Ma Guai Festival of Zhuang Ethnic Group

Frog totem and “Ma Guai Festival”

As many other nationalities, the Zhuang people also have totems, worshipping the sun, the moon, the stars, thunder and light, crocodiles, snakes, dogs, cattle, tigers, banyans, bamboos and ceibas. Frogs are also one of their totems.

Frogs were the original totems of the Ou tribe, which was the ancestors of the Zhuang people and later become the patron gods for Xi’ou people during the Spring and Autumn Period. Even up to now, some Zhuang people still consider frog as divinity, believing that it is “Prince of the Thunder King” and is dispatched to the world as an angel. Therefore many bronze drums with three-dimensional frogs made by the ancient Zhuang people were founded today and in areas like Donglan, Bama, Tian’e and Fengshan, sacrificing ceremony for frogs, ie. “Ma Guai Festival” is still preserved.

“Ma Guai” is a local dialect, referring to “frog”. “Ma Guai Festival”, which is also called “Frog Festival”, “Frog-Reverence Festival” and “Granny Frog Festival”, is held in the first month of the lunar year. In the early morning of the first day in the first month of the lunar year, people go to the fields, looking through the grass and turning up rocks for hibernating frogs. The first one who can find out a frog is addressed respectfully as “Ma Guai man”(“son-in-law of the goddess”) and will become the headman of the festival. Then people take the frog back to the village, put it in a “precious coffin”(a section of the thick bamboo) and then put the precious coffin in a “flower house”(a colorful litter) and at last send it to “Ma Guai Ting”(a pavilion). From that day till the 25th of that month, the children carry the precious coffin in the flower house, go door to door and sing the ancient Ma Guai song in the daytime. At night, all the villagers gather in the pavilion to keep vigil beside the coffin of Ma Guai. After the 25th of that month, people begin to bury Ma Guai.

Before the ceremony, people will open last year’s Ma Guai coffin to detect its body. If it is black or gray, people regard it as a bad sign of harvest and will hold a censing ceremony and bow in salute, hoping that Ma Guai would do them a favor after it goes to heaven. If the body is golden, people think a good harvest is about to come and will burst in jubilation by knocking on bronze drums and playing fireworks. After Ma Guai is buried, the Ma Guai man will invite senior members of each household to a gathering to celebrate that Ma Guai has gone to heaven. At night all the villagers will hold a spree by singing and dancing overnight to celebrate the conclusion of Ma Guai Festival.