the end of the living area is a space for household and ancestor spirits. At the front of the house are alters and X-shaped posts on which cattle are bound when they are sacrificed. The skulls and horns of water buffalo are hung on the walls of bamboo houses for exorcism purposes and as reminder of buffalos which have worked for their families.
Houses of important people have a hornlike-ornament at the front of the roof peak. Chief’s homes have the head of a sacrifices buffalo displayed with harvest boards and posts that signify claims of authority and linkage to the spiritual world.
Many Kachin eat rice with vegetable stew three times a day, sometimes meat or fish. They generally don’t eat the meat of goats, sheep, monkeys, horses, dogs and cat. The Kachin chew betel nut and tobacco and sometimes smoke opium. Rice is used to make beer and a distilled liquor.
Jingpo literature includes folk tales, legends and ballads. Many of them are a kind or oral history about chiefs passed down from generation to generation. Love songs are popular among young people.
Women wear long tight-fitting skirts. Women use belt looms to produce cloth with floral-geometric designs. Kachin men mainly wear Shan-style and Western clothes. At festivals many young Jingpo males wear white turbans while older men favor black turbans.
In Myanmar, the Kachin wear a traditional costume consisting of a black shirt, edged with a red panel tied around the waist with a blue sash. Sometimes black, long-sleeve jackets are worn over white and black blouses with numerous strings of small red, blue and yellow beads covering the chest..
Many Kachin wear tall black hats with circular silver earrings and gaiters that reach from the knee to the ankle. In some places, women wear bright red skirts with a yellow border, fastened around the hips with a cane belt. Over a black jacket is a huge collar made of silver disks, which cover the shoulders, chest and upper part of the back. Ball-like silver ornaments and silver fringe hang from the collar. This worn with matching gaiters and sandals.
The Lashi wear a similar costume but in blue and white with blue turbans and red bead necklaces. Jinghpaw women are famous for wearing dozens of silver-globule medallions arranged across the front of and shoulders of their blouses.
Traditionally, Jingpo and Kachin have been subsistence farmers and have had no other jobs or specialized skills other than making earthenware and weaving mats, baskets and house walls from bamboo, cane and grass. Pottery, tools and metal objects are obtained from the Shan or Chinese.
Cattle, buffalo, pigs dogs and chickens have traditionally been raised for sacrifices but not for selling or eating. Pigs are fed mash in the evening and left to scavenge in the day. Some hunting is done with pellets, bows and guns. Fishing has traditionally been done with traps and poison
The Jingpo get most products they need from state stores or markets. In most cases they trade or use money earned from the agricultural product they grow. They also collect some forest products such as mushrooms, fruits and herbal medicines. They are not known as being traders or peddlers but they do earn money from cross border trade and smuggling between China and Myanmar.
Kachin involvement in the opium trade is a matter of some dispute. Opium poppies were cultivated in Kachin areas but it was believed to have been done mostly by non-Kachin groups. It is assumed that chiefs earn money from opium carried across their territory.
The Jingpo and Kachin practice both terraced and slash and burn agriculture. Wet rice is grown in the terraces and dry rice and other crops are grown and slopes that have been slashed and burned. Water buffalo are used as plow animals for wet rice. Slash and burn farmers traditionally used heavy-handled hoes to break the soil, sticks to make holes for planting and knives and sickles for harvesting.
The Jingpo and Kachin have traditionally prepared their fields in March, planted before the summer monsoons and harvested in October. Grain is threshed under the hooves of buffalo and stored in granaries. In the old days when slash and burn agriculture was mainly practiced the forest and farm lands were collectively owned. In China, farmers now largely operate under a contract system with the state owning the land and farmers cultivating it in return for paying taxes or turning over part of their harvest to the state. In Myanmar, chiefs decide who cultivates the slash-and-burn agricultural land. Irrigated land is often privately owned and can be inherited.
The Jingpo and Kachin raise a large variety of crops including maize, buckwheat, sesame, millet, tobacco, soybeans, beans, cucumbers, wax gourds, and various kinds of pumpkins. Vegetables and fruits are grown in household gardens. Opium used to be grown for money but now grow cotton and sugar cane are their primary cash cropa.
Kachin ladies dance
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated April 2010
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