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Torch Festival of the Yi Ethnic Minority


The ethnic minorities in Yunnan such as the Yi, Bai, Naxi, Hani, Lisu, Lahu and Pumi have a common festival – the Torch Festival. The Torch Festival of the Yi features the largest number of participants, with bright burning flames and torches. The Torch Festival is the grandest festival of the Yi people.


In ancient times, the Torch Festival was called Xinghui Festival. Different ethnic minorities had different sayings on the origin of the festival. For the Naxi, the festival commemorates a general from heaven who died in order to protect people’s grain harvests; the Lisu people think the festival was for welcoming Zhuge Liang’s expedition to the south, and the torch was to drive away the diseases and beasts on the way forward; the Yi people celebrate the festival to eradicate insect swarms and celebrate a good harvest; while the Sani people, a branch of the Yi ethnic group, believe that the festival is held to commemorate a Sani hero who burned the fiend with a goat horn. The fiend used to bully Sani people.

In order to eliminate insects and celebrate good harvest, on the 24th to the 25th days of the sixth month of Chinese lunar calendar (July 8-9), all the Yi people, wearing their festival suits, play Yu-kin musical instruments and the great three-stringed instrument to participate in Torch Festival.


During the day, people drink liquor to celebrate the festival and take part in wrestling and bullfighting activities. In Wuding and Luquan Counties, the Yi also have activities such as archery, horse racing and swinging . At night, everyone lights a torch that is 2 meters long and 20-30 cm in diameter, which are made of dry pine sticks. Holding the torch high, they gather in front of their villages or near the village square. Then, they run in the pine forests and on the farmland to drive away insects and evil spirits, and pray for a good harvest.

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