Flying Birds Festival of Maonan Ethnic Group

Among numerous customs of the Maonan nationality, “flying birds” on January 15 of the lunar year is the most characteristic and interesting one. A legend goes with it that there is an old Master in the countryside of Maonan Mountain. He has only one daughter, who is clever, deft and beautiful. She is good at weaving one hundred birds with the thin bamboo strips and calamus leaves, and thus she is called “the girl of little bird”. She and a guy love each other, and plan to get married on the lunar New Year’s Day. The old Master wants to test the ability of his future son-in-law. On the New Year’s Eve, he asks the young guy to scatter seeds all over the land on the mountain before it is getting dark.

The seeds of grain should have been scattered, but the guy is so worried and anxious that he spreads the glutinous seed of rice by mistake. The old Master orders him to pick up all the seeds, so as not to ravage. It has baffled the guy. Seeing this, the girl tells her fiance to go back home for one hundred birds weaved by them in the past, and pack them into a basket. The girl blows towards one hundred birds, and whispers some secret words to the guy. The guy takes one hundred birds to the mountain; these birds fly out and get all seeds back quickly. The guy cast the grain seeds again before it is dark. The old Master is glad to see that, and says: “Let us two, father and daughter, celebrate the New Year and reunion happily, and then I will send my girl to you for the wedding on January 15th. From then on, there is a custom of “flying birds”.

When the Spring Festival is around the corner, every household picks the good calamus leaves in advance. On the New Year’s Eve, they weave one hundred birds with calamus leaves, put the dunked fragrant glutinous rice, beans and sesame fillings into the empty stomachs of the birds, and have them steamed or boiled. Next, they fasten the birds onto a long sugarcane with a rope, and hang them in front of the burning incense in the central room. The birds include partridge, pheasant, swallow, cormorant, babbler and so on. On that day, every child at home is given one “bird” to satisfy his craving for good food; the women who are married and have given birth to children should go back to their parents’ home for “birds”, with the hope that the children will grow lively and lovely.

In front of the burning incense’s hall, the offerings should also be laid, including red rice and fruits, wishing one hundred birds don’t eat crops, and guarantee good fortune of another harvest year. Then on January 15, “one hundred birds” are taken down as their meal, which is called “flying birds.” When “flying birds”, Maonan people will always not forget to recall the legend. According to some scholars, this custom may originate from Bird totem worship of the Maonan ancestors.