The Sister Festival that we visited most likely differs from others because it was partially recreated for our observation and participation. Since we arrived after most of the festivities had ended, the Miao people of Jiuzhou Village graciously performed song and dance numbers in full costume and invited the women of our group to participate in the dancing.
As a young girl skillfully beat a drum in the center of the village square, we circled around her, moving left, right, forward and backward at an increasingly fast pace. Experiencing the difficulty of the dancing and the physical stiffness of the delicately and intricately embroidered Miao costumes was enlightening, and we developed a renewed appreciation for the talent and nimble elegance of our Miao hosts.
After dancing, the Miao women led us into one of their homes and served dinner to our group. Each family in the village had cooked a dish and we were served rice, eggs, and dried pork while everyone gathered around and chatted. According to Miao custom, visitors are always served first as a gesture of kindness. Custom also includes the ceremonial serving of homemade rice wine to visitors; in this village it was served in single shots taken from a large conch shell. As the women circled around our group, doling out shot after shot, they sang a welcome song together. The etiquette surrounding such social situations is highly important and to the Miao people. Of her experiences in Xijiang, which is very close to Shidong, anthropologist Louisa Schein noted “particular forms of Miao sociality that [are] considered to be definitive. Among these were highly codified norms of reciprocity, offering food with bare hands and drink with two hands, improvised singing back and forth between hosts and guests, and copious amounts of drinking.”