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Sanya fights to preserve its cultural heritage

Sanya’s cultural heritage goes back centuries and the place is rich in ancient traditions

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 July, 2017, 12:56pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 July, 2017, 12:56pm

Sanya’s intangible cultural heritage goes back centuries and can be found in the customs and ceremonies of the local minorities. Sanya city has listed 10 customs that qualify as intangible cultural heritage and must be protected.

Local Yazhou FolkSongs and the Li minority Firewood-gathering Dance are approved examples of national level intangible cultural heritage. The Li minority Oral Traditions, the Legends of the Conch Shell Maiden, the traditional Hui Minority wedding ceremony, Li minority textile and embroidery art, Dan minority fishing songs, Li minority pottery traditions, and the Royal Dance of the Miao minority are all provincial level. The traditional Li wood-drilling fire-making technique is a municipal level cultural treasure.

Yazhou translates into “cliff region” and corresponds to an ancient kingdom along the Hainan coast. The songs from the cliffs include odes to the history and culture of the area as well as ancient legends, love stories, and history as song of the social fabric of Sanya and Hainan Island. As such, the Yazhou Folk Songs are an invaluable resource for understanding the history and personality of the people of Hainan.

For the Li, the Firewood-gathering Dance is a ceremony to honour the dead, drive out demons, and deal with the everyday trauma of life. The dance is performed with two parallel bamboo poles and a series of perpendicular bamboo poles knocked together in a rhythm. Dancers hop and skip their way through the poles, dancing and jumping back and forth in groups of ones, twos and threes.

The other cultural treasures of the region are symbolic of the diverse peoples that have immigrated over the centuries. The Li themselves came from the mainland, as did the Miao minority – whose Royal Dance is an emblematic ceremony showcasing the culture and society of the Miao, as well as their distinctive traditional dress.

They in turn were followed by the Hakka, most likely ethnic Cantonese or perhaps northern Chinese, who slowly made their way south and across the seas. The Hakka tribes came together to create the Yazhou Folk tradition. The Dan and Hui Muslim people also contribute to the fabric of Hainan society, with their fishing chants and traditional wedding ceremonies.

Not only are dances and songs an important way to preserve cultural identity, so are the products and crafts. Li brocades and pottery are protected and promoted by the local government. Villages such as Heitu in the Tianya district of Sanya serve as focal points for the arts and crafts, where the skills are refined, demonstrated and passed on.

One of the more curious of Sanya’s cultural treasures is the wood-drilling fire-making technique of the Li people. The custom is basically the way people made fires before the advent of matches and lighters. Although a simple, and once commonplace activity, the fact that the municipal government and visitors recognise the technique as important speaks to the desire for simpler times, when even the most basic of needs required work and co-operation to fulfil.

Protecting these customs and handicrafts ensures that the varied and colourful identity of Hainan Island remains in tact. Nothing can be more important as the region undergoes tremendous economic growth and change, which presents great opportunities for the local people, but also challenges in maintaining their sense of who they are in the fast-paced modern world.