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The Torch Festival falls between 24th day to the 26 day of the sixth lunar month. It is a shared traditional festival of the Yi, Naxi, and Bai peoples in southwestern China.
The Torch Festival is an influential event to the Yi, such as is the Spring Festival for the Han people. For three days, men and women, young and old, carry flaming torches and engage in a variety of activities. The Festival also presents a good opportunity for young men and women to meet their prospective spouses.
During the Festival, torches are erected in front of every household, and a pile of faggots several meters high is erected in the center of a square. When night falls and gongs and horns are sounded, people of all ages come forward to ignite the faggot pile. Cheerful flames leap up to the sky, crackling and spluttering. Shouts of joy together with the sound of the gongs and drums create a sea of rejoicing.
Men and women in pairs form rows facing one another on a patch of grass. The men play three-stringed instruments while the women kick and clap to the tempo. Snack vendors take full advantage of the occasion, pitching booths under shady trees where people can rest and enjoy refreshments before carrying on with the day’s activities.
This assembly is a good chance for young men and women to find their “Ashima” or “Brother Ahei,” paying particular attention to their costumes. Young women wear a stiff, triangular piece of fabric on either side of their headdress to attract the attention of young men. However, no young man should ever touch this ornament, or he will be forced to labor for three years at the girl’s home. On their wedding day, young women remove the two triangles and lay them flat on top of their heads to symbolize marital peace and happiness.
When a young man chooses a certain young woman, he snatches away her embroidered belt. This practice can be traced back to the ancient Yi marriage custom in which the bridegroom pretends to kidnap his bride. If the young woman returns his love, she allows him to court her. If not, she puts on another belt, allowing the man to keep the one he had “stolen.”
Liangshan Prefecture in Sichuan Province has the largest Yi ethnic community in China. The Torch Festival held in Liangshan takes place each year on the 24th day of the sixth lunar month.