Dong's Bonfire Party in Huaihua
The Bonfire Party is a major event of Dong Ethnic Minority in Huaihua.We were fortunate enough to be invited to a long-table banquet put on by locals, one of the type held only on festive occasions. There is a story celebrating this festive occasion. It is said that when the famous Dong hero Wu Mian passed through a Dong village with his rebel troops, many of the village girls, in the spirit of hospitality, invited the hero to have dinner with them and their family members. As the hero hesitated, reluctant to reject any of these kind offers, one bright girl proposed that a long table be set up, and that each family should bring over its best dish. Thus all the families could both treat their hero and have the honor of dining with him. This tradition has carried on through the generations.
In line with the local custom, we visitors were asked to sit with the locals along the table. Opposite us sat some Dong girls and one young man from the Huaihua area dressed in the costumes they wore as members of a cultural performance troupe. To start the party, we all stood up, and sang a wine song, holding hands with the people on either our side. Those who did not feel confident at singing could nevertheless barely restrain themselves from dancing to the rhythm of the song. Everyone then emptied their cup of its cool, sweet wine, and the girls poured wine to the visitors one by one, singing a local melody. Some visitors had no alternative but to drink seven cups, since they found it difficult to refuse the local hospitality. I met one visitor who, apparently having no liking for alcohol, sneaked away, and stood on the periphery, enjoying the revelry from a safe distance.
The most favored local dishes are salted meat and salted fish, and are particularly delicious as they are made according to local methods originating from the Song Dynasty. The salted meat and fish are prepared three or five years in advance, the longest period being 30 to 40 years. As the banquet drew to its close, the Dong girls and young men sang us a farewell song.
That evening, we went to watch song and dance performances on spacious open ground where a bonfire brightly burned. The performers were all young Dong girls and men, who, after attending specialized training schools, gave a highly professional performance. Their songs and dances left with us an unforgettable memory of our trip to Huaihua.